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Facilitate knowledge exchange between communities to support innovation, experimentation, and adaptation by mainstreaming climate adaptation



The Issue

There is remarkable community-based climate change work being done around the world, but we don’t hear much about it.  Our goal is to share, learn from, and build upon these innovations and successes.

In addition, the narrative of climate change remains a fear-based message of disaster.  Fear does not inspire.  We want to change that narrative, and lead with a message of hope.

People need to see that change is possible – and see a way forward.

Our goal is to make that happen.

Our Project

To reach as many people as possible, we are combing documentary film, community engagement, and practical research with this project.  Initially, we will be working with 6 local communities in 5 countries to:

  • Produce a feature-length film – one that shares the remarkable work being done around the world, shows people that change is possible, and inspires people to be involved.

  • Develop a toolkit to help communities and practitioners around the world understand and replicate these innovative approaches.

  • Provide media trainings on low-cost film to help communities share their stories and success around the world, to propel innovation, experimentation, and adaptation.

We launched Our Place On Earth to learn from communities that are successfully responding to our changing climate and transforming social, economic and ecological systems.

Category of the action

Mitigation/Adaptation, Changing public attitudes about climate change

What actions do you propose?

Right now, there are communities around the world adapting to the impacts of a changing climate. These communities have incredibly important, on-the-ground knowledge and strategies, which can provide profound benefits to both our local and global adaptation and transformation efforts. These communities are creating the solutions, now we need to understand how they work and share them.

What's holding us back?

Unfortunately, the value of local knowledge and community-based adaptation efforts is often overlooked or misunderstood by planners, practitioners, and government.  In addition, small communities often lack the resources necessary to connect with these groups to finance, develop, and expand upon their efforts and knowledge.  Finally, communities are often limited in their capacity to share their knowledge with other communities. The result is that we are unable to learn from, share information with, or provide feedback to other communities engaged in similar crucial adaptation efforts.

What needs to happen?

1) We need to recognize the value of local knowledge, indigenous perspectives, and community-based responses to climate change so they can become a part of our global climate change dialog.

2) We need to build the tools to connect practitioners and communities, so together we can develop strategic and replicable responses to climate change.

3) We need to build the capacity in communities to share and access important knowledge and information. This type of knowledge exchange will facilitate more rapid and effective climate adaptation.


Film - Designed with a general audience in mind, our documentary film will tell intimate, human-based stories of people and communities adapting their lives to a changing climate. Our film will follow successes, challenges, and demonstrate the inherent value of localized knowledge, indigenous perspectives, and adaptation efforts. And unlike many climate change films that lead with messages of fear, ours will lead with positive examples of success and hope. By offering practical and positive ways forward - those based on the efforts of everyday people - we hope to inspire people all over the world to take action in their own communities.

Toolkit - Geared toward planning and policy practitioners, as well as communities, our toolkit will facilitate a deeper understanding of how to support community-led climate responses from both sides. It will provide guidance to professionals and communities not familiar with community-based climate responses, with the goal of developing more strategic approaches and replicating successful practices. The toolkit will be published online and available for public use. Working directly with communities to identify the characteristics of transformational change at a local scale, the toolkit will include:

  1. Case studies that exemplify transformational community change

  2. A synthesis of the characteristics that facilitate successful community-level implementation

  3. Documentation of practical tools and processes to support community-led adaptation

Media Trainings - Included in the documentary, and aimed at the community level, we will provide low-cost film trainings, to help communities share their stories and success around the world, to propel innovation, experimentation, and adaptation. This exchange of knowledge will help participants reduce the risks of climate change in their own communities.

Project Goals

  1. Contribute to shifting the climate change narrative from one of fear, to one of hope and possibility, by demonstrating successful practices and approaches from around the world

  2. Provide practitioners and communities with the resources to learn from successful community-driven responses in communities from around the world

  3. Generate knowledge and capacity that is shared beyond a narrow community of specialists through distribution of the toolkit and implementation of community workshops

Background research

There is growing attention to the need to examine transformability within the context of climate adaptation and resiliency. While “resilience and adaptability have to do with the dynamics of a particular system” (Walker et al., 2004, p.2) or set of systems, transformability refers to the capacity to fundamentally alter the nature of a system. As efforts to mitigate our climate impacts have not achieved the level of success needed to avoid adaptation, Folke et al. (2010) argue that transformational changes are now required.

This project will explore the features of agency that create transformational change by examining how communities create fundamentally new systems “when ecological, economic, or social structures make the existing system untenable.” (Walker et al., p.3) Understanding the characteristics of successful transformations in the face of climate change, allows us to effectively communicate and share successful practices.  Supporting this knowledge exchange can also facilitate cross learning and support, innovative large-scale actions.  


While there are many reasons why implementing transformational change is difficult, this project addresses two interrelated barriers:

  1. Barriers to knowledge sharing across scales

  2. Limited investment in two-way capacity development between communities and practitioners

Barriers to knowledge sharing across scales

One barrier to implementation is the communication divide between “specialists” (practitioners working in climate change and development fields) and communities experiencing the impacts of climate change. (Cundill et al.,2014) Not only is the use of specialized terminology a barrier to communication, “the folks who are best able to articulate the direct connection between climate and daily realities don’t have the resources, the communications strategy, or the relationships to make their voices heard.” (Park, 2009, p.31) Work needs to be done to facilitate a true multi-scale dialogue that supports successful on-the-ground strategies.

Deliberate transformations require small, sequential changes that serve as learning opportunities for transformational change at higher scales. (Folke et al.,2010) This shared learning requires open channels of information and knowledge sharing, something currently hampered by significant barriers to communication. (Girot, Ehrhart & Oglethorpe, 2012) Removing these barriers requires sharing information beyond a narrow community of specialists and developing creative processes of knowledge exchange between practitioners and community members. (Bours, McGinn & Pringle, 2013) Knowledge exchange also facilitates the alignment of local community action with regional, national and international actions, resulting in greater success in implementing deliberate transformational change.

Two-way capacity building

“Some of the world’s poorest communities are already formulating practical ways to adapt to the impacts of global climate change, and it is perhaps the higher-level stakeholders who need to be learning from them.” (Bours, 2013, p.7)

Facilitating two-way knowledge exchange requires a more balanced approach to top-down and bottom-up climate responses.  Achieving this balance involves practitioners improving their capacity to support rather than intervene in community-led climate transformations. It also necessitates the broader recognition that “local communities and indigenous peoples can contribute valuable traditional knowledge and practices for adaptation, based on their past experience of coping with climate variability.” (Girot, 2012, p.10)

Simultaneously, communities–especially marginalized and underserved communities–need to build capacity to navigate, use, and change institutional and social systems. “The capacity to adapt to climate change is unequal across and within societies.” (Adger et al., 2007, p.728) And transformational change does not rely solely on promoting healthy and flexible ecosystems, but also requires investing in “all forms of capital, diversity in… institutions, actor groups, and networks, learning platforms, collective action, and support from higher scales in the government structure.” (Folke et al., 2010, p.5) Capacity development, while not a magic bullet, helps to ensure community actors have the social and political capital to engage in the collective action needed for transformational change. It also provides a mechanism for building relationships and expanding social network configurations, a critical element of navigating transitions.


The barriers to implementation discussed above are not easily removed; however, existing adaptation approaches, if better integrated, provide a foundation for community-led transformations in response to climate change.

  1. Community-based Adaptation (CBA)-emphasis on empowering local communities to reduce their vulnerabilities

  2. Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EBA)-emphasis on harnessing the management of ecosystems as a means to provide goods and services in the face of climate change

While each approach evolved from different processes and value systems, they are more similar than different and, if integrated, present opportunities for supporting transformational change within a justice context.

Community-based Adaptation (CBA), first used in 2006, is defined as “a community-led process, based on communities’ priorities, needs, knowledge and capacities, which should empower people to plan for and cope with the impacts of climate change.” (Reid et al., 2009,p.13) CBA can also be a mechanism for responding to climate justice issues if applied through a Human-Rights-Based Approach (HRBA). The core principles of a HRBA are: equality, participation, empowerment and accountability. (Girot, 2012)

Implementing CBA approaches through a HRBA opens up opportunities to overcome the above-mentioned ­inter-related barriers and achieve a higher likelihood of achieving transformational change. However, approaching climate adaptation only through CBA runs the risk of “focusing on only one aspect of multiple dimensions of vulnerability.” (Dodman & Mitlin, 2011, p.645) Therefore, it is recommended to integrate both Community- and Ecosystem-based adaptation approaches, while maintaining a HRBA value structure.

Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EBA) is defined as the “use of biodiversity and ecosystem services as part of an overall adaptation strategy to help people adapt to the adverse effects of climate change.”  (Girot, 2012, p.8) Girot et al. (2012) characterize EBA activities as:

  • Maintaining ecosystem services by conserving ecosystem structure and functioning, recognizing that ecosystems have limits, undergo change and are interconnected

  • Using appropriate time and spatial scales

  • Ensuring participatory decision-making and decentralized, flexible management

  • Using information from all sources including traditional, local and scientific information

Two additional elements of EBA are temporality and scale, which can, if not intentionally aligned at the onset of an intervention, be at odds with CBA approaches. (Girot, 2012)

Temporality: While many social and economic impacts of climate change are apparent in the short run, “it can take time for climate impacts on ecosystems to manifest themselves.” (Girot, 2012, p.9)

Scale: Similarly, ecosystems function differently at various scales and most often their boundaries do not correspond with “social” boundaries.

Implementing an integrated approach

While both adaptation approaches are commonly understood, there is little peer-reviewed literature on their synergies and differences. However, a comparative review of both approaches suggests that, in practice, CBA and EBA approaches are not mutually exclusive and have considerable overlap. (Girot, 2012) This review also suggests CBA and EBA exist on a continuum of practice; implementing climate responses at the central point of this continuum improves efficiency and effectiveness and better supports transformability. (See figure below)

Who will take these actions?

Nuin-Tara Key is a research and policy consultant in climate change and urban development.  Her background lies in urban and regional planning and political science, with a focus on the social dimensions of climate change. Nuin-Tara Key has a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning from Portland State University in Portland, OR and was a National Audubon Society and Toyota 2010 TogetherGreen Fellow.

Nuin-Tara is lead researcher for the toolkit and a technical consultant and producer for the documentary. 

Tom Miller, Filmmaker/Artist,  founded his company, PrettyGoodProductions, in October of 2012. Since then, Tom has produced more than 18 films; completed a multiphase community-led storytelling project, (through a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation); written two feature-length screenplays; taught classes on filmmaking theory and technique; and has been recognized by The Native American Youth & Family Center (NAYA) in Portland, OR, for his part in amplifying their ongoing community development work.

Tom is the director and producer for the documentary film for Our Place on Earth.

Annierose Von Burg, Research Associate, candidate, MA Korbel School of International Studies

Annie is currently a Masters candidate at the University of Denver in Global Finance, Trade, and Economic Integration. Her focus is environmental policy and sustainable development. She has extensive experience working with elected officials and executive staff to support urban planning projects, conservation programs and regional legislation. Annie has accepted a placement with UNEP to work with the Fresh Water Ecosystems team on policy implementation and evaluation for environmental projects across the globe.


Mikell O’Mealy, Senior Associate in Climate Change Adaptation, Abt Associates

Patrick Pringle, Deputy Director, Adaptation Science, UKCIP

Stephen Zavestoski, PhD, Sustainability Director, College of Arts & Sciences, Co-Chair, Environmental Studies, University of San Francisco

Where will these actions be taken?

  • St. Vincent-Establish rainwater harvesting systems at 5 disaster shelters and Boys Training Center; ensure water availability during emergencies and increase community resilience

  • Bequia-CC-induced saltwater intrusion into freshwater aquifers; Increasing water storage capacity at the solar-powered reverse osmosis plant; install distribution lines to deliver freshwater to Bequia households

  • Petite Martinique-Coastal rehabilitation plan for Petite Martinique; constructing a revetment to protect the main road and only power plant serving the island

  • Barbuda-Prolonged dry periods resulting from CC, esp. Highlands area; constructing water catchment and irrigation system to channel water to farms where greenhouse technology may be used to increase food production

  • Nicaragua-CBA project in indigenous territories of the atlantic region. Reducing vulnerability and increasing resilience of 9 communities in Rama & Kriol Territories; capacity building for Rama and Kriol youth, ID of traditional and ancestral knowledge relevant to CC adaptation; implementation of CBA projects; use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to facilitate knowledge exchange between indigenous communities

  • Finland-CBA watershed restoration project in North Karelia, Finland; uses local knowledge and science to inform sustainable and co-management based responses to climate induced issues affecting traditional food sources and other wetland areas

  • India (pending grant funding)-Invited partner on grant application to the “Transformations to Sustainability Programme” through (ISSC). Application partner to Pradip Swarnakar, PhD (lead) and Stephen Zavestoski, PhD (support).  If awarded, OPOE will partner on the development of a global database of community-based sustainability experiments and case studies that explain local transformations. OPOE will provide training and capacity-building support for the piloting of workshops/training for non-academics to produce digital media case study content for database

What are other key benefits?

Investing in this two-way capacity building provides additional benefits in that it supports and aligns with a holistic and systemic capacity development approach, which is depicted in the “Capacity Development Butterfly” [Figure 1]. (Swiss Agency for Dev. & Coop., 2009) The “butterfly” is a metaphor that demonstrates the interrelationship between four components of empowerment.  Investing in two-way capacity building not only facilitates more effective transformational change in the face of climate change, it also supports systematic institutionalization of empowerment. (Luttrell et al., 2009)

What are the proposal’s costs?

Phase 1: $50,000 (excluding India case study)

  • Field research and site visits - $30,000 (Caribbean: July-Sept; Nicaragua: Sept-Oct; Finland: Oct-Nov.; India: Dec (tentative).

  • Equipment and materials (including workshops) - $20,000

All fieldwork expenses are fully funded (excluding India case study).  

OPOE successfully completed a crowdfunding campaign via Indiegogo in June 2014 to raise $35,000.  The remaining seed money has been raised through private contributions.

If awarded the ISSC grant (tentative response August 2014) OPOE will be awarded €10,000 to support partnership and workshops in India.

Phase 2: TBD (but anticipated range - $60,000-$100,000)

Toolkit documentation and distribution - $20,000-$40,000

  • Documentation - $10,000 for staff-time for documentation and editing; OPOE is pursuing grants and in-kind support from potential partners to support finalization of documentation (including review, editing and communication support). (The CoLab award would cover all documentation costs for the toolkit).
  • Distribution - $10,000 - $30,000; the budget range reflects potential variation in distribution approaches (e.g. technical support needs depending on complexity of online distribution and learning modules).


Documentary post-production - $40,000-$60,000

  • Post production range reflects range of scenarios for final production needs (i.e. complexity of editing needs, graphic support, music licensing); OPOE is pursuing grants and investment partners.

Time line

Phase 1:

March 2014 - July 2014: Case Study Identification

July 2014 - December 2014: Filming and site visits (research)

Phase 2:

January 2015 - July 2015:  Toolkit preparation

January 2015 - July 2015: Film post production

Mid-late 2015: Film release/distribution

Related proposals


Adger, W.N. et al. (2007). Assessment of adaptation practices, options, constraints and capacity. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, M.L. Parry, O.F. Canziani, J.P. Palutikof, P.J. van der Linden and C.E. Hanson, Eds., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 717-743.

Bours, D., McGinn, C. & Pringle, P. (2013). Monitoring & evaluation for climate change adaptation: A synthesis of tools, frameworks and approaches. SEA Change CoP, Phnom Penh and UKCIP, Oxford.

Cundill, G. et al. (2014). Social learning for adaptation: a descriptive handbook for practitioners and action researchers. IDRC/Rhodes University/Ruliv.  

Dodman, D. & Mitlin D.  (2011). Challenges for community-based adaptation: discovering the potential for transformation, Journal of International Development DOI: 10.1002/jid.1772.

Folke, et al. (2010). Resilience thinking: integrating resilience, adaptability and transformability. Ecology and Society 15(4):20 [online].

Girot, P., Ehrhart, C., & Oglethorpe, J. (2012). Integrating community and ecosystem-based approaches in climate change adaptation responses. ELAN Report.

Kalas, P., & Finlay, A. eds. (2009). Planting the knowledge seed adapting to climate change using ICTs: concepts, current knowledge and innovative examples. Building Communication Opportunities (BCO) Alliance.

Luttrell, C. et al. (2009). Working Paper 308: Understanding and operationalising empowerment. Overseas Development Institute, London.

Park, A., (2009). Everybody’s movement: environmental justice and climate change. Environmental Support Center, Washington, DC.

Reid, H., et al. (2009). Community-based adaptation to climate change: an overview. In Participatory Learning and Action, issue 60.

Mary Robinson Foundation. Principles of Climate Justice. Retrieved March 10, 2014, from

Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. (2009). Connecting Biodiversity and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation: Report of the Second Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group on Biodiversity and Climate Change. Montreal, Technical Series No. 41.

Smit, B. & Wandel, J. (2006). Adaptation, adaptive capacity and vulnerability. Global Environmental Change 16: 282-292. p.289.

Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. 2006. Working Paper: Capacity Development in SDC.

United Nations Development Programme Human Development Report 2007/2008.

Walker, B.H. et al. (2004). Resilience, adaptability and transformability in social–ecological systems. Ecology and Society.9(2):5.

World Bank. (2009). Convenient Solutions to an Inconvenient Truth: Ecosystem-based Approaches to Climate Change, Environment Department, The World Bank, Washington D.C.