The aim to provide climate services in South America has highlighted the need for sustained interaction between producers of climate information and those who make sense of it. This applies whether they are intermediate users (i.e. academic or operational professionals) who work on climate products such as maps, reports, models etc., or end-users (agricultural producers, farmers, peasants, governmental agents, etc.) who make decisions on the basis of climate information.
The Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS) - launched by the WMO in 2009 - channelled many initiatives that were conceived as a ‘new paradigm’ by meteorologists, hydrologists and agronomists working in academic and operational organizations of the region. However, information providers realized that the knowledge about who the users were and how they understood climate products was found to be precarious and insufficient. Social scientists were invited to participate and facilitate the monitoring and implementation of the new paradigm. As “embedded anthropologists”, we have documented several cases of interaction between scientific and operational institutions, which, led by the National Weather Service (NWS) of Argentina, rose to the challenge of generating the participatory spaces required to meet the goal of providing climate services in the region and the country.
Ethnographic fieldwork, carried out from 2013 to 2018, provided valuable insights into the challenges and potentialities of creating interactive spaces, where climate information providers and different types of users exchanged experiences and knowledge. In Argentina, these reached different types of user groups: (1) intermediate institutions – governmental, academic and technical institutions (2) large farmer associations (3) small goat producers and rural students from vulnerable areas of the country (Santiago del Estero Province).
Each type of user brought to light obstacles to be overcome by academia and institutions charged with operational responsibility. At the heart of the difficulties lay the lack of a preliminary mapping and characterization of the audience to be invited to participate in these interactive spaces. A proper identification of who the ‘users’ were, and how they used and made sense of climate information, emerged as a gradual consequence of face-to-face interactions and inter-institutional engagement. Among the participants, we witnessed an increasing sense of ownership of the problem of the gap between the climate knowledge that was being produced and the social appropriation and extensive use of such information (Dilling & Lemos, 2011). Collaboration triggered a self-reflexive stance that transcended the issue of the provision of climate services to urge a collective consideration of how to improve social appropriation of knowledge. Institutional scientific reflexivity and self-examination became crucial to make knowledge relevant to society (Rayner & Malone, 1998).