Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Latin America and the Caribbean
Newsletter ISDR Inform - Latin America and the Caribbean
Let knowledge be known: some examples of socializing research and expertise in Central America
1. No doubt about it, research, its applications and good information management are necessary -albeit not sufficient- inputs to successful disaster prevention and mitigation. Everywhere. Knowledge engineering, training, and the use of current and emerging technological resources are important factors in making information more meaningful for different kinds of users and sectors.
Making relevant (research) information available and usable for different types of stakeholders - including many non-scientists-, is also an Important ingredient in the sustainable development process in many regions of the world.
2. As in many other fields, for societies to make full use of knowledge, it must be digestible and have meaning for different types of stakeholders, many of them with a non-specialized background but who nevertheless are important social actors and promoters of change. Motivation, sense of ownership, and sense of meaning or significance will remain basic factors for making knowledge a valued, well-applied and used asset in societies. This is so for developed and poor countries alike. In practice, in many places important gaps remain between knowledge and its applications, its adaptation for use of different audiences, and dissemination. In developing or poor countries, available knowledge can be even more difficult to socialize and use, with the exception of a specialized group of professionals. In short, there often are large differences between developed and poor countries as far as the applications of research and knowledge is concerned.
3. There are many reasons for this. They may include lack of access to information; an impoverished population with lack of resources to use or share relevant information; political agendas that assign priorities to other issues that seem politically more rewarding on the short term; and many more. The fact that research is not produced locally, means in no way that all is lost. On the contrary, as long as relevant research from other sources is made available and adapted to local needs and duly socialized, a society can become much more resilient to disasters.
4. Economy, social networks, shared values, political effort and educational system all determine how much and what research is done, and where and when it is socialized and put to work. Critical elements in making research happen and make it 'user-friendly' are the degree of stakeholder opportunities of having some sort of control or influence, and involvement over the process.
5. In Central America, some lessons learnt through the implementation of several projects of making research better known and more accessible (by both ease of getting to it as well as adjusting it to different needs), may give some useful hints. In our experience, make sure to have stakeholders involved where they can exercise creativity and exert some control over the process of designing, doing or socializing research. Furthermore, try as much as possible to use appropriate technology, combining 'low-tech' and 'high' or 'medium' tech according to local opportunities. One does not exclude the other; in the CANDHI project (Central American Network for Disaster and Health Information), low and medium tech information technology developed and implemented locally, thus motivating creativity and ensuring tools are easy to maintain, go hand in hand. In fact, a toolkit is now being developed that will focus on integrating different types of information management strategies and tools, according to varying resources and needs.
6. Science and research policy should be able to feed from insights from social science, and even more so in developing or poor nations, in determining how to increase its relevance on the political agenda, how to socialize research results and insights, besides of course pure social and other science applications per se. In this, international collaboration is key. Disasters and the need
of living in a greater degree of harmony with the environment knows of no borders. Additionally, many causes of vulnerability to disasters transcend the 'disaster field' and relate to broader sectors of social justice, economics, environment and so on.
7. Some mechanisms of making international collaboration easier, to motivate more stakeholders to become part and to socialize research (applications) in the context of above project are as follows: i.) Make research easily available and make sure to have something for all; ii.) Invite practitioners of pure, applied and other types of science and knowledge to share their insights. This means encouraging and making available so-called 'gray' data, too. Here 'gray' means information
or data sets that are not strictly of a scientific character but that are of other practical value such as experiential data, project reports, opinions, semi-experimental designs, multimedia, etc; iii.) The information (mostly) should be free of cost and there should be both 'raw' (that can be understood by experts) and 'digested' (for non-specialists) information. Information centers, using appropriate and evolving technology, can be used to provide these services with quite low-cost means, as experience has clearly shown in Latin America; iv.) Make user-friendliness and variety of information the basic ingredients of your information supply. Yes, internet but not only. Also, make sure to create stand-alone, easy to use information products too, so these can be used almost anywhere.
8. So, what types of research are deemed truly useful? That question is hard to answer as needs are so varied and hazards and social circumstances change from place to place. However, on the basis of the above, may I suggest the following for especially those areas with limited resources: i,.) Increase research on how to improve the chances of socialization of research (including public awareness and behavior change) and other types of relevant knowledge; ii) Research on early warning systems with appropriate and easy-to-maintain technology; iii.) Make sure not to exclude groups of non-academic researchers or practitioners that can contribute to new insights and help build a bridge between theory and practice on a wider scale.
Dave Paul Zervaas