Project Overview

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.


For more detailed information please browse our Overview Handout  


About the NERRS Science Collaborative

The NSC puts National Estuarine Research Reserve-based science to work for coastal communities coping with the impacts of land use change, pollution, and habitat degradation in the context of a changing climate. The program brings the intended users of science into the research process so their perspectivecan inform problem definition, project implementation, and ultimately, the practical application of a project's results to a particular problem. The National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) is a network of 28 areas representing different biogeographic regions of the United States that are protected for long-term research, water-quality monitoring, education and coastal stewardship. Established by the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972, as amended, the reserve system is a partnership program between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the coastal states. NOAA provides funding, national guidance and technical assistance. Each reserve is managed by a lead state agency or university, with input from local partners. Reserve staff work with local communities and regional groups to address natural resource management issues, such as non-point source pollution, habitat restoration and invasive species. Through integrated research and education, the reserves help communities develop strategies to deal successfully with these coastal resource issues. Reserves provide adult audiences with training on estuarine issues of concern in their local communities. They offer field classes for K-12 students and support teachers through professional development programs in marine education. Reserves also provide long-term water quality monitoring as well as opportunities for both scientists and graduate students to conduct research in a "living laboratory".

Visit the NERRS website for more information:


About the MIT Science Impact Collaborative

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Science Impact Collaborative (MIT SIC) is a research group focused on developing and testing new ways of harmonizing science, politics and public policy in the management of natural resources and resolution of environmental disputes. MIT SIC’s tools and approaches include collaborative adaptive management, joint fact-finding, scenario planning, collaborative decision-making and multi-stakeholder engagement, and the use of role-play simulation exercises. MIT SIC was established in 2003 with initial support from the United States Geological Survey. Today, the research group has numerous partner and supporters, ranging from the U.S. National Estuarine Research Reserve System to the Dutch research organization TNO. By engaging in community-based action research projects, MIT SIC researchers—including doctoral students, masters students, and faculty from the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning—train emerging environmental professionals while simultaneously testing the latest environmental planning methods and providing assistance to communities and policy-makers who seek our help.

Visit the MIT Science Impact Collaborative website for more information:


About the Consensus Building Institute

The Consensus Building Institute (CBI) is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1993 by leading practitioners and theory builders in the fields of negotiation and dispute resolution. CBI’s experts bring decades of experience brokering agreements and building collaboration in complex, high-stakes environments — and possess the deep understanding required to tackle negotiation and collaboration challenges in our practice areas. CBI’s Founder, Managing Directors, and many of our Board members are affiliated with the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School and the MIT-Harvard Public Disputes Program.

Visit the CBI website for more information: