New England Climate Adaptation Project

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Science Impact Collaborative worked with the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) and the Consensus Building Institute to test an innovative way to help coastal communities understand and prepare for the potential impacts of climate change. With a grant from the NERRS Science Collaborative, the team engaged four at-risk New England towns in testing the use of role-play simulations as a means to educate the public about climate change threats and to help communities explore ways of decreasing their vulnerability and enhancing their resilience to climate change impacts.

We anticipate that this project provides valuable insights into techniques for engaging communities in public learning, risk management, and collaborative decision-making around science-intensive public disputes. We also hope it provides a model approach that communities in New England and elsewhere can use to prepare for climate change.

Managing Climate Risks in Coastal Communities Strategies for Engagement, Readiness and Adaptation

This volume reports on the research completed as part of the multi-year New England Climate Adaptation Project (NECAP), a partnership between the MIT Science Impact Collaborative, the US Government's National Estuarine Research Reserve System, four New England coastal towns, and the Consensus Building Institute. The first half of the book offers a series of chapters that explain how and why climate adaptation requires collective rather than individual risk management. It argues that most of the responsibility for responding to climate risks—including sea level rise, storm intensification, changing patterns of rainfall, and increasing temperature—must be taken by local and regional stakeholders.

While collective action is critical for climate adaptation, many communities are not ready to effectively tackle the adaptation challenge, and need enhanced collaborative capacity to support collective risk management. Using concrete examples, this book offers strategies to increase the readiness of communities to deal effectively with the impacts of climate change. It introduces methods for assessing local climate change risks and describes tools for evaluating the social and political contexts in which collective action can take place. It also shares NECAP research demonstrating that engaging communities in tailored role-play simulations has impacted public understanding of climate risks and local readiness to support collective risk management efforts.

The second half of the book presents the products of NECAP, including stakeholder assessments (showing how key stakeholders think about climate risks), risk assessments (including downscaled forecasts from global climate models presented in a way that is accessible to the public), tailored role play simulations (that other communities can use to engage residents in their locality), community case studies (that provide statistical and qualitative evidence of the before-and-after impact of public engagement in serious games), and the results of public opinion polls following interventions in each community after almost 18 months.

Role-play simulations for climate change adaptation education and engagement

In order to effectively adapt to climate change, public officials and other stakeholders need to rapidly enhance their understanding of local risks and their ability to collaboratively and adaptively respond to them. We argue that science-based role-play simulation exercises — a type of 'serious game' involving face-to-face mock decision-making — have considerable potential as education and engagement tools for enhancing readiness to adapt. Prior research suggests role-play simulations and other serious games can foster public learning and encourage collective action in public policy-making contexts. However, the effectiveness of such exercises in the context of climate change adaptation education and engagement has heretofore been underexplored. We share results from two research projects that demonstrate the effectiveness of role-play simulations in cultivating climate change adaptation literacy, enhancing collaborative capacity and facilitating social learning. Based on our findings, we suggest such exercises should be more widely embraced as part of adaptation professionals' education and engagement toolkits.

Building the Capacity of Coastal Communities to Adapt to Climate Change through Participatory Action Research

Climate change adaptation presents a complex and increasingly urgent planning challenge for coastal communities. To prepare for and manage climate change risks, coastal cities and towns will need increased capacity and resources. This article argues that participatory action research (PAR) offers academics a way to help build the capacity of at-risk communities to respond to climate change. I use the experience of the New England Climate Adaptation Project to illustrate, exploring the advantages and challenges of “research as capacity building” and providing guidance for those wishing to do this kind of work. The intent of this article is to encourage a conversation between communities and scholars about how to use research to support local adaptation planning.