To help reduce the immense human and financial toll of disasters caused by natural hazards and other large-scale emergencies, the Committee on Applied Research Topics for Hazard Mitigation and Resilience has been charged with identifying applied research topics, information, and expertise that can inform action and identify collaborative priorities to advance natural hazard mitigation and resilience. The committee, which was formed at the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) by the Resilient America Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, selected two large-scale themes within which to identify applied research topics. An initial report examined the theme of Social Capital and Social Connectedness for Resilience.1 A second report, detailed here, considers the theme of Motivating Local Climate Adaptation and Strengthening Resilience.
To meet this charge, the committee organized a public, 1 day-long virtual workshop to survey existing knowledge and practice, featuring a diversity of voices and expertise on this topic. Based on information from this workshop and committee members’ backgrounds and experience with hazard mitigation and resilience, three topics were identified as being particularly important for motivating local climate adaptation and strengthening resilience: (1) co-production of stakeholder-friendly data and useful information with local communities, (2) development of integrated local approaches to strengthening climate adaptation and resilience, and (3) building trust in data, processes, and partners to motivate local climate action.
On the first topic, co-production of stakeholder-friendly data and useful information with local communities, data need to be converted into useful, valid information for communities to make decisions and investments that ensure the safety and resilience of their residents, economy, and environment. Information that communities receive needs to reflect the challenges and opportunities of those communities so that it will not just be useful, but also used.
Collaborative relationships between all stakeholders who transfer data, information, knowledge, and insight into on-the-ground needs, opportunities, and constraints for community action can enable broader agreement for critical, life-saving decisions and actions. Co-development and co-production of data and information provide useful approaches to collaborative work between stakeholders.
Translating data into information can imply a one-way process, but a better concept may be a crosswalk in which data providers and users in the community examine available data to determine their applicability relative to the community’s needs. Collaborative relationships between all stakeholders can enable shared understanding of issues and broader agreement and buy-in to decisions and actions.
A clearinghouse of climate data and analysis tools that are vetted for quality and applicability by hazard, location, and audience could be useful for many communities.
1 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Enhancing Community Resilience through Social Capital and Connectedness: Stronger Together! Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Communities may also need ways of feeding data back to state or federal organizations to improve hazard assessments.
On the second topic, development of integrated local approaches to strengthening climate adaptation and resilience, integrating data and information into community decision-making requires a framework that will lead to tangible, appropriate results. An integrated systems approach to translate information into action can help ensure holistic decisions.
Connecting information with opportunities for action requires understanding different hazard and vulnerabilities, risk perceptions and values, historical inequities and their impacts, and available community capabilities and assets. Extensive community involvement expands the information and experience base for deliberations, builds understanding and buy-in for decisions, and strengthens networks for implementing climate actions.
Extending benefit-cost analyses (BCAs) to factors beyond money is a valuable topic for applied research because current tools have many limitations that may lead to disproportionate distribution of costs and benefits across the community when used for determining resource allocations for climate actions. Individuals and communities also often have difficulties with considering and prioritizing long-term challenges. Communities may need technical expertise to make decisions in integrated ways and achieve full participation of community groups in the process.
On the third topic, building trust in data, processes, and partners to motivate local climate action, local community members often have a more direct and tangible connection to current local risks and recent disasters than do state and federal officials. Unless they trust the authority and credibility of the information being provided to them by the state and federal governments, they are unlikely to take action based on that information. The characteristics of this trust and of the processes that build and strengthen it are valuable objectives of future applied research.
Trust is also needed between different levels of government. For many communities, developing a system to allow local communities to provide vetted data (both scientifically and traditionally generated) to a regional or national product could build the trust needed on both sides for data to be useful and used.
Researchers can play a role in building trust in communities, in part by learning to include key local players in the conversation. Trust develops when the entire community is engaged honestly and fully.
In addition to these three applied research topics, the committee identified three principles that cut across all three topics: (1) equity and inclusion, (2) community co-development and ownership, and (3) community-level feasibility.
Opportunities for understanding and addressing existing inequities and disparate impacts from climate change are available when compiling and analyzing climate data, setting community priorities, and making decisions and investments to adapt to climate change. Equity is an inherently transdisciplinary issue that encompasses many different indicators of health and well-being and many different population groups, including under-served, under-resourced, and historically or systemically marginalized communities. Research on inequity covers not just the origins of disadvantage but also the conditions that make possible positive health- and life-affirming programs and practices.
Addressing and adapting to climate change may require significant changes in a community’s development patterns, infrastructure, and investments. Participation and co-development of alternatives and solutions by community members can help build critical ownership in the resulting decisions and actions. In particular, peer-level and peer-to-peer engagement can help build community ownership as community members engage with each other to join climate-related discussions and decisions.
The feasibility of motivating local action to address climate impacts and build resilience depends on several factors, including applicability, affordability, practicality, portability, scalability, and justifiability. Perhaps most importantly, communities need resources to move forward on climate action, whether in the form of data, dollars, knowledge, or understanding.
Many communities are already experiencing impacts and challenges related to climate change and many more are taking seriously the impacts they recognize are coming. However, the range of pressing challenges that demand attention at the local level often limits the attention paid to future threats. The hazard mitigation community, which has long faced similar challenges when advancing pre-disaster investment and action, can provide insight and experience to inform climate adaptation action.
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