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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.