Publication Date

November 2017

Preparing for climate change is rising as a priority for many public policy agendas, driving a demand for information that allows communities to identify both current and projected vulnerabilities to climate change at local and regional levels. In response, a developing climate change adaptation service sector is bringing science and technical training to policy-makers. Approaching adaptation planning through a regional lens is critical, due to the large number of stakeholders and the intensely interconnected nature of geographies, communities, and economies. Decisions made in one jurisdiction will undoubtedly affect its neighbors.

In this emerging field, boundary organizations play a unique role in building capacity across jurisdictions and bridging the gaps among various community, science and government stakeholders. The University of Southern California (USC) Sea Grant Program, located in Los Angeles, has developed a robust stakeholder engagement process to help communities plan for the impacts of climate change along the urbanized coastline. In 2016, USC Sea Grant analyzed its climate change adaptation outreach program to gain insights about its effectiveness. Drawing from this analysis, this paper explores: 1) stakeholder processes; 2) communications methods, particularly the challenges of communicating scientific information; 3) barriers to planning and implementation; 4) how to identify community needs; and, 5) what kinds of investments have been made to meet those needs.

Four primary lessons are identified: 1) place-based boundary organizations can be an effective broker in establishing trust among stakeholders; 2) the ever-evolving and complex nature of climate science can overwhelm stakeholders and stall progress, so it is important to emphasize key messages provided by the scientific information, rather than dive deep into technical details and methods; 3) adaptive management is a promising approach to help communities move forward; and, 4) lack of significant and sustained funding for adaptation will continue to limit progress, however, even modest investments made at the right time can be impactful. Finally, the paper discusses the challenges USC Sea Grant faced in the first six years of its climate adaptation outreach program, and provides thoughts on how to help communities continue to advance their adaptation planning goals in the years to come.