2.1 Challenges for adaptation platforms

All platforms aim to provide access to scientifically sound, high quality, relevant, reliable and usable information (salient, credible and legitimate) to enhance the value of that information and the trust so essential to success. There are a number of challenges associated with developing, delivering and sustaining such a platform. These challenges include: funding, understanding, communicating and engaging with users, identifying and presenting relevant knowledge and information, and ensuring and demonstrating the quality and relevance the information provided, as well as practical issues relate to the design, technical and structural elements of the platform.

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The following challenges have been identified by platform owners, developers and managers as those that have required or still require particular attention. The depth of analysis provided within each of the seven issues areas reflects the differing nature and status of adaptation platforms in Europe. The information compiled here is expected to cut across platforms and countries. The identification of specific countries is presented when relevant for specific aspects. Although providing data, information and knowledge to support adaptation, these platforms are not necessarily homogeneous and the challenges experienced reflect the situation, concerns and needs of their host and target audiences. It is also important to recognise when interpreting these challenges that these adaptation platforms are at different stages in their development and have different development pathways (see sub-section 1.3). The description of these challenges have been included to support others that are developing adaptation platforms so that they can better understand the challenges they may need to address and to learn from others.

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To support learning and sharing, the challenges include responses and solutions have been developed and implemented for at least a specific adaptation platform (see Section 2.2). Challenges have also been presented that are unresolved or for which solutions are still being explored. In both cases, it is intended that by sharing these challenges it will support joint working on the solutions.

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However, responses and solutions developed and implemented to address a specific challenge for one or more adaptation platforms may not be directly transferrable to other adaptation platforms. There is a need for ‘translation’ of the challenge and response that considers the specific circumstances prior to transferring learning from others’ experiences. These ‘challenges’ are presented here so that the knowledge and insights are shared. This provides the basis for working with others to explore appropriate responses.

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Readers are encouraged to look to sub-section 2.2 under the respective issue areas for reflections and lessons learnt to further their understanding of the challenge and to explore potential responses.

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A. Funding and sustaining platforms

Funding poses a challenge for many platforms due to the nature of the funding used to develop, deliver and maintain an effective platform. Funding models were presented in the section above (1.3.2), while this section aims to explain the specific challenges further. The nature and the sustainability of funding is a very significant challenge for both owners and managers. It may often relate, among other elements, to: (i) political mandates and connections to on-going or future adaptation policy development; (ii) meeting the increasing expectations of current and potential users; and (iii) the growing demand for adaptation platforms. The necessary long-term strategic direction of a platform makes planning and thus funding difficult. An overall strategic plan that defines the direction and scope of a platform in the longer-term is often required to allow for the most effective configuration of resources and competencies. Such a strategy ensures that development remains appropriate and able to fulfil users’ expectations and needs.

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Key challenges that have been identified include:

  • Defining the appropriate funding models (i.e. start-off, development and maintenance), including criteria, long-term strategy and planning, decision-making processes and sustainability of sources over time (e.g., Austria, Germany, Ireland, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, C3-Alps, Pyrenees);
  • Funding is often project-based and depends on funds from specific funding agencies (e.g. research funders) or research programmes (e.g., specific call for projects). For those platforms that are project-based, development, engagement, updating and sustainability can be challenging (e.g., adaptation platforms in Austria, Germany, Ireland, Poland, C3-Alps, and Pyrenees). For example, with this type of funding there is often the need to encourage others to contribute to the development of the services available on the platform. That comprises the co-design and co-production of content. Furthermore, such co-funding may lead to problems of conflicting political ownership and agendas (e.g., Germany);
  • An additional challenge for the project-funded platforms is the relative strength of the associated political mandate with implications for the development of the platform content, engagement of stakeholders and building the market compared to the short-term funding base.
  • Resource allocation in different cost categories. Under this situation there can be separate budgets to support technical and content development, regular maintenance, modification and improvements of the platform and for personnel (e.g., adaptation platforms in Austria, Germany, Norway, Poland, Pyrenees, Sweden, and The Netherlands).

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Potential approaches, next steps and lessons learnt that could be used to address these challenges can be found in section 2.2 A.

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B. Understanding, communicating and engaging with users

Given the limited resources practice has uncovered multiple challenges in understanding, communicating and engaging with the target audience in the practical use and further development of the content and functionalities of the web-based adaptation platforms.

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These challenges include issues such as:

  • Identifying those using the adaptation platform;
  • Dealing with and managing stakeholders’ expectation (e.g., challenge identified by Climate-ADAPT);
  • Increasing the demand and uptake of the presented information; Even where there is this additional richness in high-quality adaptation information and tools, engaging stakeholders in using these remains a challenge (see also section 2.2 D).The challenge relates to finding an appropriate balance between the provision of information and working with users that is consistent with the political, economic and societal expectations and capabilities
  • Enhancing the utility of information and other resources available on the platform;
  • Understanding the varying capabilities of the users regarding content and functionalities (e.g., Climate-ADAPT);
  • Defining platform users’ cost profile; Questions related are: Is it free to be a user? Does it require registration or service fees? (e.g., Poland);
  • Sustaining users’ support and interest, in particular in the case of uncertain viability of a platform; and
  • Setting up user’s feedback mechanisms over time (e.g., Ireland).

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Potential approaches, next steps and lessons learnt that could be used to address these challenges can be found in section 2.2 B.

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C. Identifying and maintaining relevant knowledge and information

The information and knowledge available on climate change and adaptation is constantly growing. At the same time the needs of stakeholders are evolving over time while they are progressing in the adaptation policy process. The identification of relevant adaptation knowledge and information to be presented that is useful, credible and accessible is a requirement of any platform. Involving researchers and providers of adaptation information into the development of the adaptation platforms is another challenge. It includes sharing their results, thereby enhancing the quality and relevance of the information available.

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This translates into significant requests that relate to the selection of the content and the maintenance of a platform.

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Selecting the relevant content:

  • Finding the appropriate balance between striving for relevance and user friendliness and aiming for scientific quality and completeness. Achieving this balance may include having the courage to leave gaps or defining niches of added value.
  • Ensuring that the scope and structure of a platform is created to fit the intended user´s needs rather than to fit the available funding.
  • Identifying and engaging potential contributors (e.g., stimulate experts to contribute information and relevant resources);
  • According to user´s needs determining the type of information (data, maps, graphs, tools, guidance) and the complexity of information (data or metadata) to be selected for publication on a platform. Achieving comparable and consistent information, for example, on climate change risks and vulnerabilities related to various climate change scenarios, across scales (from national to local) and across boundaries. This is especially important for transboundary issues such as management of river basins or bio-geographical regions (e.g., challenge identified by Alpine regions, Pyrenees), but also for selecting content by different partners (e.g., challenge identified by Finland).
  • Accommodating relevant results and outcomes of nationally and internationally funded research projects (e.g., challenge identified by Austria).
  • Ensuring the consistency and comparability of the information selected (e. g., challenge identified by Climate-ADAPT).
  • Setting up and sustaining an advisory or steering group that a) is willing and able to provide direction, b) reviews the knowledge input and c) provides advice on additional gaps and needs (e.g., challenge identified by Ireland).

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Maintaining a platform:

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  • Finding the best possible balance for the maintenance of a platform coping with potential mismatches between the envisaged content and functionalities of the platform, the IT conditions, and the content updating procedures  (e.g., challenge identified by Alpine region, Ireland Climate-ADAPT)
  • Introducing quality assurance and control (QA/QC). Which level of QA/AC procedure is appropriate regarding the effort and compared to the added value? What are the different mechanisms and means for ‘effective’ QA/QC? How to communicate the results? This may include exploring the use of ISO standards and INSPIRE including in the context of enhancing the interoperability with other platforms (e.g., challenge identified by Climate-ADAPT).
  • Ensure the feasibility of the envisaged quality of a platform while maintaining it with more than one organisation, e.g. in partnerships. This comprises the coordination of large and distributed expert teams, the division of labour, the IT conditions and the available human and financial resources for the maintenance.
  • Develop specific criteria for quality control, in particular for the information coming from research projects. Should only scientifically peer-reviewed results be presented? If ‘grey’ literature and information is included which process is in place for quality control?
  • Ensuring that a portal is dynamic and regularly updated also confirming the continued validity of existing items. Furthermore, it addresses outdated items (e. g. challenge identified by Finland).
  • Finding time and resources for performing such updates can be a challenging and demanding task, especially in cases where funding is limited or temporary (e.g. challenge identified by Finland). This challenge is bigger for platforms for which information is presented in multiple languages (e.g. challenge identified by Finland, Switzerland).

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Potential approaches, next steps and lessons learnt that could be used to address these challenges can be found in section 2.2 C.

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D. Presenting relevant knowledge and information

In recent years the production of adaptation-related knowledge has improved significantly in Europe. The use of the knowledge by policy- and decision-makers, however, is dependent to a large extent on the way that this is presented.

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The challenge is to present adaptation data, information and knowledge in a way that is relevant, credible, accessible and easy to understand with the aim of it being well received by users. This is also likely to increase the utility and demand for the adaptation knowledge available on the platform. This challenge is made harder by the complexities of adaptation and of the different users and their decision-making processes.

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The challenge is to understand the role that data, information and knowledge play in supporting and leading to adaptation actions. By presenting this information in a way that meets users’ needs it begins to address this challenge making it easier for users to understand adaptation and therefore make the most appropriate decisions.

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 Common challenges usually relate to:

  • Finding appropriate approaches to present the information to the target audience. One particular requirement is to find an appropriate balance between generic and customised approaches.
  • Providing the appropriate information for a diverse set of users and scales has led to a trade-off challenge: How to balance completeness and relevance when presenting and displaying climate adaptation knowledge in a single platform? (e. g. challenge identified by C3Alps. The platform is dealing with the needs of 17 partners).
  • Exploring and assessing innovative approaches including the use of visualisation techniques and aids such as info-graphics and interactive tools. Policy actors are often in favour of such tools, as they facilitate their understanding of the adaptation information and knowledge. In such cases attention should be placed on matching technical requirements with user adaptation and IT capabilities and capacities. (e.g., challenge identified by Poland and Norway).
  • Presenting information in a user-friendly way, using simple language that is easy to understand, including by non-scientists. Reflects the interests and capabilities of new and experienced users is a challenge, identified by Climate-ADAPT managers.
  • Information that is to appear on platforms is usually the output of research projects. The language in which it is initially written may not always be clear to the target audience of the platform. It may be necessary to re-write information in non-technical terms. (e.g., challenge identified by UK)
  • Assessing the amount of information that is provided on a platform is necessary.  Original articles are often long, making their utility from the users’ perspectives limited and both management and updating of the platform a cumbersome task (e. g. challenge identified by Finland).
  • Making information available in more than one language is sometimes vital for circulating information within a country itself, but also for presenting relevant information beyond national boundaries.  This is important for enhancing the uptake of the information provided, but also for increasing recognition by potential users. Maintaining a platform in multiple language versions, however, is recognised as a rather laborious task. Platforms that have information in more than one language include Switzerland, Pyrenees, C3 Alps, Austria, Finland, Denmark and Germany. Other platforms have parts of the information in English, such as Poland, France,
  • Presenting information using the target users’ media and processes.
  • Understanding what tools and information should be developed and provided.  Furthermore, understanding the level of the associated supporting guidance (e.g., information on tools for adaptation, databases, checklist, and examples of good practices).

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Developing case studies, adaptation options and other guidance to support adaptation policy and practice, including links to relevant products available elsewhere (e. g., challenge identified by.  Sweden, Norway, Austria and The Netherlands Furthermore, Climate-ADAPT managers have identified the challenge to find good quality illustrative cases of practical implementation with explicit decision-relevant assessments (e.g. cost-benefit, legal implications) in collaboration with the actual stakeholders and to find a good balance of case studies presented across countries, sectors and impacts. Potential approaches, next steps and lessons learnt that could be used to address these challenges can be found in section 2.2 D.

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E. Design, technical and structural elements of a platform

The design of the structure and the functionalities of a web platform greatly affect how user-friendly it is and how easy it is to develop, maintain and develop new features in the long term. These elements include the Content management system (CMS) as the hosting of a platform, the structure of the site, the navigation as well as the design of the pages and the search engine.

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The main challenges are:

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  • Design a structure and functionalities (e.g., web content, navigation and database search functionalities) considering the perspectives of different user groups (e.g. challenge identified by Climate-ADAPT).
  • Develop web applications considering the varying background of adaptation and IT capabilities of different user groups. This included the provision of help functions that are sufficient for less experienced, but not disturbing for more experienced users, such as glossaries (e. g, challenge identified by Climate-ADAPT).
  • Develop features to maintain the users trust in the timeliness and relevance of the information presented on a platform (e. g., challenge identified by Climate-ADAPT).
  • Implement interactive features to cope with user´s needs to exchange experiences on adaptation and to discuss possible approaches (e. g, challenge identified by Climate-ADAPT).
  • Consider technical limitations posed by mandatory web standards of the organisations hosting the platform (e.g., challenge identified by platforms developed on government-wide web-sites such as UK on .gov.uk and Switzerland on the Federal website).

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Potential approaches, next steps and lessons learnt that could be used to address these challenges can be found in section 2.2 E.

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F. Monitoring, evaluating and improving a  platform

It has to be ensured that adaptation platforms support decision making for adaption policy and planning over time. Monitoring, evaluating and improving the platform are essential elements of adaptation platform development to assess whether a platform on EU, transnational and national level successfully achieved the specific goals according to its mandate.  The results of the evaluation are needed in order to make the necessary adjustments to a platform to further support the needs of the stakeholders in the evolving adaptation policy process..  Monitoring can include measuring the impacts the platform is having on users’ ability to adapt using predefined criteria and analysis as well as using web statistics to measure user numbers. It can also include consideration of the value added by the platform from various perspectives (e.g., users and contributors, as well as the policy, economic, and institutional environments in which it operates. This requires an overall understanding and clear demonstration of the platform’s mandate and role and its content and functionalities. It can also include defining the process of Quality Assurance/Quality Control (QA/QC). The delivery of QA/QC is in this report considered to be a ‘maintenance’ issue and is covered in section 2.1 C). Furthermore, it can include user surveys both ongoing and at specific-points of a platform development (i.e., mid-term and end of projects in the case of project-based platforms).

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Factors contributing to this challenge include:

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Monitoring:

  • Define how to monitor the use of the platform.  This can be based on (user feedback, on web statistics, on individual user feedback or by indicators on the platform use). It is important to define the monitoring scheme in relation to the intended evaluation.
  • Due to many influencing factors on adaptation policy and action it is methodologically challenging to determine indicators for success or failure as well as impacts of a platform. Interpreting user feedback by understanding who is accessing the platform and for what purposes. This is a rather complex task with many uncertainties.
  • It is important to establish ways that allow the platform owners and managers to use this feedback effectively in evaluating and improving the platform.
  • Establish an appropriate process to define and communicate the results of these measures in a transparent way.

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Evaluation:

  • Defining a systematic evaluation scheme clearly linked to the mandate and goals of the platform   (e.g., challenge identified by Climate-ADAPT). A significant challenge for further developing the European level platform is the disparity in adaptation efforts across Europe, and the need to be relevant to all countries. Contributing to this challenge is the different users’ capabilities; ranging from those new to the process to those with considerable experience.
  • Establish an appropriate process to involve stakeholders in the evaluation and communicate the outcomes
  • In some cases the platforms role and purpose are clear from the outset. This makes it easier to evaluate. For example, for the C3 Alps platform, questions underlying the evaluation have already been defined at the development of the platform. These are: What knowledge has been produced? Is that knowledge relevant and complete? Is it able to support a complete adaptation process? Is something missing? Is this knowledge useful? Is it able to match the target group requirements? How to improve the efficacy of that knowledge?
  • Using evaluation in learning and continuous improvement of the platform structure and content.
  • Assess integration of the platform into supporting policy and business structures as a success factor. If a platform is a free stand-alone portal with many good ideas but no political, legal, economic and social relation it may be difficult to succeed in supporting decision-makers, regardless of the credibility of the science on which it is based. 

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Potential approaches, next steps and lessons learnt that could be used to address these challenges can be found in section 2.2 F.

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G. Linking across sectors, scales and platforms

There is a growing interest in climate change adaptation platforms and a growing landscape of such platforms available to users. This includes platforms that are operating at different scales: sub-national, national, transnational, Europe-wide and global. These platforms include among others, adaptation platforms, climate services platforms as well as disaster risk management platforms (see also section 2.3). Coordination processes between the platforms at different governance levels are established, such as the exchange of experiences through EEA EIONET workshops and cooperation between the EEA and countries. Actions have been taken in order to improve the complementarity of the platforms (see section 2.2). But still the challenge of the coordination at the national or European levels among the different platforms, but in particular among the different thematic platforms remains a challenge.

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A challenge for providers is the increasing competition for ‘space’. This competition can lead to potential duplication of effort and difficulties securing funding and support from those providing resources and other services. This competition can also reduce the potential for stakeholders’ engagement due to their fatigue and lack of willingness to duplicate their engagement.

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Factors that can contribute to this challenge include:

  • Reaching a clear understanding on the relative remits of adaptation platforms operating at different scales and among them covering specific aspects and sectors of adaptation (e. g. climate services, and DRR platforms). This includes the ability and willingness to clearly articulate these remits to intended users (e.g., Finland).
  • Exploring and defining effective relationships among adaptation platforms operating at different scales with the purpose of identifying mutually beneficial and sustainable delivery models. This requires being able to reach agreement on: the different roles and responsibilities to support users; the added value of having platforms operating at different scales; the nature and scope of cooperation needed; and ‘effective’ models, modalities and plans for cooperation, that facilitates a win-win situation and ensures credibility. Additional factors linked to this challenge include:
    • Integrating other project-based platform developments takes time, resources and effort;
    • Exploring the potential benefits and challenges of establishing links to other (e.g., sector-based) platforms as a contribution to realising the platform’s role;
    • Need to identify means and mechanisms for facilitating the exchange of information between national and transnational/European platforms with the aim of enhancing the quality of the services provided to users;
    • Engaging actors working on different platforms.
    • Managing the technical and political connections between the different platforms; and
    • Managing potential “cultural differences” between people working in different organisations or countries and different technical fields. This factor also extends to the need to recognise the differences among the knowledge ‘producers’ and ‘users’ (e. g., challenge identified by Switzerland).

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Potential approaches, next steps and lessons learnt that could be used to address these challenges can be found in section 2.2 G.

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