Evaluation of USAID's Climate Services Investments Since 2012
E3 Analytics and Evaluation Project
USAID's investments in climate information services have played a significant role in achieving place-based resilience.
This report provides results from a performance evaluation that the Office of Global Climate Change in USAID’s Bureau for Economic Growth, Education, and Environment commissioned to examine USAID’s climate services investments (e.g. activities, interventions, projects) since 2012 and identify lessons learned across various climate services interventions. The evaluation results will help to inform the predesign, design, and implementation of future Agency climate services investments, including whether to make such investments, what type of results can be expected, where to invest along the climate services value chain, and whether and how to scale up climate services activities.
As global temperatures rise and rainfall becomes more variable, many development practitioners consider climate services to be a way to improve risk management and safeguard key productive sectors and vulnerable populations. Climate services involve the production, transfer, and use of climate information to help individuals and organizations make climate-smart decisions. Climate services equip decision makers in climate-sensitive sectors (e.g., agriculture, water, health, disaster risk management, transportation) with better information to help society adapt to climate variability and change. Thus far, efforts to deploy climate services effectively have relied on diverse approaches, often building on previous investments and/or capacity assessments that laid the groundwork for documenting the core elements, the enabling conditions, or the development benefits of climate services.
The evaluation sought to answer three questions:
What lessons learned (including challenges and barriers) and good practices do USAID staff and other key partners perceive from USAID climate services investments since 2012?
What kinds of results can USAID expect from investing at different levels (e.g., institutional level, field level) of the climate services value chain?
The evaluation was conducted in three phases, with each building on information obtained in the previous phase.
In Phase 1, the evaluation team prepared an initial inventory of USAID’s climate services investments worldwide since 2012 that captured the investments’ key characteristics and results, based on available documentation and information provided by activity stakeholders. While the team sought to include all relevant USAID climate services investments, some may be missing due to the difficulty in identifying all activities that contained a climate services component and changes in staff. The team then used multiple methods to assess activities identified in the inventory to answer the evaluation questions, including a document review during Phase 2 and an online survey and virtual key informant interviews during Phase 3. Field visits and in-person interviews were not possible due to COVID-19-related travel restrictions.What elements of USAID climate services investments are likely to be sustained beyond the end of an activity and why?
Key Findings and Conclusions
The climate services investments the evaluation examined faced challenges including issues of data (in terms of quality, timeliness, and management structures); confidence in the information being presented; the applicability and usability of the information; and the agency of the target beneficiaries. USAID climate services activities have successfully addressed many of these challenges. Despite the diversity of approaches taken and regardless of the entry points of investment in the value chain, several lessons about the overarching challenges and barriers emerged that can inform future climate services programming.
Poor interoperability of data management systems: weather and climate data management systems are often outdated, making data access difficult for both users and those interested in improving services such as forecasts.
Limited reach and adequacy of communications and translation systems: meteorological warnings, for example, come with several challenges. First, stakeholders cannot benefit from warnings if they do not receive the information – either because they are out of radio and mobile network coverage or because the climate information is delivered too late. Second, illiterate stakeholders may find it difficult to grasp written information about risks associated with climate services. Third, the information is often not sufficiently tailored to user needs. Finally, inconsistent funding sources for climate services delivery often undermine these services’ effectiveness by negatively affecting sustainability.
Lack of end user confidence in the information: the historical disconnect between meteorological services, researchers, and decision makers – or the poor quality or insufficient explanations of the inherent uncertainties in any forecast – can diminish the confidence users place in the information and thus in their willingness to act in response to it.
Insufficient consideration of the needs and agency of marginalized groups in project designs: the information needs of women, youth, ethnic minorities, the landless, and other marginalized groups – in terms of timing, delivery mechanisms, and variables of interest – can significantly differ as their roles and ability to respond are inexorably tied to their status and social roles.
Limited expertise in using climate information: although weather and climate information has been available for decades, the ability to use this information to inform decisions has been limited. This is partly because the information is often not available at the scales of interest (both in space and time) but also because target users are often unsure how to apply forecasts and other information in their decision-making processes.
Lack of access to resources and assets (e.g., land, input, equipment) required to act on the information in a timely manner: the Learning Agenda for Climate Services in sub-saharan Africa, for example, explored how gender can influence agency and access to climate services. The differential resources and influence under women’s and men’s control affect their ability to make use of climate services as well as the needs and demands for information.
Inadequate modeling and forecast capacities: a lack of capacities can pose seemingly insurmountable barriers and require sustained, extensive investments before the potential benefits of a climate service can be realized, if at all.
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