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Climate Access builds support for climate action by connecting leaders across sectors to coordinate efforts and solve outreach challenges.



Majorities of Americans acknowledge climate change as a threat. Yet this concern rarely leads to strong public demand for policy or involvement in behavior change. This is largely due to the fossil fuel industry that dominates the public debate with endless manufactured uncertainty about climate change and promotes carbon-intensive energy development as the primary pathway to prosperity. It is critical that the debate be reframed and public engaged in the transformation to low-carbon, resilient communities.

A key challenge is that even with more than 670 climate outreach and education efforts underway and communities across the U.S. benefitting from climate action and clean energy solutions, the impact of these efforts has yet to be leveraged and the community success stories still remain largely untold. One major barrier is that many leaders working to promote climate action and clean energy do not have the tools, skills, or resources they need to build public understanding of climate risks or influence the cultural narrative around climate and energy beyond relying on fact-based appeals. They are isolated from one another and do not have mechanisms for sharing best practices, coordinating across like outreach efforts or amplifying alternative narratives and public engagement processes that promote low-carbon solutions.

The Climate Access Network launched 20 months ago with the goal of bringing together leaders from nonprofit, government, academia, faith, public health and other sectors to work collaboratively to build a strong and diverse base of public support for climate action through the creation of new cultural narratives and engagement approaches. We now need to scale up our efforts to develop thought leadership; identify best practices; provide training in climate education and outreach;  leverage the expertise of the network’s 1,700 leaders (largely from the US but including 42 countries) in problem solving; and help knit climate outreach efforts together.


Category of the action

Changing public perceptions on climate change

What actions do you propose?

TThe Climate Access team is focused on growing the capacity of the network to provide effective tools and resources for building public awareness of climate change and support for climate action and low-carbon energy programs. We aim to increase our ability to serve strategic sectors within the network membership (i.e. public health officials, religious leaders and other influencers) with tools, training, and consultation that allow them to develop impactful narratives and engagement campaigns that help diversity and motivate public support for climate action. Activities proposed include:

1)    Expand network capacity. In the past 20 months, the demand for has grown quickly. More than 1,700 climate and clean energy leaders who share a common goal of engaging the public in the transition to low-carbon, resilient communities have been screened into the learning, skillsharing and problem-solving network we are creating.  They are participating in our online strategy and problem-solving discussions and training programs; taking advantage of the resources in our electronic newsletter and on the website, including public engagement toolkits and tip sheets we have created; contributing to the network through actions such as writing blogs, leading webinars , and sharing examples of their work in the campaign gallery; and they are beginning to connect with one another through the member-only discussion corner and resource exchange that allows for leaders to share information and insights with other Climate Access members in a secure space.  As a result, the leaders who are part of our network are beginning to have more success engaging constituencies in support of climate action and are starting to feel part of a larger effort that has the potential to shift the debate and effectively engage the public in addressing climate change. As an example of what we're trying to do, two days after Superstorm Sandy hit, we pulled our members together with experts in climate science, framing and TV meteorology, framing to discuss storm response; this rapid-response roundtable discussion offered strategic guidance (i.e. do we leverage the storm for climate communications and if so how) an brought people together at an emotionally vulnerable time and made people feel connected and that they had a community to turn to. Now, we need to deepen network connections and opportunities for strategic collaboration by increasing our capacity to provide compelling content, resources and commentary; problem-solving guidance; and engagement and storytelling tools through the network site, as well as through our webinar training programs.

2)    Bridge from research to action. The volume of polling and research sources relevant to climate engagement challenges overwhelms many climate leaders. We want to expand our capacity to develop analysis of public opinion polling as well as translate findings from the social sciences into useful tips for climate outreach leaders. We aim to better leverage the expertise of the Climate Access members from academia to help create summaries on what practitioners need to know to effectively engage the public by creating narratives and actions that resonate. Our publications and tip sheets are used by thousands of leaders and provide a basis for developing training programs for network members.  For example, WWF used our guides and trainings as well as direct engagement with staff to create the Earth Hour City Challenge, which has exceeded all measures and is being expanded to five countries. As another example, earlier this year Climate Access convened a four-hour webinar training focused on the Six Americas research and what the findings mean for engaging different audiences on climate; the second half of the training used a case challenge format to help the National Park Service in their engagement efforts. Additionally, in our work surveying the 670 climate outreach initiatives referenced above, we revealed a major gap in the ability of climate leaders to measure the impact and effectiveness of public engagement campaigns. We aim to fill this gap by engaging Climate Access members (researchers and practitioners) in co-creating a measurement toolkit that would provide tips on measuring impact and examples of organizations effectively measuring their work.

3)    Identify and promote best practices. Bridging from research to action is critical but so is tracking the field of activities in climate communication and behavior change to identify new approaches and best practices.  This is particularly true given the rapid development of new communication technologies that are fundamentally reshaping the way we receive information, connect with friends, making purchasing decisions, etc.  We plan to expand on our work researching existing climate outreach efforts in several ways. First, we want to  create a more robust database of efforts in the field within and use it to store and help field data. Second, we want to apply the measurement toolkit referenced above to a sampling of the field to assess what groups are doing and the impact they are having.  From this, we would be able to develop a set of case studies that illustrate best practices. We anticipate the case studies will explore issues such as how groups are designing outreach campaigns to resonate with diverse segments of the public; what the best approaches are for building support for policy and behavior change programs in areas of particular relevance to communities, such as distributed energy; how leaders are incorporating  storytelling and public narrative into outreach efforts; what are the relevant lessons emerging from successful or unsuccessful risk communication programs, etc. Case studies will be shared within, used in training programs, and presented at sector conferences such as Behavior, Energy and Climate Change, the Garrison Institute, and others. In addition, we can use these case studies as benchmarks to help assess the progress we are making through Climate Access programs over time.

4)    Develop and promote a preparation narrative.  Starting with the publication of Climate Crossroads in April 2009, TRIG's Social Capital Project has been advocating that leaders should break out of the scientific uncertainty loop in the climate debate and focus on local impacts and how to prepare for and reduce them. In our subsequent study of the field of climate communication conducted on behalf of the Skoll Global Threats Fund, we found that preparation framing is being increasingly used by groups to show how climate disruption will impact or is already impacting their daily lives. The preparation frame is testing well with the public as was found with research done for Betsy Taylor's "Guide for Engaging and Winning on Climate and Clean Energy," which Climate Access director Cara Pike was an advisor on and  is now being credited for changing President Obama's climate pitch. We are currently finalizing a guide on how to build public understanding of climate impacts and how to engage communities in efforts to prepare for and reduce risk.  The next step will be to build a comprehensive online and in-person program for training civic leaders, planners, risk managers, public health officials, religious leaders, and other influential voices from the Climate Access network in how to adopt a climate preparation frame and how to best engage their communities in climate action planning efforts. There is emerging evidence that addressing climate impacts at the local or regional level can build support for mitigation efforts and we hope to test that premise by tracking the adoption and impact of using a preparation frame. The emergence and tested effectiveness of this frame we introduced is an example of how we identify gaps and opportunities and move the field there.

5)    Amplifying solution stories. Even for those who do accept the reality of climate change, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the scale of the challenge and to feel hopeless about the solutions. We have a major climate efficacy challenge and the solution is to create a sense of hope. We aim to provide climate leaders with tools and training programs that can help them tell compelling stories about the climate and clean energy solutions already emerging in communities across the country. Because there are several networks within the Climate Access network membership, we are in a good position to not only seed the field of practice with strategic outreach ideas around using effective solution stories, but  also call on our members to share their work to promote solution focused narratives and outreach projects in our campaign gallery on as part of an effort to aggregate and amplify efforts that are building a sense of hope for a low-carbon future. For example, when ICLEI was under attack from Agenda 21 conspiracy theorists trying to leverage a 1992 UN agreement to roll back climate and other sustainability and energy programs and legislate bans on ICLEI membership, Climate Access organized a virtual case study challenge to address ICLEI’s problem and communications challenges. As a result of the advice from the audience and panel of experts, ICLEI has shifted from playing defense to advancing a positive frame around local sustainability efforts, including the recent launch of a local resiliency campaign with support from mayors across the country. 

6)    Create In-Person Training and Networking Opportunities. The Climate Access team regularly speaks and provides training sessions on best practices in climate communication and behavior change to nonprofit organizations and government agencies. These outreach opportunities help grow the Climate Access membership base. Now at this phase of our development, our members are asking us to offer in-person regional training and networking events that bring together Climate Access members to problem solve, connect with one another, and learn from research and outreach experts. As a result, one of our goals is to develop a plan for a regional training and network development program. As part of this, we would partner with other climate communication experts to develop a curriculum and training method. This program would be piloted in one of the centers where there is a large concentration of Climate Access members, such as San Francisco, Seattle or Washington, DC.

7)    Enhance network connectivity by further developing the platform. We built our current web platform on a modest budget and while it has served us well to date, it needs to be upgraded to allow for increased member interactions and to provide collaborative workspaces for leaders addressing similar challenges (i.e. communicating climate adaptation), working in the same region, or who are focused on reaching the same audiences (i.e. youth). A priority is improving the functionality of our private member forums so we can continue to provide a safe, secure space for the exchange of ideas and resources while at the same time increasing connectivity to social media platforms and email list serves on particular topics. Additionally, now that site content and usage has grown, we need to rethink the way we are organizing content to improve the user experience and sharing of resources. From the outset, we have involved our members in helping to shape the development of our network tools and we plan to continue using this approach moving forward by gauging network member needs through surveys as well as beta testing of new site functionality.

Who will take these actions?

The Social Capital Project, an initiative of The Resource Innovation Group, a 501c3 based in Oregon, launched Climate Access.

Bob Doppelt, TRIG’s executive director, is an expert in systems-based problem solving, an adjunct instructor in the Department of Planning, Public Policy and Management at the University of Oregon, and the author of a number of books including, From Me to We: The Five Transformational Commitments Required to Rescue the Planet, Your Organization, and Your Life.

Cara Pike is founder and director of Climate Access and the Social Capital Project. Her publications, including Climate Communication and Behavior Change, are used by thousands of practitioners and she advises organizations on effective outreach strategies including the Obama Administration, Union of Concerned Scientists, and British Columbia’s Climate Action Secretariat. Cara serves on the communication and public outreach-working group for the National Climate Assessment. Previously, she was VP of Communications for Earthjustice.

David Minkow is the editor of , produces trainings and online forums, and engages Climate Access members in network activities.  He is a veteran award-winning journalist, including more than a decade as a producer with San Francisco public radio station KQED-FM.

Meredith Herr is the webmaster and coordinator for Climate Access. She conducts long-term trend analysis on public opinion, translates social science research into tools, tracks public engagement efforts, and helps create training programs. Previously, she was an assistant research scientist at the Research Center for Leadership in Action where she investigated the relationship between personal and societal transformation with grassroots leaders. 

Where will these actions be taken?


Activities will largely take place online via The network gatherings and skill-building sessions will be piloted in locations where there are large concentrations of Climate Access members. This includes San Francisco, Washington, DC, Seattle, New York and Vancouver. The preparation guide and in-person training sessions will take place in locations where either we have a large cluster of Climate Access members working on adaptation and resiliency issues, or where there is a significant project underway outside of the network, such as the Southeast Florida Climate Compact planning effort. Finally, trainings for building a solutions narrative will occur in locations where we have members who have the most compelling success stories or who make for particularly influential and compelling messengers, such as religious leaders and community economic development organizations. 

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

What are other key benefits?


If successful with Climate Access, we will have trained some of the most influential organizational and movement leaders in how to effectively engage constituencies in climate solutions through the use of social narratives that shift the debate to one focused on impacts and actions that can be taken; by building an understanding of the social values that underlie climate opinion, by creating a sense of efficacy; and by developing measurement tools.  We are testing a new collective intelligence model for building and motivating an issue public by breaking down silos across organizations and sectors; encouraging links across efforts; promoting the sharing of resources; and tapping the expertise of network members to solve tough engagement challenges. In the long term, we want to see an increase in the percentage of the public that not only accepts climate change but also sees a path forward to low-carbon lifestyles and that are willing to play their role in the transition.


What are the proposal’s costs?

The costs for the next phase of growth for Climate Access are as follows:


TRIG Director (.10 FTE)                                            $10,000

SCP Director                                                              $90,000

SCP Senior Associate                                               $65,000

Climate Access Senior Editor                                    $72,000

Personnel taxes and benefits                                    $75,840

Subtotal non-personnel                                             $312,840


Professional services - Climate Access writer          $25,000

Professional Services - Researchers                        $30,000

Training Events                                                           $60,000

Climate Access web hosting                                       $  1,500

Climate Access web maintenance & upgrades          $30,000

Conference Fees                                                         $  5,000

WebEx Account                                                           $  4,800

URL registration                                                           $     100

Telephone & internet                                                    $10,000

Email account                                                               $     250

Mail Chimp                                                                    $ 1,500

Travel                                                                           $20,000

Supplies                                                                       $  3,000

Postage & shipping                                                     $  1,000

Printing & Publication                                                  $ 2,000

Administrative costs                                                   $ 1,942

Subtotal nonpersonnel                                             $196,092

Subtotal personnel & non-personnel                  $508,932




Time line


Expanding network capacity and bridging the gap between research and action. are ongoing activities that help sustain the basic functioning of the network.


We aim to develop our field-tracking database by the end of 2013. This will be done in conjunction with the improvements that need to be made to the technical platform which is our most urgent funding priority.

In addition, we will complete the preparation-framing guide in the summer of 2013 and will look to pilot at least one online and one in-person training by the end of the year.


Our goal is to pilot our first in-person Climate Access member networking and skill building session by early 2014. We will then look to expand and fund a larger in-person network development and training program by the end of 2014.

We will look to develop solution narrative tools and pilot an online and in-person training program by mid 2014.

Related proposals


Dr. Tony Leiserowitz, Director, Yale Project on Climate Communication (

Dr. Ed Maibach, Director, Center for Climate Change Communication, George Mason University (

Suzanne Shaw, Communication Director, Union of Concerned Scientists (

Dr. Susanne Moser,  Director Susanne Moser Research and Consulting and Social Science Senior Fellow at Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University (

Heather Bauer, Climate Action Analyst, BC Ministry of the Environment’s Climate Action Secretariat (

Scott Miller, Director, Executive Director, Resource Media (

Keya Chatterjee, Director, International Climate Negotiations. World Wildlife Fund (