Community-based adaptation planning (stakeholder participation/engagement)

A participatory approach for identifying a common community vision, drivers that can impact on attaining this vision and adaptation measures that can provide for a sustainable future.

This decision-making approach is being applied in response to growing global recognition that assessments of vulnerability and adaptation commonly fail to consider community needs when selecting specific adaptations and planning for implementation. The adaptation actions and strategies identified by this participatory approach offer broad benefits to the community regardless of uncertainty in future drivers of change, such as climate change. The adaptation actions identified by communities can be categorized into broad themes that relate to improving the resilience of the natural resource base that underpins food security and livelihood activities. These themes include: (i) reducing the level of exploitation of a resource, (ii) enhancing the buffering capacity of a resource, and (iii) increasing access to support or enable more sustainable practices to be adopted. By taking a participatory approach, communities are empowered to use their own knowledge and decision-making processes to adapt to climate change, and are provided with the capacity to implement adaptation actions.

Much of the information on community-based adaptation focuses on engaging with communities and the benefits of a participatory approach. There are good examples of programs that have used a participatory approach, and some online tools for implementing community-based adaptation to address climate change. Most of the information available is generic and there are no resources available with specific focus on the Caribbean.  


  • The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) addresses community-based adaptation to climate change and the benefits of using a participatory approach.  The link to their program website is here: IIED’s work focuses primarily on empowering communities to adapt to climate change and advocacy, training and capacity building to adapt to climate change. Much of this work has been conducted in Bangladesh, but some concepts are applicable to other low-lying coastal areas.
  • The Western Indian Ocean has a theme sheet on participatory techniques (collaborative management) as part of their marine protected area toolkit: This 2-page document describes a number of different techniques to engage stakeholders. The brief contains a case study from Tanzania and lists further reading material. There are concepts within this information sheet that are applicable to Caribbean reef managers interested in community-based adaptation.  
  • The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) describes adaptation planning and practices here: The main objectives covered are: 1) collecting, analyzing and disseminating information on past and current practical adaptation actions, and 2) facilitating communication and cooperation among and between parties and relevant organizations. There are numerous technical papers and workshop reports available for download with examples from a range of locations, but none are from the Caribbean.
  • A Community-Based Adaptation (CBA) toolkit has been developed through a collaborative effort by CARE International and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD): The toolkit offers a practical “how-to” guide for project teams in completing the project cycle for CBA projects. The toolkit also includes step-by-step guidance and recommends tools for all stages of the project cycles.  There are also links to useful resources as well as checklists for key project documents.
  • The International Institute for Environment and Development has a 2-page summary document entitled “Community-Based Adaptation: An IIED Briefing”: This is a useful summary of what Community-Based Adaptation is and why it is important. The briefing includes a section on lessons from the field and contains a case study from the Philippines. This briefing is an excellent starting point for reef managers first embarking on CBA.
  • The International Institute for Environment and Development prepared a 200+-page report that addresses community-based adaptation to climate change from the perspective of participatory learning and taking action: The report includes reflections on participatory processes and practice, participatory tool-based case studies, and participatory tools. There is an extremely high level of detail here but this is among the most comprehensive resources on the need for CBA to be highly participatory.  One has to dig, but there are some interesting insights in the report that Caribbean reef managers may find very useful.  As an example, the report makes a strong case for children being very effective communicators of climate change causes and effects.
  • Planning for species conservation in a time of climate change (Watson JEM, Cross M, Rowland E, Joseph LN, Rao M and Seimon A (2011) describes and classifies some of the different methodologies governments and non-government organisations are using to integrate climate adaptation into conservation planning. The sections on integrating climate adaptation into conservation planning and ‘best practice’ principles may be interesting background reading for Caribbean reef managers.

Key publications

Community-Based Adaptation to Climate Change. (2009) Ayers J and Forsyth T. Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development, 51(4): 22-31.

Adaptation planning for climate change: concepts, assessment approaches, and key lessons (2007) Fussel HM. Sustainable Science, Vol. 2(2): 265-275. DOI 10.1007/s11625-007-0032-y