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The changing role of NGOs in supporting climate services

This report examines the evolving role of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the production, communication and uptake of climate information.
Multiple Authors


Climate services play a key role in supporting the resilience of people and communities. Recent progress in our scientific understanding of the climate system and forecasting capacities has improved the utility of climate information considerably. However, despite major technological improvements, heightened investment and a clear demand for better climate information services, many existing systems in developing countries have not effectively delivered high quality and usable information services to the people who most need them.

Growing recognition of the importance of expanding access to locally-appropriate services has led NGOs to play an increasing role as brokers and intermediaries of climate information. In principle, this trend recognises and capitalises on many of the advantages that development NGOs often possess. This includes their close engagement with individuals and communities, along with their ability to facilitate interactions between scientists, decision-makers and local communities.

This report* examines the evolving role of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the production, communication and uptake of climate information. In particular, we focus on NGOs’ roles as knowledge brokers and intermediaries and how these contribute to the overall effectiveness of the climate services value chain in developing countries.

*Download the full text from the right-hand column. Please note that references have been removed from the following text.

In the report

In the report, the authors:

  • examine the evolving influence of NGOs in the production, communication and uptake of climate information and seek to assess its implications;
  • explore the growing influence of the ‘resilience agenda’ on the changing role of NGOs, particularly the push for climate services to be an integral tool for resilience-building;
  • explore this further by drawing on a review of the literature related to climate services, knowledge brokers and intermediaries, and the resilience agenda;
  • reflect on early experiences from the Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) programme.

The authors conclude with a series of recommendations and questions for further research on the changing role of NGOs in the delivery of climate services, recognising the interactions with, and importance of, other development actors, such as funders, National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) and governments.

Key Messages

  • Climate services play a key role in supporting the resilience of people and communities but continue to be inaccessible to large numbers of climate-vulnerable people. Through programmes like BRACED, NGOs are increasingly taking on intermediary roles, helping users to acquire, understand, value and consider climate information within their decision-making processes.

  • There is a risk, however, that NGOs will make uncoordinated attempts to move into the climate services sector, while national meteorological and hydrological agencies are also being tasked to be more user-driven.

  • To maximise the potential of NGOs to contribute positively to climate services, we propose five areas of interaction and engagement to help to address these risks. These are: improving knowledge sharing; enhancing coordination on planned activities; enhancing collaboration across systems and scales; focusing on knowledge co-production; and emphasising learning processes. These areas require new actions from not only NGOs, but also national meteorological and hydrological agencies, national and local governments, and international funders.

Recommendations (in brief)

This review highlights five types of interactions and engagements that could help address key gaps. The authors see these forms of engagement as actions to be pursued as a matter of principle and as core elements of practice, given the implications of a failure to do so, as outlined in the report. In this sense, these recommendations build on the proposed ‘Ethical Framework for Climate Services’ that set out principles of practice for the climate services field, some of which overlap with the themes below (Adams et al., 2015 – see full text for references).

These five types of interactions are summarised below – see the full text for much more detail, including specific recommendations for funders, national service providers and NGOs.


As a starting point, a clearer sense of who is delivering services, what types of approaches are being instigated and which actors and users are being engaged (e.g. participatory planning processes with local authorities) is needed. This is particularly the case in places like Kenya, where there has been a surge in the number of actors and initiatives engaged in the climate information value chain. A more limited ‘sharing’ model may be most appropriate in areas where overlaps in focus, approaches and stakeholders are not significant, but could provide learning opportunities or new perspectives. While this form of interaction is not inherently demanding, it presents persistent challenges amidst a constantly evolving landscape of initiatives to track and engage with.


While information sharing helps alert key actors to activities and opportunities that exist elsewhere, this does not necessarily address the current over-burdening of key actors within the climate services value chain, particularly National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs). Improved coordination is needed to ensure that the range of actions being undertaken do not place undue strain on key points in the system, nor on user groups being targeted for engagement. Building on good practice in resilience thinking, coordination across systems and scales is an important aspect of this form of interaction. Beyond the tracking challenges posed in sharing information, coordinating also demands a willingness to be flexible and shift from leading to supporting or contributing roles in certain contexts, which may present challenges to inflexible models of delivery.


Our review highlights that, in many contexts across Africa and Asia, the gaps in the effective delivery of climate services exceed the capacities of the actors currently in place. Collaborations across areas of the climate services value chain can help bridge knowledge gaps, raise the potential impact of interventions and raise levels of understanding across these different settings. One example of such a collaboration would be between agencies charged with interpreting climate information and those seeking to communicate these advisories to user groups in actionable formats.


Closely linked to collaboration, co- production processes move from jointly implementing action to generating new knowledge from multiple knowledge sources. They provide ways to link local, indigenous and technical knowledge sitting at different scales and contexts in ways that expand the range of possibilities of what individual tools or approaches may offer. The regional Climate Outlook Forum process convened by ICPAC, for example, has brought together user groups, intermediaries and NMHSs to produce consensus forecasts that have engaged producers, traditional authorities and user groups in novel ways, while also maintaining scientific integrity. To date, however, co-production processes in climate services have not seen widespread adoption. It is clear from the literature on knowledge brokering that co-production processes require skilled facilitation and support to help navigate the epistemic tensions that often arise. ‘Bridging organisations’ such as knowledge brokers and intermediaries play important roles in this regard. However, in cases such as ICPAC’s (above), these roles are sometimes managed internally.


Cutting across all these levels of interaction is the need to promote iterative learning processes that capture experience in supporting climate services and support more informed future action. Again, this is a core tenet of resilience thinking, as well as a principle in responding to a complex challenge like climate change. Effective learning processes should bring together different experiences of climate services to promote enhanced collective understanding of what works for whom, ultimately leading to changes in systems and practices. For all actors concerned, this demands an openness to engaging in learning processes and spaces for learning and exchange, as well as facilitative capacities that can help draw out and consolidate learning across different experiences.

Within this ‘learning agenda’ sits the need for closer monitoring of the impacts of investments into the climate information services in terms of a) the delivery of robust and actionable information that can help strengthen user groups’ resilience, and b) the impacts on the range of organisations engaged across the climate services value chain.

To date, limited work has been done to track these trends beyond assessing individual pilot activities. This represents an important opportunity for collective effort on monitoring and research in Africa and Asia.

© Edwina Stevens/Small World Stories/Ethiopia Delivering as One

Acknowledgments:The authors would like to thank Emma Visman (King’s College London), Roop Singh (Red Cross Climate Centre) and Fiona Percy (Adaptation Learning Programme, CARE) for their inputs on earlier versions of this report.

This report has benefited from the insights of the following BRACED projects: PRESENCES; Climate Information and Assets for Resilience in Ethiopia (CIARE); and Zaman Lebidi.

Suggested Citation

Jones, L., Harvey, B. and Godfrey-Wood, R. (2016) The changing role of NGOs in supporting climate services. BRACED Resilience Intel. Issue no. 4. BRACED Knowledge Manager, Overseas Development Institute: London, UK

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