As we saw in the Purpose chapter, our goal with the Adaptation Learning Network was to improve our capacity for climate adaptation in a hurry, by developing a suite of courses, a Climate Adaptation Competency Framework and a professional learning network. But figuring out how to do that wouldn’t be easy.

First, we had to answer a lot of questions.

  • Where do we need to build climate change adaptation capacity most urgently?
  • What do professionals working on the frontlines already know?
  • What do they need to learn right now?
  • What will they need in the future?

To succeed, we’d have to take the time to make sure we were teaching the right things to the right people in the right way. But time was one of the things we were short on. Things were changing fast – not just in the way climate change was affecting us, but also in the domain of professional learning and training.

We weren’t designing training for high school graduates. Our audience was mid-career professionals with families and mortgages who couldn’t afford to take years off work to invest in another degree. So we’d have to find new ways to meet the needs of busy learners juggling many demands.

However, there was no roadmap for any of this work. We’d have to learn in real-time what it takes to work on the frontlines of adapting to climate change. To do that, we decided to run three discovery-oriented activities: a Gap Analysis, a Challenge Dialogue, and a Survey.

Gap Analysis

First, we wanted to find out what our learners needed to know, and what resources were already available to them. So we kicked things off in February 2019 with an online scan to identify relevant courses being offered through local professional associations and post-secondary institutions in BC.

Through this work, we identified many related courses, some of which referenced climate adaptation, but few courses that focused on it. In addition, many courses were in related fields, like disaster and risk reduction and did not address the emerging need for specific climate adaptation skills.


Based on these findings, we reached out to an extensive community via the channels of six provincially accredited professional associations, representing 55,000 professional members (e.g. engineers, foresters, biologists, landscape architects, planners and technicians). Our goal was to better understand: their knowledge about both climate change and climate adaptation, their sense of the relevance of climate adaptation to their professional practice, their interest in continuing professional development training, and their thoughts about how they’d like to learn more.

Over 750 people replied to tell us they had a strong interest in affordable, accessible and agile learning opportunities that would help them develop specific scientific and technical skills, as well as leadership, communication and management expertise.

We used the results of the survey to inform the development of courses and the Climate Adaptation Competency Framework. These findings also gave us a strong foundation for our next piece of work – the Challenge Dialogue.

Challenge Dialogue

Once we had some data and insights into what was already available and what professionals wanted more of, we developed an initial plan. This included suggestions about where to focus course and competency development, and how best to build a professional learning network going forward.

To test those ideas with our core community of learners, experts and leaders, we engaged in a Challenge Dialogue Process in the spring of 2019. A Challenge Dialogue uses a combination of techniques and tools to help groups collaborate and innovate to accomplish complex tasks for change and transformation.

Over a five-month period, we produced a series of documents to collect feedback from over 140 people in 88 unique organizations throughout the province. We had a 68% response rate to his engagement work.

We then shared the results in a Challenge Dialogue Workshop that brought together nearly 50 climate adaptation influencers from across British Columbia, including representatives from professional associations, corporate and consulting firms, the continuing studies units of post-secondary institutions, municipal and city government representatives, and climate change experts and scholars.

During this session, participants challenged and refined our initial plan to identify priorities and opportunities for the next three years. They also created a shortlist of 45 potential courses we could develop to fill gaps and increase capacity in climate adaptation and resilience in BC. (Read the full report).

We only had funding to create about ten courses, so we still had to find a way to shorten the list. (Find out more about how we did that and developed the curricula for the ALN in the Courses chapter). We also learned a great deal about the potential for excellence and collaboration within and across the newly emerging climate adaptation space.

However, identifying a focus for the courses was just one of the challenges we faced at this stage in the process. We had also committed to developing a Climate Adaptation Competency Framework, which would identify the key knowledge, skills and behaviours needed by practitioners.

Ideally, we would have developed the competency framework before selecting course topics. Unfortunately, the time constraints of a three-year project meant that we had to tackle these two initiatives at the same time. While we were able to start course development about six months after the project began, research for the competency framework took almost two years to complete.

In addition to gathering intelligence and ideas through the Gap Analysis, Survey and Challenge Dialogue, we interviewed over 25 climate adaptation subject matter experts and practitioners to identify needs and gaps in their current knowledge and skillsets.

We also ran focus groups with practitioners in the field.

As we started to get a sense of the massive scope of this project, we realized we needed additional consulting expertise. So we engaged Susanna Niederer, an expert who has worked with climate change competency frameworks in both Canada and Europe.

In addition to helping us to identify competencies, Susanna highlighted hidden strengths in the climate adaptation community that we could harness going forward, including a willingness to share knowledge and resources, as well as a passion for collaboration. She also highlighted core concepts to keep in mind as we did this work – in particular, the need for climate adaptation to be both a bottom-up and top-down process.

In the end, we spent almost two years engaging with climate experts across sectors to examine existing and future roles and responsibilities in climate adaptation. And we developed some key insights along the way.

Top among these was the realization that governments at all levels have a key role to play in building climate adaptation capacity including workforce development. This requires resourcing and thinking about how to support the necessary changes in ways that contribute to sustainability and resilience, and a workforce with new skills and opportunities to contribute to climate adaptation and a just transition. This work is ongoing and we believe this project was able to contribute to furthering these goals.

We also found that there’s still a lot of confusion about the differences and unique requirements between climate mitigation and adaptation – even within the climate adaptation community itself.

Finally, we discovered that in such an emerging area of focus, we could never consider the work of research and discovery to be complete. We’d need to continue to gather, refine and share new insights within and beyond the life of the project.


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Adaptation Learning Network Final Report Copyright © 2022 by Dr. Robin Cox is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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