Equitable Adaptation Legal & Policy Toolkit


Capacity Building for Policymakers and Community-based Organizations

Men and women sit around a table discussing; there is a large piece of paper that runs across the table with lots of small writing, signifying they've been brainstorming and planning.
A D.C. Ward 7 Equity Advisory Group meeting in April 2018 (Source: Georgetown Climate Center)

A commitment to embracing an equity-centered approach to policymaking begins with building capacity both at the governmental and at the community level. For state and local governments, building capacity includes ensuring that programs and projects are supported by the staff, training, and resources to advance equity in adaptation planning. Third-party consultants can also provide assistance to agency staff to train them to develop a vocabulary to articulate and identify equity issues, cultivate equitable approaches to engagement, assess community capacity, and recommend policy considerations to ensure planning strategies are aligned with community needs. Local governments can address the introduction and development of equity perspectives by hiring more inclusively and participating in training that directs decisionmaking with an eye to structuring activities that are aligned with the needs of the community. Organizations like the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN),See footnote 1 the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE),See footnote 2 and the Center for Social InclusionSee footnote 3 have developed professional training programs to provide planning staff with the skills and training to understand how to talk about racial equity and implement equity principles at every level of community engagement and decisionmaking. 

Capacity building is equally important at the community level to ensure that existing community knowledge is shared and supported throughout the planning process. State and local governments can ensure that community-based organizations have access to experts, technology, staffing, and training to ensure that there is sufficient infrastructure to fully participate in a community engagement process. Agencies can also provide the staff and tools to collect data from the community for input into future planning. Philanthropy can play a critical role in providing the financial resources to ensure that community-based organizations have access to facilitators, childcare, catering, and interpreters among other services during the community engagement process. In many instances, the budgets of state and local planning offices cannot support these services even though it is an essential element to meaningful community participation.

Coordinating staff and community to engage on a continuous basis provides critical feedback for planning initiatives while creating social cohesion that serves as infrastructure to overcome social isolation. By developing procedures and networks to ensure ongoing community participation and feedback, policymakers will be establishing new procedures for the adaptation planning and implementation process that favor collaboration over the top-down, agency-led approaches that typically exclude the community from the decisionmaking process and reinforce social isolation and racial inequality. Over the course of time, partnerships between government agencies and the community can foster the trust that is key to effective implementation of climate adaptation plans.See footnote 4 The more familiar people are with each other and trust each other, the faster the planning and implementation processes will move and the more likely it is to be successful. As a result, efforts to build trust become as important to the adaptation process as ensuring that the project implementation achieves its intended outcomes.

Capacity building at the governmental and community levels contribute to the effectiveness of community engagement and can strengthen partnerships between the agency and the community. Supporting these partnerships can increase the likelihood that adaptation planning and policies are aligned with community needs.See footnote 5 Adaptation planning processes can include consultant-led training to build the capacity of policymakers and community-based organizations to identify the causes of systemic injustice and the structural conditions that reinforce inequalities.See footnote 6 Participants in these trainings are better positioned to develop policies to overcome racial injustice and engage in an open dialogue about racial inequality that strengthens the partnership between policymakers and the community. Capacity training and support also establish a foundation for more transparent dialogue that is more likely to capture the needs of frontline communities while fostering mutual trust and accountability.

The organization Race Forward developed a Racial Equity Impact Assessment (REIA), which provides an organization with the opportunity to conduct a systematic examination of how different racial and ethnic groups will likely be affected by a proposed action or decision.See footnote 7 REIAs can assist policymakers with tools for minimizing the unanticipated adverse consequences of programs, policies, and budgetary decisions. The assessments are implemented prior to enacting a new proposal in the same way that environmental impact statements or fiscal impact reports are conducted. Although more commonly used in the United Kingdom than in the United States, a growing number of cities like St. Paul Minnesota, have developed racial equity assessment toolkit alongside training for staff to examine how race and equity informs the development of policies and the way that the city provides services to residents.See footnote 8 


Related Resources

Equity Foundations: USDN Capacity Building Program

This resource provides general professional development training for city sustainability directors and their staff on how to integrate racial equity in sustainable development and planning. The program is available online and includes a curriculum of five webinars, videos, and worksheets. The program was developed by the Urban Sustainability Director's Network in partnership with the Government Alliance on Race and Equity and the Center for Social Inclusion.

A Guide to Community-Centered Engagement in the District of Columbia

The Guide to Community-Centered Engagement was developed by the Georgetown Climate Center (GCC) in partnership with the District of Columbia's Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE). In 2017 and 2018, GCC in partnership with the DOEE worked to establish a community-driven planning process in the Far Northeast neighborhoods of Ward 7 to inform the District’s climate resilience and sustainability work. These neighborhoods were chosen because the District of Columbia’s climate vulnerability analysis showed that the communities surrounding the Watts Branch tributary of the Anacostia River face disproportionate flooding and other climate-related risks relative to other parts of the District. An Equity Advisory Group (EAG) of community leaders and residents of Far Northeast Ward 7 was convened and charged with developing recommendations to inform DOEE’s implementation of its Climate Ready DC and Clean Energy DC plans. This project allowed DOEE to work directly with community members to understand how best to implement strategies for addressing climate risks in ways that support other community priorities, promote social and racial equity, and capitalize on community knowledge. The project team also developed a Community Engagement Guide to reflect on the process and create a model for other District agencies to apply similar engagement practices in future planning and other District initiatives.

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