General Interest

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!