Eight tips for building successful local adaptation partnerships

It’s been eight months since I started in my role as a project manager for Climate Ready Clyde. I’m two-thirds of the way through my initial appointment, and I’m pleased to say that things seemed to be going well. When I started as project manager, my Director and I agreed I should keep a learning journal. Slightly different to the lessons learned log, I’m aiming to unpick the successful ingredients needed for forming adaptation partnerships.

Since starting my work to form the initiative, we’ve had a number of positive early outcomes, including:

  • Developing our snazzy invitation pack (see below), in turn securing buy in from 9 partners
  • Securing £40k from Scottish Government to explore the economic impacts of climate change and develop a toolkit to support assessment of major projects’ climate vulnerability
  • Securing an interim chair, James Curran, the ex-Chief Executive of the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), and Chair-elect of the James Hutton Institute
  • Positioning the City Region as a demonstrator for seven EPSRC Living With Environmental Change fellowships – providing £4.6m of research which will develop evidence on climate vulnerabilities and impacts for a range of sectors


Climate Ready Clyde invitation pack

The Climate Ready Clyde prospectus, with draft work programme, and invitation letters from the Scottish Government and the Climate Ready Clyde steering group


Given this, and that we’re likely to now be able to formally take forward a City-Region partnership initiative, it seemed like a good place to take stock, reflect on what I’ve learnt so that anyone else starting collaborative adaptation approaches can hit the ground running.  From some reflection, as well as examining the ‘lessons learned’ log, I’ve come up with the following:

  1. Build belief in the ability for change – Early on, you’re selling a concept or an idea. Partnerships work really well in lots of other areas, so really, what you need to prove is that you can make it happen, and quickly, and that it’s a credible alternative. The other points below are really my reflections on what I’ve done to demonstrate this.
  2. Understand the value proposition and develop a clear offer –Securing buy in relies upon, your ability to outline your plans and be able to articulate why they make sense. In the case of our proposition, it was about co-ordination (minimising all the different conversations), having access to expertise and evidence, and dedicated capacity – these all came through strongly in my early discussions. People also need to understand exactly what they’re getting for their money, so a clear work programme with timescales and outputs is also a must. Finally, there will always be other work underway which overlaps to a certain extent – in our case, both the Metropolitan Glasgow Strategic Drainage Partnership and the Glasgow and Clyde Valley Green Network Partnership. In both cases, adaptation is not the primary focus, but they’re delivering actions which help on this. You need to be clear how you will work to build on, and co-ordinate that activity, not replace it.
  3. Understand where everyone currently is on their journey – If you want to help people move forward, you need to understand where they are – what activities have they already undertaken? What evidence do they have? What are their organisational and adaptation priorities and pressures? Developing a thorough understanding of this helps you to define the offer – how do you know what you should do otherwise? Sadly there’s not a shortcut to this, though asking people to outline their work and priorities can go some way. But on top of this, I’ve ploughed through the public bodies reports, had lots of one to one meetings, read the Adaptation Reporting Power reports, summary risk assessments, LCLIPs, business cases for City Deal and many other things. And it’s a process that never ends – you just need to get to the point where you feel you have enough understanding to plan work which complements what’s going on.
  4. Find a way for everyone to participate in the process – Early on, you’ll need all the allies you can get. Creating long lasting change relies on momentum, so you need to bring as many people with you as possible – having people in your corner, even if they don’t end up being a core partner, is always helpful. However, there are lots of partner sensitivities early on, as people are working out their place, so remain open to ideas, clearly set out your thinking, and make sure you consult widely on your governance structures.
  5. Get some funding bids in early – Identifying some early quick wins on the funding side is a really tangible way of showing the added value of specialist capacity. Having someone dedicated that can meet the deadlines and informed enough to lead the work required is one of the core benefits of partnership working, and securing funding for projects which add value can make others realise this. It also helps as a stepping stone to bidding for much larger pots of money, providing a track record on delivery. Since I started, we’ve submitted two successful bids to Scottish Government, but also a much larger Horizon 2020 bid, and I’m now working on a research council one. All were aimed at providing tools or evidence to enable others to improve and accelerate their work on adaptation.
  6. Identify your champions – Before I arrived, there was already a strong steering group who were well-connected and had experience in the field. They were able to advise me on the lie of the landscape – who would be supportive, who would need to be convinced. From there, we snowballed to build a wider network of partners that were committed to the cause. It also helped us identify a strong, willing chair in James Curran. In addition, the support we’ve had from Scottish Government has been invaluable, championing our plans and encouraging potential partners that this is the way forward.
  7. Don’t be ashamed to remind people of responsibilities, or ask for alternatives – When it’s proving difficult to get people to see the merits in what you’re doing, it doesn’t hurt to remind them that they’re legally obliged to adapt to climate change. For those who can be more challenging, a statutory footing behind all this work is always a blessing Instead of being a question of ‘if’, it becomes more of a ‘how’, and it means you can ask for alternative ideas of how to take the agenda forward. This is a win-win- you either get improvements to your idea, or it removes potential challenges.
  8. Prepare the ground early – Long before I arrived, colleagues from Sniffer’s  Adaptation Scotland programme had done a significant amount of work in the region, helping develop the vision, and showing some real results through securing the European Conference on Climate Adaptation, and the Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities initiative. This continued direction of travel over a number of years meant that when I arrived, for many there was a feeling of progression, even if it took me a while to build the relationships.

None of these are a silver bullet, but together, they can help pave the way for a good attempt at enabling collaboration for adaptation. They still don’t remove the need for a lot of hard work in-between though!