The following recommendations are based on forum output documents and convening tools provided by Second Nature’s Climate Leadership Network and University Climate Change Coalition (UC3) members who have hosted cross-sector climate forums. The resources collected from Climate Leadership Network and UC3 members provided information on how to establish objectives, plan for and convene a forum, and identify potential research opportunities that advance climate action in the community. These resources were then assessed and incorporated into this list of best practices and lessons learned for others to use in hosting their own cross-sector climate forums aimed at effectively developing and implementing place-based, climate action goals.
According to the Fourth National Climate Assessment published by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, “marginalized groups, women, and lower-income families have a lower capacity to prepare for and cope with extreme weather and climate-related events” (USGCRP, 2018). At the same time, these groups are also least likely to be involved in climate adaptation discussions, as taking action on climate change can be perceived as an activity for those who have greater means and/or access to resources, despite the fact that these marginalized groups are often disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change (Phadke et al., 2015).
As agents of change in local communities, colleges and universities can ensure that their cross-sector climate forums are inclusive of a diverse range of stakeholders, including those from higher education, government agencies, community groups and non-profit organizations. Additionally, by seeking representation from a diverse range of cultures, ethnicities, and races, conveners can further ensure that potentially marginalized voices are heard and made part of the process.
To facilitate a discourse on climate change with cross-sector partners and community stakeholders, the forum’s location should be easily accessible to members in the community. Universities and colleges are often viewed as neutral conveners and anchor institutions in communities, which can be well equipped to accommodate large gatherings and easier to access if connected with convenient and affordable transit networks. In fact, in the past many Climate Leadership Network and UC3 schools have hosted their cross-sector climate forums on campus.
However, organizers should not feel obligated to hold the forum on campus, as there may be more easily accessible or more appropriate locations based on the needs of the community. Organizers may also consider external locations and communal areas that provide similar facilities and accessibility.
Furthermore, schools may refer to Cornell University’s Accessible Meeting and Events Checklist for more information on accommodating all forum participants, particularly those with visible or known disabilities, non-obvious disabilities, and chronic health conditions.
In the past, Climate Leadership Network and UC3 universities have hosted forums that were either open to the public or invitation-only. The type of forum – public or invitation-only – is often influenced by the purpose and intended goals of the convening.
Hosting a cross-sector climate forum that is open to the public can be a powerful means for increasing stakeholder and community engagement in discussing climate risks, challenges and pathways to solutions. This type of forum may be more suitable for colleges and universities that are taking the first step in partnering with community members to assess a community’s climate vulnerability to regional climate impacts and/or establish carbon emissions reduction targets. If a community already has a well-established climate action plan in place, a public dialogue can still serve as an opportunity to further discuss new or emerging climate-related issues and ways to address these issues through cross-sector collaboration.
By comparison, while invitation-only cross-sector climate forums may be exclusive, they can similarly be beneficial by promoting dialogues between specific change agents in the community, (especially those that may be more marginalized or from unique sectors) on how to realize the community’s climate action goals. These types of events may be stand-alone events or follow a more public convening to address specific actions or challenges.
In general, cross-sector climate forums emphasize the development and implementation of place-based climate action plans that are attuned and receptive to the needs of a particular community. That said, it is important for conveners to capture, frame, and communicate background information on the local climate change issues and opportunities facing the community.
Considering that level of knowledge regarding climate change may vary among participants, it may be beneficial to provide a brief overview of how climate change has, and will, directly affect businesses, the local economy, and the community at the start of each forum. Participants of past climate change forums have expressed their desire to learn more about localized climate impacts, which could help them understand the gravity of a changing climate in their region.
Conveners are encouraged to consider representatives from local businesses, community-based organizations, public health groups, and other universities as potential partners and speakers at their cross-sector climate forum. These internal and external partners can bring much-needed local expertise and experience that can be leveraged to better identify and address the impacts of climate change on the community. These collaborations and strategic partnerships should not only be mutually beneficial but also inherently amplify each other’s work (“Facilitating Cross-Cutting Climate Action At Your University,” n.d.).
Conveners are encouraged to explore unique discussion formats that allow forum attendees to engage actively with speakers and other attendees. In addition to brief networking sessions over coffee breaks, consider different mediums and tools to promote engagement among forum attendees. Incorporate discussion formats such as popcorn sessions, small workshops, “think-pair-share” activities, or even divide discussion panels into multiple tracks (see program agenda for 2018 Advanced Energy Conference) that run simultaneously to cater to a myriad of interests.
To further elevate the quality of discussion panels, conveners could allow attendees to guide facilitated panel discussions by providing their own set questions ahead of the session. This allows them to ask experts directly about their own sets of concerns pertaining to community climate challenges. Furthermore, conveners may consider using of a smartphone application, such as Slido or Twitter, as a means to collect questions from the audience while promoting greater inclusivity (Chautard & Hann, 2019). This may also be helpful for participants to develop their own sets of questions prior to a Q&A session, given with adequate time.
Chautard, A., & Hann, C. (2019). Developing inclusive conferences. Oxford: School of Geography and the Environment. Retrieved from https://www.geog.ox.ac.uk/about/equality-diversity/190522_Inclusive_Conference_Guide.pdf
Phadke, R., Manning, C., & Burlager, S. (2015). Making it personal: Diversity and deliberation in climate adaptation planning. Climate Risk Management, 9, 62-76. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.crm.2015.06.005
University of Maryland, Global Sustainability Initiative, University Climate Change Coalition. Facilitating Cross-Cutting Climate Action At Your University [PDF].
USGCRP. (2018). Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II (p. 25). Washington D.C.: U.S. Global Change Research Program. Retrieved from http://nca2018.globalchange.gov