The University of Arizona

Evaluating Effectiveness in Climate Change Adaptation and Socially-Engaged Climate Research | CLIMAS

Evaluating Effectiveness in Climate Change Adaptation and Socially-Engaged Climate Research

TitleEvaluating Effectiveness in Climate Change Adaptation and Socially-Engaged Climate Research
Publication TypeTheses and Dissertations
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsOwen, G
UniversityUniversity of Arizona

Climate change, due to global warming caused by humans, has become an increasingly critical issue over the past few decades. Society’s deeper understanding of, experiences with, and communication about climate change have motivated action toward the mitigation of global warming and adaptation to its associated impacts. An underlying message from the scientific community is that society needs to act now and with good judgement (IPCC 2018). This message prompts further questions, including: How do people know which actions to take? What activities will have the most impact? What approaches to adaptation and mitigation are most equitable? What roles should science and scientists play in responding to the threats of global warming? Evaluation, a necessary but often missing component of climate action, can help answer these questions through systematic assessment of the outcomes and impacts of mitigation, adaptation, and associated research practices. In my dissertation, I investigate adaptation responses to climate change occurring globally, by analyzing adaptation initiatives that have shown some degree of effectiveness around the world; and regionally, by evaluating the socially-engaged and use-inspired theories and practices of a climate research program in the U.S. Southwest. My research asks the following three questions: a) What are the outcomes and impacts of climate change adaptation and socially-engaged climate research? b) What approaches constitute successful adaptation and research practices? c) How is knowledge produced and mobilized for use in addressing complex societal and environmental issues? In my first dissertation paper, I document findings from a systematic review of research literature on effective adaptation initiatives. I analyze 110 adaptation case studies from literature published between 2007 and 2018. The act of cataloging adaptation activities produces insights for current and future climate action in three main areas: understanding the common attributes of effective adaptation initiatives; identifying gaps in adaptation research and practice that address equality, justice, and power dynamics; and establishing priorities for evaluating adaptation initiatives. My second and third dissertation papers draw from a six-year program evaluation of the Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS) research program. This program has roots in the theories of socially-engaged research and co-producing knowledge with non-academic partners. I describe an evolution in understanding how the CLIMAS program fosters and contributes to a climate adaptive and resilient U.S. Southwest region. I investigate the outcomes of CLIMAS-related research based on researcher perspectives and examine how researchers envision the broader societal impacts of their work. These papers contribute to current theory and practice of socially-engaged science by identifying and demonstrating how social interactions inform climate knowledge production. They also provide insight for similar types of research organizations that are considering conducting program evaluations.