Workshop observations and feedback
In San Luis Obispo, 43 individuals attended the social systems workshop. It involved key city and county leaders and several local agency directors to provide links to ongoing mitigation planning efforts. After a project overview, workshop participants received a briefing on local climate change impacts and learned about the outcomes of the natural systems workshop. A tutorial on vulnerability and its underlying drivers, an overview of the county’s social, economic and infrastructure vulnerabilities (based on Moser and Ekstrom 2010a), and on adaptation as a necessary and complementary climate risk management strategy to mitigation followed. Workshop participants had an opportunity to ask questions, which immediately offered an opportunity to illustrate the benefits of stakeholder input into the entire adaptation planning process. Already, during the pre-workshop peer review of the social systems background report, knowledgeable locals identified a possible misreading of Census data underlying the social vulnerability index. Reviewers pointed out that the most vulnerable group according to our calculations—namely students living near the state university, Cal Poly, in the City of San Luis Obispo—were hardly “low income” (the factor that most drove the vulnerability in that location). We used that example to engage stakeholders’ local knowledge of that area and to point out what they could offer that cannot be obtained from data alone. This encouraged participants to identify other, more detailed information to bring the analysis “to life.”
In the structured and facilitated break-out group discussions in sector-focused groups of about eight to ten individuals that followed, attendees further deepened their understanding of exposures, sensitivities, and adaptive capacities. Participants had been pre-assigned to these groups based on expressed interest and expertise. Thus, significant local knowledge and geographic specificity could be added. After a mid-day break, sector groups briefly summarized their findings for other workshop participants before returning to the brainstorm of specific strategies to intervene to reduce exposure, sensitivity, and/or increase adaptive capacity (Fig. 2). Groups identified existing measures, programs, policies or laws that could be used to implement adaptation, identified what additionally would be required to realize a particular adaptation option, and who would be the lead actor(s) to implement them. A prioritization exercise and workshop debrief concluded the event. Among the many appreciative comments, one participant’s comment received many nods: “I thought we’d be spending all day talking about the depressing and uncertain changes we can expect from global warming. But, instead, we talked about how to create the community we really want.”
According to post-workshop surveys (answered by 28.6% of attendees after two email reminders), the vast majority of survey respondents found the information presented prior to discussions clearly presented, interesting, locally relevant, of appropriate length, and helpful for the day’s deliberations (Table 2). In the breakout group discussions themselves, most respondents also agreed or strongly agreed that they learned something new about vulnerability and adaptation, the themes selected for the county were the right ones, the discussion was useful, and that it resulted in overall satisfactory outcomes.
These outcomes were presented again to decision-makers at the follow-up forum several weeks later (25 participants) and to the 100 or so attendees of the public workshop, all of whom were very engaged and interested in the topic and adaptation options.
The Fresno social systems workshop was attended by 32 participants. As in SLO, the workshop was hosted and opened by a local city manager; participants also received a briefing on the results of the natural systems workshop and on vulnerability, adaptation, and potential social systems impacts. The day’s discussions in this location were related to and framed as extensions of the region’s Blueprint rather than focusing solely on local or regional climate policy agendas. The climate change overview was presented by a local climatologist rather than a project team member, a choice based on the desire to involve and build on previous work done by members of the local state university (Harmsen et al. 2008), and to diffuse some of the skepticism of climate change previously directed toward us. Comments on the social systems background report received prior to the workshop reflected not only that attendees may not be familiar with the state of climate change science, but also the contentiousness that the issue evoked among local audiences. Those comments were professionally addressed in writing prior to the workshop, which contributed to very congenial face-to-face interactions between the reviewers and the authors. However, the project team agreed that the issue would be received more easily if presented by a local expert rather than outsider experts.
The deliberations that followed were slightly abbreviated based on the experience in the SLO workshop with participant fatigue and the less-than-successful, somewhat rushed prioritization exercise at the end of a long day of discussions. The structure otherwise was the same. Workshop participants, while maybe less familiar with climate science, were extremely knowledgeable about the social conditions and the infrastructure and environmental issues pertinent to their social and economic systems and community services. Environmental justice issues, water and agriculture vulnerabilities, and public health raised engaged discussions and sophisticated suggestions for adaptation.
Table 3 summarizes the post-workshop feedback we received from 37.5% of attendees. The results are overall positive, yet somewhat more muted than in SLO. While the small number of responses makes interpretation difficult, we view it as indicative that some participant took the anonymous feedback opportunity to express complete disagreement with the climate science (and/or its interest and relevance to the day’s discussion). The link between adaptation and the Blueprint appears to have been unevenly successful, at least during the workshop discussions. And while the selected themes seem to have been of great interest and the most important ones for the county, participants vary considerably in their assessment whether or not the discussion raised all the right issues. Unfortunately, no additional information is available to better understand this spread of responses. Overall, however, the rating of satisfaction with outcomes is only slightly lower than in SLO.
Interestingly, despite initial difficulty in gaining interest for the project in Fresno among community leaders, the skepticism of the background reports and climate science, and the somewhat lower enthusiasm expressed in the survey, local leadership was extremely gracious and expressly grateful for being one of the two pilot studies selected for the project. This was reiterated by the 27 participants in the Fresno decision-maker forum in late October 2010. Participants, in post-event feedback, judged it as “an extremely valuable process” and appreciated the “opportunity to dialogue on this important issue.” At the same time, attendees acknowledged that “to get meaningful engagement on the subject of climate change by policy makers in our area will take time and patience” and many of the intractable issues require not just information but “resources to deal with them” and state-level involvement.
Evidence of attitude changes and adaptation progress
From follow-up discussions with key leaders from both SLO and Fresno counties, it is apparent that the workshop series overall was well received. It is too soon to assess the full impact of the workshop series as both counties are still in the process of determining policy options, but both counties are taking next steps that stem from or connect with the climate change adaptation workshop series.
According to county contacts interviewed in December 2010, several months after the adaptation workshop series, local government leaders have expressed interest in including the adaptation strategies developed by stakeholders in the regional sustainable communities strategy currently under development. This regional plan aims primarily at greenhouse gas emissions reductions through transportation planning, but offers opportunities to include several of the adaptation strategies suggested. This presents an exciting opportunity to create a model for how to integrate adaptation with greenhouse gas mitigation.
In addition, the County Board of Supervisors invited LGC’s Kate Meis to return to SLO in early November to present to them about the workshop series. This presentation included a summary of the process, highlighted the main socioeconomic strategies developed, and suggested next steps, encouraging them to work adaptation into existing planning and decision-making processes, such as the Energy Upgrade California Program (http://www.energyupgradecalifornia.org/), general plan updates, the Climate Action Plan, changing zoning codes, and building climate change projections into future development. Following the presentation, high-level county agency directors (some of whom participated in the workshops) expressed interest in taking the strategies developed with stakeholders and turning them into a chapter of their Climate Action Plan. Although it is clearly too early to tell what the long term effects will be of the workshop series, immediate indications of interest in adaptation, continued consultation of project leaders, and expressed interest in using the results from the workshop series in official planning efforts suggest that the project achieved or has laid a foundation for achieving its three main project goals.
If policy change requires problems, solutions, and windows of opportunity to come together synchronistically, the timing of this project was “just right.” Through careful and intentional building of trustful relationships between the project team, city and county officials, and a local consulting firm working for the county, skillful framing, and alignment of this project with the ongoing climate action planning process, the adaptation workshop series became embedded in an already ongoing locally directed and owned effort. This project provided resources for bringing stakeholders together for public dialog and offered locally relevant information about adaptation. While added after the initial policy development had already begun, our offering arrived at a time that still allowed local leaders to fully own it as an integral part of their efforts. Through separate funding, the developed ideas now have a chance to be taken up in continued policy development, which not only extends the shelf life of the project, but in fact offers an opportunity to develop a model approach to integrated climate policy.
At the time of project initiation in Fresno, the County was not engaged in any form of climate policy development, but had recently completed a regional planning effort aimed at avoiding further sprawl, loss of valuable agricultural land, air pollution, traffic congestion, and generally improved economic sustainability of California’s San Joaquin Valley. While its largest population center, the City of Fresno, had requested a report on potential climate change impacts from local experts, and the City itself had developed plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, little public discussion had ensued on the topic given the general skepticism of the reality of climate change. Consequently, the title of the report on social systems vulnerabilities prepared for Fresno County referenced the goals of the regional Blueprint, and framed climate variability and change as one of multiple stressors with adaptation merely an extension of existing policies aimed at improving the region’s sustainability. Pre-workshop feedback on that report revealed just how skeptical even local leaders are of climate change, yet the framing of the issue through the vulnerability, economic vitality and sustainability lens ultimately proved useful.
According to one local government official interviewed after the adaptation workshop series in Fresno, “It [the project] provided good support for bringing more people to the table who had not been in the conversation before. It especially helped add credibility that it was done by the Local Government Commission rather than the City.” As seems quite common in situations where discourse is contentious and positions hardened, an outside source of information or impulse can open up the discussion in a new way and reenergize it to move beyond seemingly intractable impasses (e.g., Moser 2006; Vogel et al. 2007).
While the climate change discussions this project afforded remained confined to invited stakeholders and decision-makers in Fresno County, engagement of all involved was—contrary to expectation given the political climate—very congenial, sophisticated, and constructive. Several opportunities are emerging that may allow the adaptation process to continue. LGC will be involved in at least two of these recently federal and state-funded efforts aimed at supporting sustainable community strategy planning and water quality improvement. LGC thus has the opportunity to ensure that the strategies identified in this project are known to planners and stakeholder involved in these upcoming processes.