Creating useful and usable weather and climate information – insights from Participatory Scenario Planning in Malawi


For weather and climate information to be used at the grassroots level, it needs to be effectively interpreted and communicated so that it is both useful and usable to decision-makers, farmers and local-level planners. However, to date this information has not always met these requirements.

With these issues in mind, this paper outlines experiences with Participatory Scenario Planning (PSP). PSP has been used in Malawi as a method to bring together producers and users of information to co-produce sector-specific advisories of (typically, seasonal) weather information to make it both useful and usable to the different user groups. The paper elaborates the process and the extent to which farmers have deemed the information generated to be useful and usable.

The findings show that, based on the early stages of its application, PSP can generate information that is deemed credible, legitimate and salient by its intended users. Even sceptical farmers have used the information after they have witnessed proof of its effectiveness from early adopters. PSP can thus be an effective method to bridge the divide between climate information producers and users.

Challenges to effective PSP implementation in Malawi include ensuring the timely availability of seasonal forecasts and appropriate resourcing to facilitate the cascade of information from national to district to sub-district level. The sustainability of PSP is threatened due to limited integration of PSP in planning frameworks and over-reliance on funding from short-term projects. For optimum effectiveness, there needs to be a mechanism in place to ensure that PSP is used regularly and is embedded in formal governance structures.

Key points for decision-makers

  • Participatory Scenario Planning (PSP) is one technique of co-producing climate services that has been widely applied in an African context. Climate services refers to the generation, provision and contextualisation of information and knowledge derived from climate research for decision-making at all levels of society.
  • The introduction of PSP in the Malawi, which is highly vulnerable to weather and climate hazards, followed successful experiences elsewhere in the continent, particularly Kenya and Ghana.
  • In reviewing PSP in Malawi, the researchers conducted qualitative interviews with the Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and farmers in the Karonga and Mulanje districts of Malawi, and focus group discussions with district and sub-district climate change-related administrative institutions.
  • In the PSP process, as soon as the seasonal forecast is issued, workshops are convened bringing together meteorologists, community members, NGOs and local government departments with the aim of interpreting the information so that it is locally relevant and useful.
  • Workshop participants leave with knowledge of the forecast, skills in interpreting early warning information, and awareness of their own capacities and vulnerabilities and ways of taking adaptive decisions in line with the forecast.
  • A communication plan is produced for further disseminating the information through relevant communities, for example by word of mouth, radio and phone.
  • The experiences of PSP to date, and the growing appreciation of the need for dynamic approaches to farming, have stimulated an increase in demand for climate information from the grassroots level, district level government and NGOs. This suggests that the information is deemed to be legitimate.
  • The scaling up and sustainability of PSP has been challenged by technical constraints relating to delays in the release of the national seasonal forecast and staff availability, and financial constraints which limit the extent to which the national forecast can be downscaled to district level for each of the 28 districts. These challenges are reinforced by the lack of a policy framework.

This paper was produced as part of the Future Climate For Africa UMFULA programme, with financial support from the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID).