Climate Adaptation and the Case for Deeper Engagement

The Urban Sustainability Directors Network (Yuen, Yurkovich, Grabowski and Altshuler, 2017) and others (Tyler and Moench, 2012; Reid et al, 2014; Callison, 2018) argue that, when it comes to community engagement in the context of climate adaptation, there are additional reasons to emphasize high degrees of collaboration, co-development and community ownership of outcomes and solutions. As Tyler and Moench (2012) write, “Governance (i.e. the process of decision making) is an important factor affecting resilience. Decision-making processes that build resilience for vulnerable groups are likely to be participatory and inclusive, allowing those individuals and groups most affected by climate hazards to play an active role in determining how best to avoid them (Lebel et al., 2006; Satterthwaite et al., 2009).” (p. 317).

Similarly, Reid et al (2014) argue for “an enhanced level of local citizen involvement in the process [of climate adaptation planning] if solutions are to have high community buy-in, fit the local context, and be implemented subsequent to the planning process.” (p. 402). While not all initiatives will have the resources, time or flexibility to engage deeply, it is valuable to consider not just the short-term goals, but the long-term resilience of a community when developing climate adaptation engagement processes. As Phadke, Manning and Burlager (2015) write, “the unevenness and unpredictability of how climate change will impact any specific community means there is no top-down, one-size-fits-all recipe for preparedness. Instead, community resilience depends on residents’ active involvement in building capacity to collectively and creatively respond to adversity (Moser and Boykoff, 2013)” (p. 63).

And, while specific definitions of resilience are outside the scope of this module, Erfan and Hemphill (2013) offer one that provides a useful guide. They write that, “At the heart of it, community planning is not so much about producing a document as it is about doing community: finding a genuine sense of togetherness” (Erfan and Hemphill, 2013, p. 19).

Many of the practices described in the modules on dialogue and cross-sectoral partnership and collaboration offer ways to implement this kind of orientation. Several of the readings, in particular, Indigenous Climate Change Adaptation Planning Using a Values-Focused Approach: A Case Study with the Gitga’at Nation and Making it personal: Diversity and deliberation in climate adaptation planning offer specific case studies that describe what this approach can look like in practice.

A focus on deep capacity building and community decision-making does not mean that we ignore the ends of the spectrum focused on communication and consultation. Meaningful and authentic engagement requires communication with methods that make technical information accessible, that enable painful realities to be shared in psychologically supportive ways and that link abstract ideas to relevant and tangible realities. It requires honesty about what decisions are and are not available for input, along with a commitment to involve community members early enough in the process that they can help to shape the options for discussion, enabling them to reflect the needs, values and knowledge of those impacted.

As Reid et al (2014) write, “Planning processes in general are replete with challenges associated with community support for implementation, and often neglect the unique characteristics (values) of a given community or group, which can provide complex or nuanced interpretations of the facts and potential responses. These challenges often result in important omissions that may lead to setbacks or failures to employ effective implementation. Using a participatory values-based approach, and involving those who the plan intends to serve in a participatory way throughout the process, can help to avoid common pitfalls in the planning process” (p. 420).

With the reality that all communities will face climate impacts for the foreseeable futures, practitioners might ask themselves how any process, no matter its scope, can help to build the knowledge, relationships and skills that will enable a community to become increasingly able to respond and adapt to the uncertain future that climate change brings.


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