What’s next in transdisciplinarity perspectives for climate services?

Asun Lera St.Clair, Barelona Super ComputingAsun Lera St.Clair, Barelona Super Computing

Asun Lera St.Clair and Dragana Bojović

Earth System Services; Earth Sciences Department; Barcelona Supercomputing Center

20 May, 2019

Philosopher and sociologist, Asun St.Clair has over 25 years of experience on solutions-oriented research on the human dimensions of global challenges. She is also Senior Principal Scientist in DNV GL Research & innovation & member of Future Earth Advisory Board.

Dragana has a background in ecology and social sciences, merged through her research on global environmental change. Her current work explores novel approaches to overcome communication and technological barriers that prevent effective use of climate data.

The need to create strong links with users of climate information is a principle well-established in the climate services paradigm. But salient climate services also require the close collaboration between disciplines, with the instrumental role of social scientists in framing collaborative approaches and enabling innovation. Interdisciplinarity is a condition that could encourage other scientific disciplines to challenge the dominant assumptions and biases of natural science research as they interact with stakeholders.

However, the role of social sciences in climate services research still remains rather marginal. Often, we see the application of social sciences methods limited to a particular step in the process of developing climate services, the step that requires stakeholder engagement. If the overarching goal of climate services is the identification and integration of climate change risks into a particular social or organisational unit (a company, a community, or a farm), this limited use of social sciences will not suffice. Instead, we must understand the histories, contexts, risks profiles, relevant actors and their decision-making contexts, existing vulnerabilities, or any other condition or issue climate change interacts with. These are the social dimensions of climate services. The understanding of these issues requires the interpretative sciences, that is, the social sciences and the humanities, and transdisciplinarity, that is, the integration of other sources of knowledge. In addition, the climate services field remains disconnected from the wealth of knowledge produced by the human dimensions of global change research, disaster risk reduction, and climate change adaptation research. Thus, besides the ambition to achieve transdisciplinarity, the next generation of climate services research and innovation would also benefit from a dialogue with global change, adaptation and disaster risk reduction research. We argue that the following aspects are important for improving transdisciplinarity in climate services:

Domain knowledge

We should provide tools and training solutions to transform and translate climate services to local knowledge and to combine it with domain and other forms of knowledge. This means co-design and coproduction of complementary knowledge, while acknowledging differences between various knowledge sources.


Although knowledge coproduction has become a leitmotif in the climate services discourse, there is no broadly accepted understanding of what coproduction means in practice. The way coproduction is undertaken should follow certain protocols and be grounded in participatory research literature.

Decision support

Scientists should have a more active role in understanding the culture and context in which decision-makers operate, and other decision elements a stakeholder needs to integrate climate risk.

Policy making context

Besides managing the physical and material risks of climate change, policy making also includes managing risks to political systems and their legitimacy, so-called second order, or reputational, risks. Framing the vision of climate services as a service that can support the legitimacy and stability of governance systems and its actors could be a way for more effective communication of climate services.

Climate services communication

By using new communication spaces, approaches and channels, as well as combining data products with contextual knowledge and traditional knowledge, we should advance communication, which has been considered one of the weakest points in climate services.

Uncertainty and complexity

Assisting decision-makers under conditions of deep uncertainty, where knowledge is limited both in statistical and epistemological terms, would demand fulfilling the previous steps.

To achieve transdisciplinarity in climate services, it is crucial to promote the use of the best social science knowledge through the cross-fertilization with human dimensions and adaptation research. Having interdisciplinary research teams, with good representation of social scientists and other disciplines, must be the ambition of the next generation of climate services research and innovation. This will involve significant rethinking and reshuffling of disciplines in the field, deviating from the dominance of the physical sciences and moving beyond dualism of the natural and social (science) in climate services discourse and perspectives.