Building Networks for Resilience

For many coastal communities, becoming more resilient starts with finding ways to work together to develop and achieve resilience goals.  In this post I wanted to focus on the growing interest in building networks of individuals focused on improving coastal community resilience. To gain deeper insight into how people are working together in this area of interest, I contacted Kelly Leo of the Nature Conservancy. Kelly leads the California Coastal Resilience Network, a group that “promotes knowledge exchange and policies that support adaptation solutions that strategically and comprehensively prepare California’s coastal habitats and communities for climate induced impacts.”

Below Kelly has responded to a series of questions regarding her experience building and maintaining this resilience network.

What prompted you to develop the California Coastal Resilience Network?

Here at The Nature Conservancy, we recognized that our team had more than 10 years of lessons learned from our work on coastal adaptation that others might benefit from, and that many of our partners throughout the state also had lessons they could share with us, and with others, from their own adaptation efforts. However, with the exception of the occasional conference on climate change, we were not communicating much with other adaptation practitioners; we were working in silos, each developing our own techniques and approaches, and creating some confusion as to what represented “best practice” for our partners working on coastal planning and adaptation at the local and even state level. We decided to lead the charge and find an informal way that we could learn from and collaborate with our partners statewide; coastal adaptation is a tremendous task and by working together, we can be more strategic and accomplish much more than we could alone.

What barriers have you faced along the way?

During our initial startup of the research phase, we could have better articulated our vision for this group and the desired outputs.  Once we were clear about our initial vision for the group, and the benefit it might provide to its members, participation grew rapidly and very organically. We also constantly battle member fatigue: coastal managers in California are very busy and have limited time to devote to learning and sharing even though we all acknowledge how important it is.  I do my best to find the perfect balance of engagement to avoid fatiguing members while still providing value.

What is the value of having a resilience network?

By working together, we are greater than the sum of our parts; we: learn from each other, streamline our efforts; provide greater consistency in adaptation approaches across the coast, and identify ways to collaborate to better facilitate the implementation of nature-based, multi-benefit adaptation approaches throughout California. If we succeed in implementing the change we will propose in our developing policy platform, we will advance California coastal managers’ ability to implement cutting-edge solutions that can protect our communities, and our iconic coasts, in cost-effective ways.

What advice do you have for others who are interested in developing similar networks?

  1. Know your role and make it clear, yet find common ground. Be able to article answers to these questions: Why are you creating this Network? What is the need? What do you gain from doing this, and what might your members gain? We did this by creating a vision and mission with the group, always articulating that we are The Nature Conservancy, so we are involved to share and learn, but also to further our ability to protect coastal habitats throughout California through proactive, economically smart coastal climate change adaptation solutions that protect nature and communities. Members include coastal managers that would benefit from learning more about, or furthering policy to facilitate, implementation of these types of adaptation solutions.
  2. Respect time and inboxes. Be very mindful about when to engage, and when to make some of the less consequential executive decisions on your own. A Network is meant to enhance people’s lives and their ability to do their jobs – do not give them more work to do unless it is essential to moving forward.
  3. Have a clear and measurable goal. Groups work really well when there is a measurable, achievable, and specific goal and everyone understands their role in and commitment to achieving it;  in the absence of that, most group activities become unsustainable in the long-term.  We developed a vision and mission, and are now working to develop a schedule of webinars for learning exchange, as well as a clear policy platform and associated implementation work plan to guide member activities and participation throughout the coming three years.
  4. Be patient. Networks take time and effort to build. It has taken almost two years to establish our plan for action, but momentum continues to build for the Network, as does the value we are providing to members. Allowing the Network to build slowly and organically meant that it built out of an identified need and interest of its members and, hopefully, has more staying power over the long-term.    
  5. Get to know your members. Take the time to speak with new members to identify their areas of interest.  Every time I receive a request to join the Network, I schedule a 30 minute phone call or lunch meeting to introduce myself, The Nature Conservancy, and the California Coastal Resilience Network to the new member, and to learn about their areas of interest and why they are joining.  These conversations supplement the information I receive from our annual electronic member surveys, and allow me to design webinars that benefit, and are of interest to, as many members as possible. They are also a fun and informal way of getting to know members and ensuring that the Network remains interactive as it grows – an important aspect of this particular Network.

Kelly’s responses indicate that building resilience networks requires careful and strategic planning, a dedication to effective communication with group members, and the ability to facilitate dialogue so that individuals are able to share information in an efficient way. Thank you Kelly for taking the time to share your experience!

As always, if you have feedback or questions regarding what Kelly and I have presented here, please leave your comments below.


Green and Gray: Understanding the Shades of Resilient Infrastructure

Coastal communities around the country are looking for cost-effective ways to increase their resilience (to sea level rise, coastal erosion and flooding, changes to coastal habitats, etc.), Green infrastructure is proving to be a viable management option for saving money and preserving habitat. Gray infrastructure, however, is still the focus of many resilience programs. More recently, researchers are starting to explore combined gray and green, or “hybrid” infrastructure management options. To better understand what this all means I have compiled a list of key resources in this area of interest.

Green infrastructure refers to the use of plants and water to perform ecosystems services.  This white paper explains how green infrastructure can benefit water, land, and air resource systems while offering co-benefits to the community, like flood protection and native species habitat. While more work needs to be done to quantify the cost and value of green infrastructure options, early findings show that they offer low cost options to communities looking to improve their resilience. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has put together a great set of resources for those looking to learn more. Here you can find tools for designing, financing, and maintaining different types of green infrastructure.

Gray infrastructure refers to the use of concrete and steel to support community operations. This community resilience guide describes the value of the “built environment” and offers a six step approach to gray infrastructure planning and management for long-term community resilience. It can be very costly to build, maintain, and/or relocate gray infrastructure (like culverts, sea walls, and roads), so communities are looking for creative ways to improve their resilience and manage the important built environment.

Hybrid infrastructure combines green and gray management options in an effort to optimize community resilience to a range of environmental and community hazards. This paper describes how green infrastructure and combinations of green-gray infrastructure are highly effective for improving coastal community resilience, but they explain that more work needs to be done to quantify and assess the usage and value of combined green-gray options.

In the end, coastal communities are looking to find creative and cost-saving ways to improve their resilience to the array of coastal hazards they face.  Therefore, interest in green infrastructure and combined green-gray, or “hybrid” options is on the rise. The resources linked here provide a foundation for understanding the direction of this area of interest.

Key Players in Coastal Resilience (Part Two)

Around the United States resilience work is happening at national, state, and local levels. My previous post identified primary organizations working at the national scale. Similarly, this post documents smaller scale, state and local level efforts.

Every coastal state in the US (including the great lakes) hosts a Sea Grant college program, and most are working in some way to improve the resilience of their local communities. As a boundary organization (or one that connects different communities of people) Sea Grant and its partners around the U.S. have been working on coastal resilience issues at the state level for years. Here are just a few well established Sea Grant program efforts:

Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium developed the Coastal Community Resilience Index. This tool is designed to act as a workbook for coastal communities who want to become more prepared for disasters.

Maine Sea Grant produced a series of videos about resilient coastal communities. The videos discuss how shorelines are changing, how communities might be affected, and what they can do about it. The Maine Sea Grant program also developed a widely used property owners guide for managing hazard risk.

North Carolina Sea Grant has been using a Vulnerability, Consequences, and Adaptation Scenarios Program (VCAPS) to engage communities around resilience issues. They also offer training programs for how to facilitate the use of VCAPS in other communities.

In addition to these tools and programs there are a few other state level programs that may be of interest:

The State of Connecticut offers the Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation (CIRCA). The CIRCA was developed to “increase the resilience and sustainability of vulnerable communities along Connecticut’s coast and inland waterways to the growing impacts of climate change on the natural, built, and human environment.”

The State of California hosts the California Resiliency Alliance (CRA). “The CRA is a non-profit organization that works to build sustainable public-private partnerships to support community disaster response and recovery, and adaptation to the changing climate.”

The State of New Jersey published “Getting to Resilience” post Hurricane Sandy. The tool is a “questionnaire that is designed to spur ideas and collaboration among local decision makers.”

As always, feel free to leave comments below with suggestions for additional posts or comments regarding this one. Thanks!






Key Players in Coastal Resilience (Part One)

When I started doing coastal resilience work for Oregon Sea Grant I first wanted to find out who else is working in this area and what they are doing. What I discovered is that there are dozens of organizations, big and small, dedicated to coastal resilience around the US. As coastal communities around the country become more interested in resilience, they may look for resources to help them navigate this complex landscape. So, I thought it would be useful to share with you three large organizations who are well established in this field of research and practice. I will follow up in another post with smaller, state level, organizations working in this area. For now, here are three national organizations working hard to make our coasts more resilient.

First, the Coastal Resilience Network is a web-based community of researchers led by the Nature Conservancy. Their work is “addressing increasing threats due to sea level rise and storms by bringing science and action together where nature is part of the solution to reduce risk.” They partner with a number of organizations in achieving their goals, including United States Geological Survey, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Center for Integrated Spatial Research at the University of California, Santa Cruz. You can learn more about their work by going to their website ( or by following them on Twitter @CoastalResilience.

Second,  NOAA developed the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit, which is designed to “provide scientific tools, information, and expertise to help people manage their climate-related risks and opportunities, and improve their resilience to extreme events.” Further, “the site is designed to serve interested citizens, communities, businesses, resource managers, planners, and policy leaders at all levels of government.” Anyone who navigates to the website: will find an array of useful information and a variety of tools designed to help communities become more resilient to their location specific hazards. The site contains everything from risk analysis frameworks and metrics, to temperature and rainfall data sets that can be used to inform decision making.

Third, The Coastal Hazards Center was developed post Hurricane Katrina by the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Jackson State University also co-lead the organization. Their mission is to “enhance the Nation’s ability to safeguard its people, property, and economy by increasing their resilience to the consequences of natural hazards.” Though much of their work has taken place along the eastern coast of the United States, they are starting to do more work out here in the west. The group supports a number of projects focused on things like developing cutting-edge storm surge models, local municipality resilience plan development, and educating students interested in  coastal hazards management careers. You can learn more about this group by going to:

Please feel free to comment to elaborate on or provide feedback regarding the information I have provided here.