The traditional reductionist approach to science has a tendency to create 'islands of knowledge in a sea of ignorance', with a much stronger focus on analysis of scientific inputs rather than synthesis of socially relevant outcomes. This might be the principal reason why intended end users of climate information generally fail to embrace what the climate science community has to offer. The translation of climate information into real-life action requires 3 essential components: salience (the perceived relevance of the information), credibility (the perceived technical quality of the information) and legitimacy (the perceived objectivity of the process by which the information is shared). We explore each of these components using 3 case studies focused on dryland cropping in Australia, India and Brazil. In regards to 'salience' we discuss the challenge for climate science to be 'policy-relevant', using Australian drought policy as an example. In a village in southern India 'credibility' was gained through engagement between scientists and risk managers with the aim of building social capital, achieved only at high cost to science institutions. Finally, in Brazil we found that 'legitimacy' is a fragile, yet renewable resource that needs to be part of the package for successful climate applications; legitimacy can be easily eroded but is difficult to recover. We conclude that climate risk management requires holistic solutions derived from cross-disciplinary and participatory, user-oriented research. Approaches that combine climate, agroecological and socioeconomic models provide the scientific capabilities for establishment of 'borderless' institutions without disciplinary constraints. Such institutions could provide the necessary support and flexibility to deliver the social benefits of climate science across diverse contexts. Our case studies show that this type of solution is already being applied, and suggest that the climate science community attempt to address existing institutional constraints, which still impede climate risk management.
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