The Politics of ‘Usable’ Knowledge: Examining the Co-production of Climate Services in Tanzania

14:00 Tuesday 28 May

SS011 • OC062

Room S16


Meaghan Daly (United States of America) 1; Lisa Dilling (United States of America) 2

1 - University of New England; 2 - University of Colorado Boulder


Knowledge is a key component to improving societal capacities to adapt to climate variability and change. Yet, for knowledge to be ‘usable’ it must meet the criteria of credibility, salience, and legitimacy (Cash et al. 2003) – which we refer to collectively as the knowledge system criteria framework (KSC framework). Deliberate ‘co-production of knowledge’ among ‘producers’ and ‘users’ can enhance aspects of the KSC framework to increase the usability of knowledge for decision-making and policy. However, many studies of usable knowledge have paid scant attention to power dynamics inherent in processes of co-production of knowledge. In this paper, we present a critical interrogation of the KSC framework to elucidate the politics of knowledge and power dynamics embedded within the instrumental co-production of climate services in Tanzania.


Using a multi-sited mixed-methods case study, we examined attempts to co-produce climate knowledge to inform adaptation across institutional scales in Tanzania. This included a quantitative survey (n=218), semi-structured interviews (n=48), focus group discussions (n=13), and ethnographic observation at national- and village-scales. We ground our theoretical analysis in Science & Technology Studies (STS), using the concept of ‘boundary work’ to examine the interactional construction of boundaries between science and other knowledges within co-productions of knowledge.


Findings show that without further attention to boundary work, knowledge politics, and power, instrumental co-production within climate services development can serve to reinforce, rather than overcome, uneven relationships among actors. Using the KSC framework and the concept of boundary work, we show that current efforts to co-produce climate services have focused primarily on increasing the salience of information, while failing to address fundamental issues related to the credibility and legitimacy of the knowledge production processes, as well as the resulting products. Focusing on salience over credibility and legitimacy is ultimately a political decision that serves to maintain the authority of scientific knowledge, while failing to address difficult questions about definitions of expertise, inclusion, and representation within climate services production.


We conclude that there is a need to ‘re-politicize’ processes of co-production by recognizing the inherently political and power-laden nature of all knowledge production practices. To do so, it will be necessary to move away from tokenistic consultation processes that have so far dominated in the field of climate services. This will require the development of shared cultures and definitions around the legitimation and accreditation of knowledge to more effectively build linkages between multiple knowledge systems.