Community-based management and Adaptive co-management as approach for adaptation

Climate impacts
Non-impact specific
IPCC category
Social - Behavioural, Social: Informational


Community-based adaptation (CBA) refers to the generation and implementation of locally driven adaptation strategies, according to learning-by-doing and bottom-up approaches (IPPC, Fifth Assessment Report). It is characterised by intensive involvement of stakeholders and vulnerable groups in decision making, design and implementation of adaptation measures. Using a CBA approach implies that adaptation strategies are generated through active participation of communities and local actors that, therefore, develop a strong sense of ownership and feel that their needs have been effectively addressed.

Similarly, the frequently used term adaptive co-management (ACM) for climate change adaptation joins the concepts of collaborative management and adaptive management. Collaborative management implies the involvement of all actors interested in an issue, both vertically (across different levels of authorities) and horizontally (across different sectors and competences). Adaptive management implies flexibility in the whole process, being aware that changes in local conditions or advance in scientific research often require periodic revision of plans and strategies, refinement and improvement of outcomes according to the learning-by-doing framework. 

Both terms, CBA and ACM, work around the participatory approach to adaptation, even if a stronger focus on the involvement of vulnerable local groups characterises the former. Indeed, CBA has been used especially in developing countries and is particularly focussed on the role of the bottom-up approach to resource management and adaptation. Both approaches are relatively new in the climate change adaptation but have been used for many years to solve other issues related to sustainable development and environmental protection (e.g., co-management of fisheries, community-based natural resources management, community-led local development). Adaptive co-management and community-based experiences in other environmental contexts can be transferable to the climate change adaptation. Some examples of community-based experiences for climate change adaptation in coastal areas are reported in the IPCC fifth assessment report to combat increased salinity, flooding/inundations, cyclones/storm surges or multi-coastal impacts. In Italy, the project Blue-Ap provided an example of the participative process for the implementation of the Adaptation Plan to Climate Change for the Municipality of Bologna (Italy, Emilia Romagna Region). Purpose-specific meetings and focus groups were organized to illustrate and discuss local environmental challenges related to the climate change and Plan proposals. Within the Italy-Croatia Interreg CHANGE WE CARE project, adaptation measures for vulnerable areas in pilot sites are developed in cooperation with local authorities, and are discussed with stakeholders and coastal communities that can benefit from their implementation.

CBA and ACM approaches can address a single climate hazard (e.g. flooding, fire) or a wide range of hazards and resources (e.g. to prepare integrated health plans or implement Integrated Coastal Zone Management), involving in this case a higher number of diverse actors having mutual interests in the same issue. Especially in this case, the use of shared platforms for dialogue among various stakeholders can facilitate the process of adaptation with a full participatory approach. Communication is essential to achieve a shared understanding of any climate related issue, and it is a key element of both CBA and ACM. For this reason, climate impacts need to be translated into suitable language that allows people to understand and pro-actively participate in decision making.

The Emilia Romagna web platform “Osservatorio Partecipazione” gathers information on various participative processes in Italy, allowing for assessment and comparison of the effect of regional policies supporting the democratic participation of citizens. It works as a common space of interaction and exchange between different actors, open to the public to both access and share information about participatory experiences.

Different degrees of collaboration with local actors can be possible both in CBA and ACM, varying from the simple consultation of local stakeholders to a full devolution of authority to local management groups. Examples of collaboration are given in the case studies in Emilia Romagna, Šibenik-Knin County and Škocjanski zatok. The adaptive and participatory process needs proper governance that allows the involvement of multiple actors in a structured process of adaptation. Adaptive organisations, such as multi-stakeholders committees, can play a key role in this adaptation approach.


CBA and ACM enhance communities’ awareness and understanding of climate change issues, embedding new knowledge into the existing communities. Local communities and stakeholders feel that their needs and priorities are met if they are fully engaged in the process of adaptation, and this creates a favourable environment to design and select adaptation measures. Solutions that imply a change of habits are better accepted if climate related risks are communicated in a suitable language and format that can be understood by non-expert people. 

The establishment of multi-stakeholder networks, governance structures and mechanisms during an experience of CBA and ACM can be regarded as an added value of the process, that can be maintained and work also to address and solve other issues, such as climate change mitigation.

Finally, the process of learning-by-doing, that characterises CBA and ACM, gives opportunity for experimentations and pilot interventions, with benefits for scientific applied research.

Specific costs of CBA and ACM refer to the organisation of workshops, meetings, educational campaigns and other engagement initiatives, as well as to the preparation of materials used for dissemination and communication. The creation of governance mechanisms which coordinate the implementation CBA and ACM approaches usually requires dedicated financial and human resources. When an adaptation strategy is defined, the costs of implementation vary according to the specific adaptation measures selected.


The involvement of stakeholders and local communities can require time and can indeed extend the scheduled time for the completion of adaptation measures. Different opinions of different actors involved in the process can create conflicts, requiring time to be solved in order to achieve an agreed perception of climate risks and a common vision on the possible adaptation measures.

Governance mechanisms and organisation structures (e.g. multi-stakeholder committees, shared platforms of dialogue) that are established during the adaptation process can have a long lifetime and survive beyond the process itself.


IPCC (2014). Fifth Assessment Report, chapter 14, Adaptation Needs and Options

IPCC (2014). Fifth Assessment Report, chapter 5, Coastal Systems and Low-Lying Areas 

CARE (2014). Community-based adaptation in practice: A global overview of CARE International’s practice of Community-Based Adaptation (CBA) to climate change

Plummer et al (2013). Can Adaptive Co-management Help to Address the Challenges of Climate Change Adaptation? Ecology and Society 18(4), art. 2.