With our annual meeting fast approaching, it seems appropriate to reflect on the Climate Outreach Community of Practice (CoP) as we mark our sixth year together. The Climate Community of Practice is a group of education, outreach and extension professionals working together with local government representatives, non-profit organizations and businesses to develop a set of common approaches to climate change adaptation.
I was amazed at the numbers when I stopped to examine our membership. The CoP is composed of more than 300 members across 132 organizations, businesses and local governments. Members have backgrounds that cover every aspect of climate-related issues, including the natural sciences, social sciences, outreach, education and law and policy. At the core of the CoP is a workshop, held yearly since 2010. The workshop provides members with information on the latest climate science, demonstrations of new tools for the visualization of sea level rise, updates on policies that could be impacted by sea level rise and best practices from local governments. Throughout the year, the CoP hosts webinars on topics of interest submitted by members and keeps in touch through an online networking site called StormSmart Coasts. In addition, the CoP awards small grants to local communities to address climate-related vulnerabilities.
Accomplishments to Date
The CoP is not just a group that meets annually or hosts webinars, members are taking action to address climate issues and below are a few accomplishments of the CoP:
- Created a logic model to serve as a roadmap for members
- Funded a Climate Perceptions Survey for Gulf coast residents
- Funded several small grants to communities to address climate adaptation issues
- Conducted an evaluation of the CoP
- At least three Gulf coast communities have incorporated sea level rise into their planning processes (i.e. hazard mitigation plans)
- Hosted multiple webinars on climate topics
- Developed a fact sheet for sea level rise to be used with communities
- Introduced and shared new tools across the region
As the CoP celebrates its sixth year, there have been many lessons learned regarding this type of model for sharing information among practitioners and the local communities they serve.
- The involvement of local municipalities as partners in the CoP has proved beneficial for specialists to understand and continually evaluate needs. Local government representatives benefit from networking and exposure to the latest science and tools.
- The establishment of a logic model for the CoP with short-, mid-, and long-term goals has provided an essential framework for CoP operations. The logic model serves as a roadmap for what the group hopes to accomplish and establishes a shared common mission.
- The creation of work groups within the CoP gives members an opportunity to contribute to CoP functioning. Two of the most successful work groups are the meeting planning work group and the webinar work group.
- The CoP is an established regional network on a single convening topic which has made it easier for members to stay abreast of the latest climate science and tools, share best practices and identify needs across the region.
An evaluation conducted in 2012, showed room for improvement in developing regionally appropriate climate education messages and encouraging diverse participation by reaching out to additional groups working in the field. Interviewees that participated in the evaluation noted the CoP is an effective forum for information sharing and networking.
The CoP is a dynamic group that is always evolving. Our members draw inspiration and motivation from one another for projects that seem difficult to tackle alone. This year we plan to discuss how our group might evolve to survive in times of limited budgets and resources. Whatever direction that may take, I’m confident the CoP participants are in a better position to address challenges as a result of the trust and mutual accountability we have for one another.