Climate change poses serious threats to coastal communities, including the possibility of prolonged and repeated flooding, intensified storms, saltwater intrusion into marshes and farmland, coastal erosion, and destruction of important infrastructure. There are ways in which communities can decrease their vulnerability and enhance their resilience in the face of these risks, but only if they can reach agreement on what to do. Seeking to support coastal communities in building consensus around climate change adaptation strategies, we propose to test a new approach to educating the public about climate change risks and catalyzing collective climate change adaptation action. In the process, we hope to broaden and deepen prevailing theory about collaborative decisionmaking in science-intensive public disputes.
Working collaboratively with partner communities in four New England states, we will conduct stakeholder assessments and risk assessments. Drawing on the findings of these assessments, our research team will work with NERRS staff and intended users to develop tailored, science-based role-play simulations for each partner municipality. At each site, the research team and partners will run multiple role-play simulation workshops with carefully selected local officials and local leaders, as well as general residents, in an attempt to catalyze greater public awareness of climate change adaptation options and the reasons for pursuing them. We will then work with local partners to measure the extent to which this process of public engagement catalyzes shared understanding and collective climate change adaptation action. We will do this by employing before and-after surveys and in-depth interviews with simulation participants, as well as public debriefings with key stakeholders and elected officials. Simultaneously, we will work to initiate and support collaborative climate change adaptation planning efforts in each partner community.
The findings of this project will provide valuable insights into techniques for effectively engaging communities in public learning, risk management, and collaborative decision-making around science-intensive public disputes. We believe that role-play simulations offer a promising new way to engage citizens and other stakeholders in collaborative planning, and are eager to test this assumption with NERRS partners and coastal communities. It is our expectation that, beyond enhancing the suite of engagement tools available to NERRS and other organizations across the country, this project will directly help coastal communities across New England respond more effectively to climate change risks.