In many cases the first step in forming a regional adaptation collaborative will be an assessment of the landscape – this assessment involves reaching out to key stakeholders to identify their perspectives on adaptation, to learn about efforts already underway, and to scope the initial “need” for regional work. This assessment is critical because every region has a unique need, and identifying need can reveal opportunities for collaboration.
It can be challenging to engage some stakeholders on climate change and adaptation for a number of reasons (e.g. misunderstandings, uncertainty, skepticism, and emotional reactions). Adaptation is a new area for many – there may be a clear connection to a given field, but a practitioner in that field may or may not be aware of that connection. Even if an individual understands the connection, they may not have the time to work on adaptation efforts given other priorities. Individuals might already address climate change impacts through their existing positions, but may not be prepared for new levels of impacts in the future. Furthermore, adaptation impacts may cross jurisdictions or the boundaries of fiscal authority. Ideally, a representative diversity of key stakeholders should be engaged to inform a more robust understanding of the need for a regional adaptation collaborative. However, the initial stakeholder group may not be representative.
The term “key stakeholder” includes any individual or group with an interest in climate adaptation decisions. Key stakeholders include those who can influence climate adaptation decisions and those who may be impacted by those decisions. The former have decision-making authority, make policy, and/or have oversight over emergency management and critical infrastructure. The latter include vulnerable populations. It is critical to engage both types of key stakeholders. Key stakeholders are generally located where there is the most need – in regions most vulnerable to the potential impacts of climate change, with a relatively low capacity to adapt. Examples of common key stakeholders, based on the experience of ARCCA regions, include:
- Municipal governments – especially staff from planning, public works, and environmental services
- Utilities – water, energy, waste, wastewater, etc.
- Public agencies – regional planning agencies, ports, airports, air quality management districts, health and human services, and offices of emergency services
- Universities – climate scientists, public policy centers
- Place-based philanthropic partners – community foundations, corporate foundations
- Nonprofits – technical assistance providers, community-based organizations
- Civic leaders – elected officials, business or nonprofit leaders
Stakeholder engagement is resource-intensive, so, ideally, clear process design should be established from the start. Before engaging potential key stakeholders, an engagement plan with clearly articulated goals should be created. Funding should be secured and / or existing engagement efforts leveraged as appropriate. While this is the ideal, in reality the process is often ad hoc. It is beneficial to be flexible, so you can do what is possible with available resources.