Phase 3: Define Adaptation Framework and Strategies

The content presented here is a simplified version of the Adaptation Planning Guide. For the detailed full text, download the Phase 3 chapter.

Phase 3 Chapter

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Phase 3 Resources

The goal of Phase 3 is to prepare the community’s adaptation framework, which identifies specific policies and implementable strategies for adapting to climate change, thus making the community more resilient.

Phase 3 uses theose findings from previous phases to inform the preparation of the adaptation framework and strategies, consistent with the vision, goals, and desired outcomes of the community.

This chapter describes the steps of Phase 3 and includes examples of adaptation strategies (see Figure 12). The primary steps are: 1) summarize vulnerability, 2) confirm vision and goals, 3) prepare adaptation strategies, 4) prioritize strategies, and 5) conduct outreach and engagement.

Figure 12 Steps in Phase 3
Figure 12. Steps in Phase 3

Step 3.1: Summarize Vulnerability

A helpful first step in developing the framework is to review the results of the vulnerability assessment, focusing on the major climate vulnerabilities identified in Step 2.4. The Regional Resilience Toolkit recommends summarizing the vulnerability assessment in “problem statements” that describe the vulnerability and its consequences.1 The purpose of the problem statements is to provide concise, plain-English descriptions of the climate vulnerabilities so that all stakeholders, decision-makers, and members of the planning team understand the nature of the challenge. This will aid in assessing how well the community is prepared to deal with the problem now (adaptive capacity) and aid in developing new policy and strategies. Underlying data and analysis should also be preserved and made available, but the problem statements allow everyone to work from a basic, common understanding.

A problem statement should succinctly describe the specific vulnerability of assets and populations (social vulnerability). It should describe the current vulnerability and the change in vulnerability due to expected climate change and changes in the community. It might also summarize the known or hypothesized causes or contributing factors, though these are not always straightforward. In fact, identifying causes is often what underlies fundamental policy debate and action. For example, the frequency of extreme wildfires in California is increasing, but the relative importance of causes such as climate change, increased building in the wildland-urban interface, and poor forest management will vary by community. This drives policy choices—for example, whether to focus on land use and building controls or on controlled burns and forest thinning.

    Approximately 150 residences in the community are in a “very high” wildfire risk area that is projected to see a threefold increase in wildfire likelihood by 2050 due to climate change. The area has historically experienced a significant wildfire about every 25 years. Many of the residents (approximately 40 percent) are aged 60 and above. Recent development trends show an acceleration of new residential construction over the last 10 years, and the current zoning allows for up to 450 total residences. In addition, most of the area is serviced by only a single paved road, thus limiting emergency access.

Although this step is not essential for preparation of adaptation strategies, it will help the team organize vulnerabilities, identify applicable sectors for strategy development, reveal any relationships or patterns of vulnerability, and begin to consider the types of strategies needed to increase resilience.

After completing the assessment of climate change–related effects, summarize the findings to identify the most significant potential for harm in the community. These findings or “problem statements” will help to craft effective strategies and actions. Problem statements will help to:

  • Communicate critical planning issues, for example, which critical assets are particularly vulnerable, what areas currently have repetitive losses, or how many high hazard areas are currently zoned for future development.
  • Assist the community and stakeholders to prioritize and focus on the areas that have the greatest need for mitigation or adaptation based on the assessment of climate change–related effects.
  • Create a clear and cogent “story” to help support decision-making by elected officials and other stakeholders.
  • Provide a foundation for seeking funds to reduce the potential for harm and increase community resilience.

Step 3.2: Confirm Vision and Goals

A resilience vision and associated goals are important components of an adaptation and resilience framework.

Confirm vision

The objective of this step is to confirm the community’s vision for adaptation and resilience. It should engage stakeholders, the project team, and decision makers. Phase 1 included preparation of a vision or definition of what adaptation and resilience means to the community. In Phase 3, a review of the vision will help frame how to address the issues in the vulnerability assessment. If the community did not prepare a vision statement during Phase 1, this is a good time to do so.

Draft goals

Resilience goals provide direction for achieving a vision and act as guideposts throughout the planning process and implementation. Note: this set of more specific resilience goals should be unique from the general process outcome goals defined in Phase 1. As noted in the Regional Resilience Toolkit,2 establishing resilience goals assists in process transparency, equitable engagement and cooperative decisionmaking, establishing a decision-making and evaluation framework for actions, and connecting to tracking metrics for monitoring progress.

Goals may be driven by a desire to protect physical areas, asset classes, social values, economic values, character, history or sense of place, existing functions and activities, and specific communities (see the Regional Resilience Toolkit for examples and additional guidance).3

To get started, group the problem statements from Step 3.1 by themes, such as climate change effects, populations and assets at risk, or sectors. Several problem statements or groups may lead to a single adaptation goal. The APG uses 11 sectors (see Figure 4) to support organization of example strategies, which are defined in Appendix A. Communities can use the same sectors or follow an organizational approach that best fits their implementation needs. Consider the following when drafting resilience goals:

    When drafting goals, it is important to start with a review of existing goals in the community’s planning documents—e.g., general plan and LHMP—and state plans such as Safeguarding California and the State Hazard Mitigation Plan. This review will help the project team determine if existing community goals support the vision, respond to the vulnerability assessment and will support integration and alignment of adaptation and resilience goals.

    Goals that respond to the vulnerability assessment, such as those that seek to increase adaptive capacity, protect assets, and reduce impacts from hazards and other climate change effects, help other stakeholders see how resilience fits with existing community priorities. Goals should be clear and accessible to all stakeholders, and they should reduce or avoid long-term vulnerabilities. The goals will be supported by strategies developed in Step 3.3.

    The General Plan Guidelines (2017) define a goal as a “general direction-setter.” It is an ideal future end related to the public health, safety, or general welfare. A goal is a general expression of community values and may be abstract in nature. It may not be quantifiable or time dependent.4

    The FEMA Local Mitigation Handbook describes goals as general guidelines that explain what the community wants to achieve with the plan. They are usually broad, policy-type statements that are long term, and they represent visions for reducing or avoiding losses from the identified hazards.5

    Goals should be designed with consideration to how progress can be tracked or monitored. Some communities may prepare one or more “objective” statement for each goal. These objective statements are meant to be specifically measurable in some way that shows progress toward the goal. For example, a goal to reduce community vulnerability to wildfires might have objectives for the percentage of homes that meet defensible space best practices. Whether specific objective statements are prepared or not, the goal and strategy development process should proceed with consideration to developing specific indicators of progress that can be monitored.

Step 3.3: Adaptive Capacity

The project team and community should collaborate to prepare adaptation strategies after the review of vulnerabilities, development of problem statements, and confirmation of the community’s vision and goals for adaptation and resilience. Use the Vulnerability Assessment prepared in Phase 2 to identify priority areas for action and develop a framework for how those areas should be addressed.

What is a Strategy?

Climate adaptation strategies should be developed within a policy framework appropriate to the outcomes of this adaptation planning process, as identified in Phase 1 and confirmed in Step 3.2—that is, a general plan safety element, climate action or adaptation plan, local hazard mitigation plan, or another plan or project. The terminology should be consistent with the policy/planning document where the strategy will reside.

Each plan type or program has a defined set of terms and approaches for strategies (the APG uses the term “strategy” generally to refer to a policy, program, project, measure, or action meant to increase resilience). Some plans and policy documents use a traditional goal–objective–policy–strategy/implementation program hierarchy for organizing strategies; others focus only at the strategy level. The level of detail may also vary.

Levels of Detail in Adaptation Strategies

Some strategies look like general statements of policy preference or desired direction, and others are highly detailed and contain specific implementation direction. The following strategies are from the Town of Mammoth Lakes Safety Element, updated in 2019.

    • Establish public outreach and education programs to inform residents, businesses, and visitors of air quality alerts.
    • Support sustainable and feasible forest thinning by product economies and markets to create a revenue stream for mechanical treatments required to meet wildfire mitigation and protection needs.
    • Increase the groundwater recharge potential within the Town boundaries and surrounding areas.
    • Encourage a drought tolerant and fire-resistant landscaping demonstration garden to encourage public participation in water conservation and fire preparedness efforts.
    • Expand the Mammoth Lakes Mosquito Abatement District to include all areas within the Town boundary.
    • Encourage Mammoth Community Water District (MCWD) to add water wells to increase water supply reliability during drought years.
    • Improve wildfire management coordination between the Town, the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District, Cal FIRE, and U.S. Forest Service (USFS), to mitigate economic impacts of prescribed or managed fires.
    • Work with Mammoth Lakes Fire Protection District to create a Land Inventory using GIS to identify fuel reduction status and points of contact.

How to draft a strategy

Each goal drafted in Step 3.2 should have a set of strategies to support its achievement. Strategies will be actions that respond to the problem statements prepared in Step 3.1. As part of strategy development, the project team should answer these questions:

  • Who will be responsible for the strategy?
  • How it will be achieved?
  • How it will be assessed?
  • What is needed to accomplish it?

Similar to the process for drafting goals, it is helpful to review existing plans and programs for strategies that could address specific vulnerabilities identified in Phase 2 before drafting new strategies.

Strategy development is iterative, especially in an inclusive and transparent process with the community. The initial round of strategy development could be a brainstorming activity that results in lists of ideas that can be revised later in response to more stakeholder feedback, and to fit the structure and requirements of the implementation mechanism. Developing strategies with agency and community stakeholders identifies opportunities to integrate adaptation planning into multiple community programs and plans.

For example, increased vulnerability of infrastructure to wildfire could be addressed through updates to a general plan safety element or an LHMP. Increased vulnerability of people to extreme heat may require coordination with local public health officials. Strategies that will be integrated into a general plan should be consistent with the current community general plan structure and the General Plan Guidelines.9

Strategies that are developed for a safety element should follow the specifications in Government Code § 65302(g)(4). Strategies that will be part of an LHMP should be consistent with FEMA’s guidance. Strategies may not fit neatly into the plan because each plan type has different objectives, organizational structure, and time frames.

It is common to categorize strategies to respond to different options for implementation. The Regional Resilience Toolkit10 provides examples of strategy categories or types that have been incorporated into the example strategies in Appendix C. These categories include operational; programmatic; plans, regulations, and policy development; capital improvement/infrastructure projects; education, outreach, and coordination; and evaluation.11

The Regional Resilience Toolkit also has worksheets and tools to support strategy development. These worksheets provide sources for and examples of strategies that address common hazards and assets.

Example adaptation strategies

In support of Phase 3, Appendix D provides example adaptation strategies that can be implemented on a local or regional level to address many potential climate impacts. These are not intended as a comprehensive list of strategies but as thought starters to help the project team draft adaptation strategies tailored to the community’s circumstances. Adaptation strategies are organized by sector and respond to climate hazards common in that sector. Appendix D examples include a description of the climate change effect and strategy, factors to consider, the category or strategy type, sector overlap if applicable, potential responsible agency types, possible funding sources, and examples and/or sources for the strategy itself. Strategies will require adjustment or greater specificity for application in a community. Communities should expect to go beyond these strategies to address all their high-priority adaptation needs. This may include bolstering programs that are already locally effective or developing innovative strategies based on particular characteristics.

Climate change impacts often interact, and some adaptation strategies may address multiple climate impact areas. The discussion of each strategy notes overlaps with other climate impact areas. Also, an adaptation strategy is easier to implement if it has co-benefits—that is, if it addresses other community needs in addition to climate change adaptation.

Strategies can direct budgeting and capital spending, education and outreach, program delivery, operational changes, project review, and regulations and permitting, among others. Strategies can be mandatory or voluntary, perhaps with incentives or disincentives. Local governments should look at all the strategy implementation powers, tools, and partnerships they possess to move their community to a more resilient future.


A co-benefit is an additional beneficial result of an action to increase resiliency, such as greenhouse gas reduction or increased open green space.

Ideally, all strategies will have one or more co-benefits. In some cases, the co-benefit may be more compelling than the primary adaptation benefit. For example, identifying land to preserve as open space as a wildfire buffer has a co-benefit as a community amenity. Clearly showing co-benefits of strategies is effective for communicating to the public and decision-makers the value of doing climate adaptation planning. Co-benefits can be linked to other community planning goals and thus support the principle of integrating climate adaption across all community plans and policies.

Additional considerations for strategy development


Vulnerability has underlying historical roots that should be considered when developing strategies. The Movement Strategy Center, an organization that supports visions and relationships necessary to move from incremental change to transformation, describes vulnerability as a consequence and not a condition.15 For example, a community that has been underserved by health care may be more vulnerable to health impacts from extreme heat events. Cooling centers are a common strategy to deal with the immediate impacts of heat, but strategies aimed at improving overall public health should be considered as well.

    • Ensure meaningful and active engagement with the most impacted communities.
    • Practice both adaptation and mitigation simultaneously.
    • Promote equity by prioritizing and protecting the most vulnerable populations.
    • Encourage actions that provide multiple benefits.
    • Consider unintended consequences and avoid maladaptive practices that cause harm.
    • Maximize transparency and accountability.
    • Drive decision making through strong scientific evidence and local knowledge.
    • Create adaptive processes that provide flexibility and opportunity for revision.
    • Advance a just transition toward a diversified and regenerative economy.17

Additionally, the Climate Justice Working Group has 10 guiding principles for adaptation strategy development. Similarly, ICARP has 7 principles. These principles focus on helping frontline communities, collaborating with multiple stakeholders, avoiding maladaptation (adaptation strategies that are actually harmful for the community) and promoting co-benefits in strategy development.

Step 3.4: Prioritize Strategies

In Step 3.3 the project team and community developed adaptation strategies based on the vulnerability assessment and community engagement (see Section 3.5, Conduct Outreach and Engagement). In this step the project team should prioritize those adaptation strategies. This will aid in making decisions about complex issues, and it will make the strategy development process transparent and easier to communicate to community staff and residents. Prioritization of strategies should consider several factors:

Prioritization of strategies should consider several factors:

    Which strategies will be effective at addressing assets or systems with the highest vulnerability?

The Regional Resilience Toolkit suggests looking at four “frames” when prioritizing strategies:21

    Effects on communities and the services on which they rely, with specific attention to disproportionate impacts due to social, political, or economic inequality

The Regional Resilience Toolkit includes an Evaluation Criteria Worksheet (Appendix B, Step 3.3, pages 3.8 to 3.9) that places these frames into a scoring matrix to help evaluate and prioritize which strategies to implement. The considerations listed above can be used to effectively evaluate the strategies. The project team, advisory groups, and key stakeholders who would have a role in implementation should be involved in scoring and prioritizing strategies. It is important to get feedback from a variety of stakeholders outside of the core project team, especially those representing frontline communities, because they will most likely evaluate the strategies differently. To develop an effective implementation plan, it is essential to get input on who could assist and what could possibly hinder the implementation of a strategy.

Each strategy can be scored by whether it meets the criteria, does not meet the criteria, or has a negative effect. Higher scores typically demonstrate a higher priority and feasibility of implementation. Based on these scores, the strategies can be grouped under Very High Priority, High Priority, and Important. Multiple scores can be averaged across worksheets.

Step 3.5: Outreach and Engagement

There are many creative, easy, and affordable ways to involve stakeholders in brainstorming and drafting adaptation strategies. This outreach is meant to build on the information about climate change effects and the involvement with the vulnerability assessment to now develop solutions.

Outreach to develop adaptation strategies

Several methods of engagement may be appropriate to gather ideas from community members, including:

  • Pop-up booths at community events
  • Design charrettes
  • Focus groups
  • Interactive workshops
  • Online and mobile engagement
  • Open houses
  • Surveys
  • Tours

What is important for any engagement activity is that it be well prepared and smoothly facilitated. The Regional Resilience Toolkit is a good resource for meeting logistics and a workshop checklist if templates are needed to help plan a successful event.22

A few reminders when planning events:

  • Partner with community-based organizations to conduct outreach (and provide stipends when available).
  • Do preparation work to train community members to be ambassadors on the planning process and lead aspects of the outreach.
  • Hold events at local, frequently visited locations that are easily accessible by transit (like libraries, schools, or recreation centers).
  • Use culturally appropriate materials in relevant languages and approach outreach in ways that are culturally familiar to the community.
  • Use arts, music, and storytelling to engage youth and a broader audience.
  • Provide childcare services and/or kids’ activities.
  • Provide assistive technologies (products, equipment, and systems) to help people who may have difficulty speaking, typing, writing, remembering, pointing, seeing, hearing, or learning.

Outreach to prioritize adaptation strategies

Once stakeholders have brainstormed adaptation strategies, the project team should categorize and prioritize strategies before seeking additional feedback from the community. One way to help with this would be to summarize and visually illustrate aspects of each strategy, which could include:

  • A cost or feasibility estimate
  • A list of co-benefits, including equity implications
  • Downsides to adopting the strategy
  • Potential barriers or challenges
  • Implementation needs
  • Case study or example
  • Other important information from Step 3.4

Graphically or visually presenting this information for each strategy makes it easy to review and assess through online surveys, in-person workshops, or other types of engagement. An example of how adaptation strategies could be presented to the community is taken from the Long Beach Climate Action and Adaptation Plan workshops and shown on Figure 14.

Figure 14 Long Beach Adaptation Strategy
Figure 14. Long Beach Adaptation Strategy

To take strategy review and prioritization a step further, some government agencies have developed games to engage residents in developing adaptation strategies. For example, the County of Marin created “Game of Floods” (see Figure 15) to educate the community about sea level rise vulnerability and adaptation. The game allows players to design collective solutions that protect airports, wastewater treatment facilities, individual properties, and more. Players work around the board collaboratively and discuss adaptation strategies, considering their effectiveness, impacts, uncertainty, and relative costs.

Figure 15 Example Game to Engage Residents
Figure 15. Example Game to Engage Residents

The project team should be prepared to receive extensive feedback on the adaptation strategies and to interpret how community members understand and value each of the strategies presented. It is helpful to develop a method for capturing and incorporating feedback through sticky notes, sticky dots, photos, video recordings, or online analysis. The entity leading the outreach process should also post the outcomes of the voting and workshop summaries online or in other publicly accessible locations for transparency.

Ensuring equitable adaptation strategies

During the development of adaptation strategies, the project team and community members should think about how strategies can be aligned with equity principles and how they can be transformative, addressing social inequities as well as climate change impacts. Figure 16 shows an example approach to developing adaptation strategies and achieving equity.23

Figure 16 An Example of Community Adaptation Solutions and Transformative Actions
Figure 16. An Example of Community Adaptation Solutions and Transformative Actions

As the adaptation strategies are refined, it is good to take a step back and reflect if the strategies are realistic and equitable. Table 12 shows a set of questions developed by Greenlining Institute in Making Equity Real in Climate Adaptation and Community Resilience Policies and Programs: A Guidebook. 24 The questions are partly based on the “Resiliency Guidebook: Equity Checklist” developed by the California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research.25 For consistency with the guidance and terms used in the APG, Table 12 uses the term “strategy” instead of “program or policy,” which is the term in Greenlining’s original version of this table.

Phase 3 Wrap-Up

Communities have a wide range of potential strategies to improve resilience to a changing climate. These strategies can take the form of new programs or initiatives, policies, regulations, physical construction projects, and evaluation efforts, among others. Strategies should be feasible and appropriate for the community with its available resources. They should be responsive to the issues identified in the vulnerability assessment, address overarching issues such as equity, and provide co-benefits to the community. They should also be flexible enough to accommodate the inherent uncertainty in climate change planning. Once a community has identified and prioritized the adaptation strategies, the community can move into the fourth phase of adaptation planning, Implement, Monitor, Evaluate, and Adjust.