Building adaptive capacity in Scotland

In 2014, Adaptation Scotland ran a six-month pilot programme called the Adaptation Learning Exchange (ALE). The initiative was set up to support public sector groups with all aspects of adaptation. Now in its second year, this approach is about bringing individuals together to collaborate on tasks, encouraging learning and networking opportunities, and creating a positive working environment to allow participants to make progress with adaptation. The programme allows Adaptation Scotland to provide more support across Scotland’s 142 public bodies than the more traditional one-to-one approach.

The ALE is a collaborative process, supporting organisations with adaptation planning through the sharing of knowledge and ideas, highlighting good practice and increasing learning and networking opportunities. The ALE introductory programme runs on an annual cycle and organisations from the public sector are invited to join the six-month programme through an application process in the late spring of each year. Of the successful applicant organisations, two staff members from different departments have the opportunity to attend three workshops on different adaptation themes. The focus of these workshops vary depending on the adaptation needs of the participants, but have included topics such as developing a business case, and identifying and using peoples values to communicate on adaptation. On completing the programme, participants are invited to be part of the ALE network on an on-going basis.

What makes the ALE programme so unique is that it does not prescribe an exact formula to adaptation. We offer the participants a number of tools and resources that are available to support them with adaptation, including Adaptation Scotland’s five step guidance to managing climate risks (pdf, 1.8 MB), though these are not used to structure the programme. Our experience is that adaptation requires a flexible and iterative approach. It needs to be tailored based on the participant’s unique context and there are very few tools that allow for this flexibility.

One of the challenging aspects of delivering the ALE is tailoring the workshops to make it relevant to everyone given the diversity of the participants involved. We do this by inviting a range of external speakers to present on a particular adaptation initiative and by offering task groups to the more advanced members to allow them to progress with a specific adaptation goal. For the task groups time is allocated to work on, for example, a climate risk assessment, and participants must come prepared to work intensively on the task at hand. The task groups add another dynamic to ALE from it being a learning and networking opportunity to it also being a mechanism for participants to achieve their goals within a set timeframe. As the ALE members come from a wide range of backgrounds, from engineers, planners and risk and resilience managers, when they come together on the task groups, they pool their expertise to strengthen the result of the adaptation challenge.

The ALE has also raised awareness of the need for – and promoted – collaborative working between public bodies. On evaluating the 2014 programme, all of the participants commented that the networking opportunity was one of the most valuable aspects of the ALE, and that ‘the workshops reinforced the need for collaboration.’ With this feedback, we have encouraged dialogue between participants who are facing similar challenges, have aligning goals, or based on their geographic location. This has allowed one council to work with Transport Scotland to tackle problems with landslides on the roads and another council to work collaboratively with a university in the same area for a more joined up approach to managing the risks from climate change.

As we come to the end of the second ALE programme, we are looking for ways to improve our approach by reflecting on what worked well and what was challenging. Our experience is that the overall success of programmes such as these is based on the trust and rapport developed among participants and this can only be achieved over time and through face-to-face interactions. We are already noticing an increase in adaptation progress and confidence from our first year ALE members and we hope that this year’s members will continue to thrive with the starting point we have provided for them.

To find out more about the ALE and details of the workshops please visit the Adaptation Scotland website.

Posted: 12 November 2015