Over the past 20 years, climate change has made extreme weather events more frequent and more intense.

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.

Reaching the most vulnerable

Extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change can compound existing vulnerabilities and inequities experienced by socially vulnerable people including pregnant people, children, low-income populations, Indigenous populations, immigrant groups, the elderly, people with disabilities, vulnerable occupation groups, communities of color, and people with preexisting or chronic medical conditions. Decision makers need to adopt strategies for engaging these communities on an ongoing basis to inform and empower individual decision making, identify and understand local concerns, and provide the necessary resources.

Strategies for Engaging Communities

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

Photo for Form partnerships with trusted and diverse community organizations

Form Partnerships With Trusted and Diverse Community Organizations

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.

Photo for Facilitate a Structured Decision-Making Process between Decision Makers and Community Members

Facilitate a Structured Decision-Making Process between Decision Makers and Community Members

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.

Photo for Address Key Structural Inequities That Increase Vulnerability

Address Key Structural Inequities That Increase Vulnerability

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.

Photo for Allow and Encourage Community Ownership and Leadership of Responses

Allow and Encourage Community Ownership and Leadership of Responses

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.

10 Key strategies for communicating about risk and promoting adaptation
Use simple, clear messages by paring down technical information

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.

Understand how messages are interpreted by different communities

Paying close attention to how people interpret messages can help in designing communications targeted at different communities.

Repeat messages often

Frequently reminding people something important will help ideas stick — it can even make people less susceptible to misinformation.

Enlist caring messengers trusted by both decision makers and local communities

Leverage voices that the community already know. The keys for a trustworthy messenger are expertise, trustworthiness and benevolence.

Articulate clear objectives for climate and disaster–related actions

Share how the values of different decisions align with the key concerns of the community.

Move beyond the abstract, and describe risks in terms that are psychologically near in space and time

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.

Trigger affect-driven responses, but use emotional appeals judiciously

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.

Emphasize emerging social norms around adaptation and resilience

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.

Frame climate change–related hazards and risks strategically

Clearly explaining the costs, benefits and moral considerations for taking action or not acting can help people understand decisions and why they are made.

Convey the available risk management options and their effectiveness

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.

Learn More

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