by Tim Shah, ACT Intern

As part of my research as an intern on the Water session with ACT, I have been researching municipalities that have utilized climate change adaptation strategies in water management. I want to share the story of one that provided a great example of how good communication can help mobilize action.

The District of Elkford, BC is a small Rocky Mountain town of 3,000 people. Elkford is the first municipality in BC to successfully integrate adaptation to climate change into its Official Community Plan (blog post to come on this topic and its implications for adaptation planning).

In 2008, the Columbia Basin Trust (CBT) created a pilot project to help communities figure out what climate change meant to them. The District of Elkford applied to participate based on the fact that its focus would be on the land use planning aspect of climate change adaptation. Since the process started, the CBT has acted as a financial and information resource for Elkford.

A key lesson in terms of communicating and engaging residents on adaptation in Elkford lies at the root of how the discussion was framed. For instance, Elkford moved away from the conversation of who and what is causing climate change (i.e. are humans causing climate change?) to asking the community about what changes they were seeing.

To make this communication process real and relatable, Elkford needed information about the potential impacts of climate change on the community. The CBT had engaged the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium (PCIC), a BC-based climate change modeling consultancy. PCIC provided practical information on the physical impacts of climate variability and change for the District which helped the public understand the nature of the problem.

Once it became clear what the impacts were likely to be from climate change on Elkford, it was easier for the community to move forward, with communications enhanced by the use of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to maintain engagement and keep the process transparent.

As I learned from my research, there is a lot of scientific knowledge out there but there needs to be a way of making data accessible to people. PCIC were able to provide information that made it real for the community and this was identified as a key factor in the process’ success.

A takeaway lesson from the Elkford experience in terms of communication and mobilizing the community is therefore how the discussion was framed. Talking about the overall causes of climate change can be an exhausting and demoralizing process; discussing the localized impacts of climate change on the community can be a far more productive and engaging conversation, because it makes the story relevant to people where they live.

ACT’s Climate Change Adaptation and Water Governance report, authored by eminent Canadian water expert Bob Sandford, was released on October 4, 2011. The report discusses the importance of educating Canadians about the value of water, a recommendation that is based on the development of better communication approaches. The Elkford story demonstrates why and how effective communication of the problem can transcend barriers and help people see an issue differently.