Lead with Listening: A Guidebook for Community Conversations on Climate Migration

In 2021, the Climigration Network, in partnership with a diverse team of researchers, released Lead with Listening: A Guidebook for Community Conversations on Climate Migration. The guidebook is a resource on climate migration and how to have effective dialogue about it. It addresses how various factors (e.g., cultural, financial, and location) make conversations surrounding the topic of climate migration (also called “managed retreat” or “relocation,” among other terms) challenging. The guidebook summarizes lessons learned from interviews with over 40 people and is intended to help practitioners and community leaders begin conversations about climate migration with an equity mindset. 

The nonprofit Climigration Network is dedicated to creating equitable and community-led solutions for those who cannot safely live in their communities anymore due to the impacts of climate change. The topic of climate migration is “nuanced, politicized, complex and sensitive,” which makes these conversations so challenging. The guidebook was created to help community leaders and practitioners have the difficult conversations surrounding climate migration “in a way that doesn't shut people down or off from climate migration's impact on their lives.”

The guidebook is divided into four parts:

Part I addresses why the guidebook was created and how community leaders and practitioners can use it.

Takeaways from this part include:

  • Practitioners and community members should “consider, or ask, what language might resonate with [the] community” they are engaging with “based on its history and culture.”

Part II summarizes key takeaways from the interviews conducted. The interviewees have “direct experience with climate risk and displacement.” 

Takeaways from this part include:

  • It is important to earn trust and build relationships with community members. 
  • It is important to understand how land and property are connected to a community’s culture and identity. 
  • It is important to acknowledge the trauma of community members and engage in trauma-informed work. 
  • It is important to consider the mental health of community members and “the emotional and spiritual harm that disasters inflict.”
  • It is important to identify and recognize existing power structures. 
  • It is important to use clear language that does not isolate community members. 

Part III provides ideas and examples for how climate migration conversations can equitably take place.

Takeaways from this part include:

  • Climate migration conversations are complicated and “require[] a mix of creativity, curiosity, empathy and emotional vulnerability.” 

Part IV includes a conclusion with “notes from the research team, questions that still linger for the field, and ways for practitioners and community leaders to get involved with the CIimigration Network.” 

Takeaways from this part include:

  • The research team still faces unanswered questions (e.g, “What is the role of welcoming or receiving communities?”).
  • The guidebook’s work is “deeply personal” to the research team, as many of the members live in frontline communities that face the threats of climate change. 

The guidebook emphasizes that the stated lessons do not present an exhaustive list, but rather a starting point for readers. The authors intend on providing additional resources in the future based on feedback received. 

The guidebook’s research team interviewed a diverse group of individuals from across the United States who are facing the issue of climate migration. Every interview “was built on trust and consent with clear conditions and agreements to minimize retraumatization or psychological harm as people retold or re-lived their personal stories.” Additionally, each individual who was interviewed was compensated. The research team who created the guidebook are practitioners and community leaders with varied backgrounds who have experience working with communities facing the impacts of climate change.

Related Organizations:

  • The Climigration Network

Related Toolkits:


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Best practice
  • Education/training materials
  • Engagement

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