Interdisciplinary research to improve information provision for decision making (CRN 3107)


Project information

Jacob van Etten (
Biodiversity International (Costa Rica)
Feb 2014/ Feb 2017, USD 180,000
Costa Rica, Colombia, USA

Results Students Executive Summary


CRN3107 (van Etten) aims at providing information useful to public decision-makers, and incorporates monitoring and evaluation of outcomes for collective learning. The government of Guatemala is seeking to improve response to droughts by improved information systems and institutional cooperation. Analysis of the annual planning/budget and decision-making/negotiation processes between government departments, 11 mayors and 36 farmer community councils suggest that priority is given to the distribution of food, fertilizer and seeds to smallholder farmers for food security. Officials use information from the government “Zero Hunger Programme” to identify municipalities and departments where drought is likely to have major impact, and allocate predefined funds they receive from the ministry. However, government actors do not know why or how the mayors prioritize and implement projects that sometimes do not respond to community needs.

The team evaluated institutional response to drought using the methodology of an emergency drill. The simulation analyzed information flows and found that:
– extension agents evaluate the situation directly in the field in exchange with the farmers
– local inter-institutional coordination is essential
– time for obtaining data is very limited with too few people in the field to obtain representative information
– surveys are not standardized, sampling techniques and criteria to define damage differ between extension agents.

Involvement of stakeholders in design, realization and interpretation of the drills will ensure that the lessons learned reach the target institutions. Information from the public sector gathered during simulation and the evaluation of the climate information are open and available. A report on decision-making processes is in work. An inventory of existing climate information products was evaluated with stakeholders at municipal level, the results are to be published. Decision makers have expressed the need to improve emergency planning, and the project is changing to a demand-driven approach to emergency planning. Findings are further explored in ongoing theses: on climate information for the management of a watershed, focused on the usability of climate information; and on the need for agro-climate information for small-scale farmers who currently do not have access to information, and would lack the skills to use it. Farmers also do not use climate information because they do not trust it.

CRN3107 (van Etten) has developed strong institutional links to the CG system

and provided several communications in the regional press:
• 20 March 2014 in Prensa Libre reporting about the simulation exercise and citing our PhD researcher Vesalio Mora and our PI Jacob van Etten
• 9 February 2015 in PrensaLibre citing our PhD researcher Vesalio Mora and referring to the Bioversity project in the dry corridor
• 8 March 2015 in Nuestro Diario citing our PhD researcher Vesalio Mora about the situation in the dry corridor and the ongoing research project.


Eduardo Prudencio Bonifaz, CATIE, Bolivia.
Sara Aristizabal Correa, CATIE, Colombia.
Vesalio Mora, CATIE, Costa Rica.

Executive Summary

This project will develop an interdisciplinary methodology that will make it possible to design a platform that empowers decision-makers at multiple levels through appropriate tailoring, timing, and dissemination of integrated climate information and evidence for food security and agricultural development with a specific focus on tradeoffs and risks in decision-making.

They will design and test a methodology to systematically assess information needs through a mix of surveys and ethnographic participant observation, and subsequently compile information packages for decision-makers and evaluate their effect on concrete decisions. The analysis will take place in Guatemala, a country which is increasing its investment in food security and agricultural development, which generates concrete information needs. To be successful the project requires an interdisciplinary understanding of decision-making processes, including political negotiation, on the one hand, and an understanding of the biophysical and socioeconomic realities to which the decisions make reference, on the other. The project will generate insights in how an interdisciplinary combination of social and biophysical sciences can generate an understanding of information needs to improve outcomes of decision-making processes.