Dangerous weather events, including wildfires, floods, tornadoes, and extreme temperatures often disproportionately impact the most vulnerable.
Those charged with safeguarding their community’s health, economy, and well-being need to communicate with individuals and with socially vulnerable communities on what actions they can take, personally and collectively, in response to extreme weather events, with an emphasis on enhancing their resilience and adaptation.
While efforts to lessen the impacts of climate change are underway, decision makers need to effectively engage communities in creating policies that help build adaptive capacities for individuals, families, and the community as a whole. The following strategies can help to foster community resilience and build a bridge between decision makers and constituents:
Click on a strategy below to learn more
Community organizations can have strong ties to the people they serve. They have experience tailoring key messages to their audience, have trusted leadership that can step in as effective spokespersons, and are critical assets in communicating effectively and efficiently across communities. Effectively leveraging a trusted organization’s connection to a community involves genuine partnership – a two-way dialogue that builds a shared vision for helping the community.
An established process for making decisions enables understanding and engagement with new policies and changes. Sharing such a structure gives the community a common basis for dialogue and can explore how scientific evidence, cost, benefit, and risk assessments shape decision making. Communities need to be engaged in an inclusive process that gives them a voice and a place at the decision-making table. To participate in the process, individuals might need to be compensated for their time and provided with other resources to make their participation possible.
Racial and gender inequities can impact a community’s ability to undertake adaptation or hazard mitigation actions at the individual or community level. It is important for decision makers to acknowledge the impact of structural factors, such as resources, housing, and transportation, when communicating with vulnerable communities. Beginning or continuing to advance equity, both within and beyond the context of extreme weather, is an important tool to making communities safer and more resilient.
Best practices for public ownership include actively seeking engagement with community members, listening to feedback and adapting accordingly, establishing local public oversight committees, and implementing bottom-up approaches with community members leading solutions.
Design your message so it can be understood by the people that need to be reached — if things are too complicated or require a frame of reference the audience doesn’t have, they may not listen.
Paying close attention to how people interpret messages can help in designing communications targeted at different communities.
Frequently reminding people something important will help ideas stick — it can even make people less susceptible to misinformation.
Leverage voices that the community already know. The keys for a trustworthy messenger are expertise, trustworthiness and benevolence.
Share how the values of different decisions align with the key concerns of the community.
People care most about their immediate surroundings — things close to them in space and time. Focusing on the present can help build resilience for the future.
Seeing the catastrophic impacts of climate change can move people to take action — but, when done carelessly, purposefully stoking negative emotions can lead to hopelessness or a loss of credibility.
Leverage social norms. If there is an example of a person or nearby community that is liked taking action, share it — people will follow a good example.
Clearly explaining the costs, benefits and moral considerations for taking action or not acting can help people understand decisions and why they are made.
People are more likely to act if they believe they are capable of implementing an action successfully and they see the action as being effective in minimizing any adverse effects.
This rapid expert consultation was produced by SEAN, an activity of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that is sponsored by the National Science Foundation. SEAN links researchers in the social, behavioral, and economic sciences with decision makers to respond to policy questions.
How can SEAN help?
Are you a policy maker? Do you have a question you need answered? SEAN will consider the most pressing questions and engage the nation’s experts to focus on your challenges. Contact us at SEAN@nas.edu or 202-334-3440.
SEAN is a network of experts in the social, behavioral, and economic sciences poised to assist decision makers at all levels. The network appreciates any and all feedback on its work. Please send comments to SEAN@nas.edu.