Reflections on the 2019 National Adaptation Forum

The National Adaptation Forum is my second favorite conference (second only to our own, of course!). The 4th National Adaptation Forum (NAF) was held in Madison, WI over three packed days, April 23-25. It is the bi-annual gathering of climate adaptation professionals from across the country. NAF is a smorgasbord – it provides little tastes of every sector in the climate adaptation field. It is the perfect place to get an overview of adaptation practice in our country and to consider how your work overlaps with other sectors.


The National Adaptation Forum serves many purposes as a:

●      celebration of the amazing, innovative work being done on the ground by passionate and tireless practitioners and researchers;

●      source of inspiration to take home what we’ve learned and apply it to our own projects;

●      respite for those working in parts of the country where climate change is considered a dirty word;

●      collective morale boost for those coping with the daily ups and downs of tackling such a challenging and monumental issue;

●      place to strengthen connections and work together to advance the field of climate adaptation.


For those that couldn’t attend, here are some of my takeaways and what I heard at the conference:


The importance of and tremendous interest in network building


People are hungry for connections with their peers and see the incredible potential to advance all of our collective work through peer knowledge exchange and sharing of best practices. Not to mention the potential power of networks coordinating and collaborating together and providing a more unified voice for the field.  You can see that this was also a common thread among the Regional Adaptation Fora held last year.


To help facilitate learning among networks, I’m co-leading a new ASAP Member-led Group for Coordinators of Adaptation Networks and Groups across the country. Please invite other adaptation network coordinators to join. I look forward to sharing the outputs with Mass ECAN! Network coordinators have many essential roles, including helping their members parse through what one speaker termed the “tsunami of information” on climate adaptation.


Adaptation practitioners face some similar challenges regardless of sector


In a similar vein, there is great potential for us to learn from each other. We often encounter similar challenges, issues and opportunities in our work.  I identified with many speakers’ experiences, including those from other sectors. In one dynamic session, the audience participated in the Liberating Structures Troika Consulting exercise. In a nutshell, we broke into groups of three and each person took a turn asking for advice from two peers. It was amazing to discover how many of the questions and pieces of advice from these two strangers resonated given our common shared experience as adaptation practitioners in boundary-spanning organizations! I left that session feeling warm and fuzzy as part of a community of peers.


Our state is a leader in the nation on climate adaptation (policy and practice)


This year, there was a strong Massachusetts showing -- I lost count around 30 attendees. Mass ECAN members and friends gathered at a Networking Lunch session and ran into each other at the many sessions, talks, and posters by Massachusetts colleagues.


People I spoke with were particularly impressed by the real funding available (and discussions of future funding) for adaptation planning and action at the municipal level through the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) program, as well as by the demonstrated interest in organizing and connecting represented by our Mass ECAN community of practice.


The field has grown but there are still others to bring into the fold


Every Forum I attend seems to have more varied participation. With about 950 registrants and many more submissions than available presentation slots, there is clearly substantial interest. In part this trend is due to the hard work of our Program Committee to include sessions across a wide-spectrum of topics and themes (and to ensure that there are experts on each evaluating conference submissions). I also attribute this diversity to the efforts of the NAF Equity and Diversity Working Group to ensure that a wide variety of voices are heard.


And yet, there is still more to be done to bring in additional partners to share their work on climate adaptation. Some of these absences may be related to the more local or regional nature of certain sectors’ and organizations’ work, so hopefully their needs are being met by statewide or regional conferences – food for thought as we plan our 2019 Mass ECAN conference!


Thanks to everyone who made the conference possible!  Or as one speaker phrased it, “thank you for your bravery and your hope.” I have so much respect for everyone taking on this immense challenge as part of their life’s work. As another speaker put it: “my success is because of partners around me.”


I left the conference wishing for a couple more days and incredibly thankful to be working on climate adaptation in such a supportive state here in Massachusetts. If you attended, I’d love to hear about your experiences at the conference. I’m excited to see what we’ll bring to share at the next NAF. Hope to see you there in 2021!



Communications Expert Work Group Products

Although most Americans accept that climate change is happening, most also perceive it as a distant threat. They see it as someone else’s responsibility, and feel helpless to do anything about it anyway.

For practitioners on the front lines of climate adaptation, that’s a problem. We see the impacts of climate change in flooding rivers, drowning salt marshes, and pest-infested forests. We recognize the need to act now. But without buy-in from colleagues, landowners, community leaders, officials, and funders, we can’t.

Effective communication is essential for engaging diverse stakeholders in climate adaptation, but many practitioners need guidance on how to reach target audiences with messages that are empowering, not overwhelming. Practitioners in the land conservation sector have a unique role to play in advancing climate adaptation on the ground, but many are just starting or haven’t yet started having those conversations.

  In response to this challenge, the Massachusetts Ecosystem Climate Adaptation Network (Mass ECAN) -affiliated Climate Communications Working Group partnered with the Land Trust Alliance and the Open Space Institute to create a set of climate-communication recommendations based on social-science research, a searchable database of example climate-communication products developed by Northeastern land trusts, and a gallery of real communication products developed by practitioners that embody best practices, with accompanying interpretive text explaining why.

These products can help practitioners develop effective communication techniques based on research and examples from peers that bring best practices to life.

While this project grew from a partnership with organizations focused on land trusts throughout the Northeast, the Work Group is continuing to collect and share good communication examples from practitioners in other sectors here in Massachusetts. If your organization has an outstanding communications product, please feel free to share it with massecan at

Explore the products:

Recommendations for climate change communications

Database of example communication products

Example communication products with interpretive text:

Tug Hill Tomorrow

Maine Coast Heritage Trust

Vermont Land Trust

Scenic Hudson

Reflecting on the 2018 Mass ECAN Conference

Thanks to everyone who supported and participated in our successful second annual conference! We are busily digesting and processing all that we heard, but as a start, here are some of my reflections on and takeaways from the day.

1. Mass ECAN is growing and filling an unmet need in our state.

Mass ECAN is a unique community of practice, even among its peers in other states, because of our geography (statewide) and scope (foundational interest in ecosystem resilience and natural resources conservation across sectors and organizations). Mass ECAN has created a space for climate adaptation practitioners and researchers to advance the conversation about ecosystem resilience and the role of nature based solutions.

Since launching one year ago, Mass ECAN has grown to 235 members.  At this year’s conference, we brought together over 100 people, almost half of who were not yet members of our Network.  Attendees came from across the state (and neighboring states!) and represented a cross-section of organizations from academia, non-profits, businesses, and state, federal, regional, and local agencies and boards.


2. There are both challenges and benefits to having a statewide network and conference.

Massachusetts is a diverse state where there are real differences in experiences from east to west, urban to rural. There is a lot we can learn from peers working in different contexts! Our conference tries to provide a little taste of everything with an emphasis on topics or initiatives that are important to climate adaptation in our state regardless of focus area, sprinkled with on-the-ground examples and speakers working in specific systems. We will be taking your feedback on what you’d like to see at next year’s conference and working to maintain a balanced agenda. Also, finding a centrally-located venue is always a challenge, so please send ideas! On the whole, our community of practice will need to be dynamic as the field of climate adaptation changes and continue to be responsive to input from members to shape what we do next.


3. There is great work already going on in Massachusetts and even more interest in increasing climate adaptation and resilience

Climate adaptation is an ever-changing target, but we heard from many speakers who have taken the first steps. We don’t have time to reinvent the wheel (climate change is urgent!), so it’s essential to share lessons learned.

We heard that:

·      Massachusetts is a leader among states with a couple major initiatives underway: integration of the first-ever State Hazard Mitigation and Climate Adaptation Plan and support for municipal adaptation planning and action through the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Program.

·      Our affiliated expert work groups are diving deep into specific research and action on thorny adaptation topics that require cross-organizational collaboration.

·      While often considered an after-thought, proactive monitoring and evaluation is key to adaptive management and understanding the impacts of our work in a changing climate.

·      Regional organizations have a unique role to play in convening and advancing climate adaptation across municipalities and at the watershed-scale.


4. There is a lot we can tackle together

We heard many great ideas for how Mass ECAN can be a resource to members and advance climate adaptation on-the-ground, reflecting how much work there is to be done. Stay tuned for another opportunity to provide feedback and prioritize what we do next as a Network.

You said it best – here are some reflections from the conference evaluations:

·      What you found most useful -

o   “Connecting my work with others and the bigger picture."

o   “Learning about other efforts in different areas of MA that I/my partners can link to as to not recreate the wheel and learn from best practices.”

o   “Pairing up regional habitat restoration, water quality/ quantity issues and land use priorities with resiliency can help stretch funds out further and assist municipalities by providing applicable implementation case studies in the event of limited time/ financial resources.”

·      What you learned that you can use in your work -

o   “I like the framework of resistance/resilience/transition for thinking about a multi-faceted approach to adaptation.”

o   “The broad range of climate change risks and solutions from urban-rural communities.”


Thanks and hope to see you at next year’s conference!