How to Integrate Learning Into Climate Adaptation Policy Processes

Julie Dekens (IISD), Blane Harvey (McGill University), Andrea K. Gerlak (University of Arizona), and Tanya Heikkila (University of Colorado Denver)

The effectiveness of climate change adaptation decision making largely depends on how well governments and other actors embed deliberate learning into the policy process. Indeed, research shows that learning does not happen automatically—it needs to be created and nurtured.  

In the new report Integrating Learning in the National Adaptation Plan Process, Julie Dekens and Blane Harvey explore what it looks like to integrate deliberate learning into the National Adaptation Plan (NAP) process. The analysis reviews NAP documents to understand how governments are integrating learning considerations into their planning and offers recommendations for countries interested in integrating learning in NAPs.  

Learning in the context of climate change adaptation can be seen as the collective and deliberate process of acquiring, assessing, and disseminating new knowledge that helps shift attitudes, policy positions, and behaviours related to climate adaptation. 

Integrating learning into the NAP process is particularly difficult because adaptation requires that lessons make their way from one person, one organization, or one sector’s experience out through a wide set of actors and across multiple geographical scales.  

Strengthening the Enabling Environment for Learning 

One key to enhancing deliberate learning in climate adaptation policy processes is to strengthen the enabling environment for generating, sharing, and applying learning on a continuous basis.  

The NAP process provides a strong starting point for integrating learning into climate adaptation policy processes, and the enabling environment for learning can be further strengthened in the NAP process through the six key enabling factors outlined in the figure below.  

To bring these enabling factors to life, consider a football (or “soccer”) analogy.  

Much like a football team, engagement among diverse actors who influence decision making can similarly build capacity for collective action.  Photo: iStock

First, you need leadership.  On a football team, individual members of the team cannot learn to play as a team on their own. A coach and team captain can provide sources of critical knowledge, inspiration, and guidance for the individual team players to learn how to coordinate their offence and defence, prepare for the unexpected, and respond to other teams’ strategies.  Similarly, in the NAP process, the active involvement of high-level political leaders and recognized “champions” are vital in enabling learning to address adaptation.  

Second, to learn how to play football as a team, you must have clear rules and an organizational structure that outlines where and how each of the individual members play and practice. In the NAP process, the institutional arrangements that enable coordination across actors at all levels similarly ensure that new knowledge is shared systematically and that individuals are prepared to adapt.  

Third, engagement is a key element that enables collective or team learning. When playing football, all players need to show up and communicate on and off the field. Each player needs to consider the perspectives of players in different roles, from goalkeeper to defence, midfielders, and strikers, to develop a coherent and strategic approach. This establishes a shared understanding of what each team member brings to the field and how they can best work together. In the NAP process, engagement among diverse actors who participate in and influence decision making can similarly build capacity for collective action.   

Fourth, having a good structure and process alone won’t enable sustained learning. Resources and tools are also needed. For instance, good data is key to a successful football team in terms of understanding the effectiveness of the team and its opponents. In the NAP process, generating and using good data, knowledge, and key messages tailored to specific audiences is central to advancing the process.   

Likewise, football teams need to regularly invest in building the skills and capacities of individual players—for instance through training camps, specialized coaching—for the team to continue learning.  Making investments in individuals and organizations in NAP processes similarly ensures that the needed skills and capacities exist to learn about new ways to respond and adapt to climate stressors.   

Finally, financing helps attract the most skilled football players and allows for good equipment, coaching, and public relations. Resources can allow for dialogue, which is essential for learning. Similarly, the NAP process demands public and private financing from both domestic and international sources to fund climate change adaptation.  

Much like a football team, governments interested in enhancing the capacity for learning within their NAP process should strengthen their enabling environment for actively generating, sharing, and applying new ideas and knowledge continuously. Strengthening the enabling environment for learning is fundamental to advancing climate change adaptation. Doing so will help advance a strategic, coordinated approach to adaptation through the NAP process to channel support to the people, places, and systems that need it most.  

Learn more about the NAP process here and for more on learning in environmental governance here.  

Click on the image to access the report.