Understanding learning and action in place-based climate adaptation workshops

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Virginia Tech


Addressing today's complex environmental challenges requires learning, collaboration across sectors, and long-term collective action. This dissertation examines the role of place-based climate adaptation workshops can play in helping communities as they grapple with the current and anticipated effects of anthropogenic climate change. The manuscript contains five chapters. The introduction (Chapter 1) presents the phenomenon of place-based climate adaptation workshops and offers an overview of the research in this dissertation. Chapters 2, 3, and 4 are stand-alone manuscripts. Chapter 2 draws upon surveys with participants in 33 workshops that took place in the United States between 2017 and 2020 to identify perceptions of meaningful outcomes and effective workshop elements. Chapter 3 describes a comparative case study that delves more deeply into 30 of the workshops from Chapter 2 and includes interviews with facilitators and local organizers to identify which workshop characteristics were most often associated with subsequent adaptation-related planning and action. In Chapter 4, we examine learning processes and outcomes in eight additional adaptation workshops held in communities in the United States from 2021 and 2023 by testing a hypothesized learning typology and exploring how it aligns with the theory of Organizational Knowledge Creation.

Our findings suggest that workshops contribute to learning, strengthened feelings of efficacy, and deepened relationships, which, in turn, can yield meaningful planning and action outcomes. We suggest that workshops also expand reference groups and foster norms around climate change adaptation. We identify a range of factors that are associated with higher-performing workshops, including the presence of a local champion, co-design of workshop with participants, sustained support from workshop organizers or a backbone support organization, and a suite of effective facilitation techniques. Our exploration of learning in climate adaptation workshops indicated that learning takes place within distinct declarative, procedural, and relational domains and across tacit and explicit dimensions. We found no differences in participants' learning outcomes between in-person and online workshops. Our findings suggest that effective workshops could be designed to help participants articulate, share, and combine disparate sets and forms of knowledge. In the conclusion (Chapter 5) , I synthesize our findings and reflect on my Ph.D. experience.



Climate adaptation, learning, knowledge creation, workshops, collaboration