Partnership-Building in Climate Resilience Work

Study shows the power of a partnership model for science learning centers and community organizations.

by Rupu GuptaKathryn NockNicole LaMarcaNezam Ardalan
Feb 24, 2020

Key Findings

In 2017, the Communities Advancing Science Literacy (CASL) initiative, led by a consortium of aquariums and non-profit organizations, launched to help informal science learning centers, like zoos and aquariums, serve as catalysts for building science literacy in their local communities. Specifically, the program seeks to do this by fostering collaborative partnerships between aquariums and local community organizations that help communities better understand the science behind environmental challenges, and take measurable action towards resilience action.

Results from the first year of Knology’s study showed that informal science learning centers and community organizations want to collaborate with each other, and that these partnerships have the potential to give the public a stronger voice in conversations about environmental action. These partnerships are also mutually beneficial. Informal science learning centers share their expertise and knowledge with communities that they may not otherwise reach; and the community organizations gain access to more resources.

Furthermore, this initiative is helping partnering organizations shift their approach to improving science literacy by framing it as a dialogue rather than as something to be taught. Partners said that the close attention to relationship building has helped them better understand each other’s priorities and develop trust. The partnerships are also making organizations more aware of issues that are important to local communities, giving them the chance to take these into account when considering environmental action. For example, the leader of one organization learned that though planting trees mitigates climate change, local police prefer fewer trees because they have clearer lines of sight and it limits spaces for clandestine criminal activity.

Let’s Put It to Work

For Informal Science Learning Centers & Community Organizations: Partnering on common environmental goals is an effective way to boost science literacy and engage the public in resilience work and action. One of the benefits of the model described in this report is that it connects communities to resources needed to spearhead their own efforts to build more resilient environments. And to do it in ways that aren’t at odds with their needs. Furthemore, it is important to approach community engagement with an openness to listen and dialogue rather than educate. Communities are best positioned to talk about the unique environmental and social challenges they face locally, and can propose actions that will be most effective.

For the Public: Organizations working on environmental goals are listening and interested in working with the public on environmental action plans. There is space for people from any type of background to take leading roles in resilience planning and action to advance environmental, social and health goals. Taking advantage of opportunities to participate and contribute to these conversations will ensure that planning matches local priorities and needs.

About this Study

Supported by the National Science Foundation, Communities Advancing Science Literacy (CASL) is a collaboration between the New England Aquarium, Frameworks Institute, the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, the Aquarium of the Pacific, and Knology. CASL was designed to help informal science learning centers support and build science literacy in their communities and engage the public in climate resilience work. As evaluator, Knology is assessing how CASL promotes effective climate resilience partnership planning and impacts communities’ science literacy and action. The study is ongoing and we will continue to report results as they become available.

Photo by Elaine Casap on Unsplash

Hi Andrew, thanks much for your comment! This post is based on findings at the end of the first year of the project, after which it has continued to evolve into its second year. We’re pretty excited about learning how the work in this second year is shaping partners’ thinking and practice as we move towards data collection. The goal here, in fact, is to articulate the components of the collaborative model that were especially effective in creating a resilient community (based on two years’ data). So stay tuned for a post describing it later this year!
By Rupu Gupta
On Friday, February 28, 2020
First, I love the idea of the Social Science You Can Use newsletter. It is terrific that you are sharing your work for the benefit of the field. I am a very impatient reader, however, surely a product of our modern era of epic information availability coupled with decreasing attention spans. You talk about a "partnership model" so I came in looking to see a nice concise illustration of some model, described in various dimensions, or with a set of variables, or something along those lines. Like a one page table that has a columns called "key dimension of partnership", "success factors", and "traps to avoid." Yes, that may be lazy but there's a huge amount being written about partnerships and I'm looking for what is easy to use and apply. I recognize that for the authors to do the additional work of synthesis to create that on top of the report required for NSF and this page on the web summarizing it is probably not something they are paid for. But you asked! Again, thanks for sharing your work!
By Andrew Powers
On Friday, February 28, 2020
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