Making Equity Real in Climate Adaptation and Community Resilience Policies and Programs: A Guidebook

To operationalize California’s statewide vision of honoring social equity in the climate adaptation planning and decision-making processes, the Greenlining Institute published Making Equity Real in Climate Adaptation and Community Resilience Policies and Programs: A Guidebook. The guidebook provides detailed step-by-step guidelines for policymakers to ensure social equity is embraced and implemented throughout the adaptation processes, from goal setting, to policy implementation, to outcome evaluation. The guide can help policymakers who design policies (bills, executive orders, local measures) and state agencies and local governments who develop grant programs to incorporate social equity and protect frontline communities. Communities and advocates can also examine relevant existing policies and grant programs. The guidebook proposes a four-step framework: 

  1. Embed equity in the mission, vision, and values: A commitment to equity should be stated explicitly. Specific climate strategies that seek to protect frontline communities should be identified.   
  2. Build equity into the process: Engaging communities to understand their needs for adapting to climate impacts is key to shaping the policy or grant program. 
  3. Ensure equity outcomes: Implementation of a program or policy must ensure the community needs are addressed, while reducing climate vulnerabilities, and increasing community resilience.
  4. Measure and analyze for equity: Evaluation of program or policy implemented is crucial for improvements in future planning. 

The second and third steps in particular ensure that equity elements are being integrated into the process: 

Step 2: Build equity into the process. 

The guidebook presents nine strategies to ensure purposeful participation.

Promote authentic and meaningful community engagement for policies: Communities that may be impacted by policies should be able to provide experiences and share concerns about the drafted plans and program guidelines. Input from community members can help policymakers address the issues more effectively. 

Promote authentic and meaningful community engagement for grant programs: A grant program may have impacts on the community, hence, it is important to ensure that the community has meaningful participation throughout the process. Notably, the IAP2 public participation spectrum is introduced to help identify the stages of participation. 

Engage state agencies with experience working with frontline communities: For a climate policy or grant program that requires an administering agency and seeks to enhance social equity and resiliency, it is recommended to designate an agency that has prior experiences in dealing with disadvantaged and low-income communities. If it is not possible, then the designated administering agency should partner with an experienced agency.  

Include community-based organizations, nonprofits and tribal governments as applicants: The guidebook suggests that community-based organizations, nonprofits serving frontline communities, and tribal governments should be explicitly listed as eligible entities of participation throughout the development and/or implementation process. If not being listed as eligible entities, other forms of inclusion such as partnership, sub-applicants, etc., can also help facilitate access to participation.  

Include technical assistance and capacity building to achieve equitable outcomes: With the policy or grant programs that require communities to have further education, resources, and support in order to participate, the language of technical assistance and capacity should be included. Especially capacity building can create a long-term transformation to the communities.   

Dedicate funding for certain activities: The guidebook strongly recommends that the policy or grant programs specify the budget for community engagement, outreach, workforce development, and capacity building (including technical assistance) at the upfront to ensure the implementation.  

Include an advisory committee with environmental justice, equity, and community members: Instead of having the policymakers decide the community engagement process, it is beneficial to include community members, representatives of community-based organizations and nonprofits advancing climate justice at the beginning of shaping the policies or grant programs. The participation of community members can help the policies or grant programs tailor to the real need of the community.  

Design grant program application and review process with equity: To ensure the projects funded are beneficial and meaningful, the application and reviewing process should factor in social equity components. Also, the grant designer must keep in mind for the smaller-sized grants to be accessible for applicants with limited resources. 

Promote equitable budgeting practices in policy development: To reduce the barriers for frontline communities to apply for funding, it is recommended that provisions are incorporated that promote equitable budgeting such as advanced payment or waivers for cost-share for projects.   


Step 3: Ensure equity outcomes 

To center equity in policy and in the program implementation phase, three main strategies are listed. 

Develop equitable vulnerability assessments: When conducting vulnerability assessments, it is important to include socioeconomic vulnerabilities of the communities. Doing so can prevent frontline communities from experiencing further inequity, and improve their health and well-being.   

Fund projects that center community needs, reduce climate vulnerabilities and increase resilience: When developing projects from existing policies and grant programs, the guidebook suggests considering the question of how many types of cross-sector benefits a project can provide, and how a frontline community is benefited through the project.  

Identify and minimize unintended consequences: Applying social impact assessment to various scales of projects can prevent unintended consequences that may create climate vulnerability to frontline communities and individuals.    


The formulation of the guidebook  

Appendix B demonstrates how the four-step framework is applied in developing this guidebook particularly in the preliminary stage of conducting a landscape analysis. There are three stages in forming this guidebook. The first stage is to understand the existing social equity practices in adaptation grants programs and policies. The institute examines the existing 10 climate adaptation and resilient grant programs and 24 policies that advance equity in California (and one in Hawaii) - with the following four questions adhering to the same structure as the four-step framework:  

  1. Goals: How is equity described in the program goals, is it a key component?
  2. Process: How does the grant program give decision-making power to the impacted communities? 
  3. Implementation: What are the explicit equity outcomes of the program that address community needs? 
  4. Analysis: How is equity progress measured in the program? 

Based on the assessment, each grant program and policy is given a Social Equity Score on the following scale: 

  • Social equity is not advanced in the policy or program. 
  • Social equity is not a main priority of the policy or program. 
  • Social equity is robustly included in a specific section or part of effort but is not embedded throughout the entire effort. 
  • Social equity is embedded throughout the entire policy or program.  

At the second stage, the Institute gathered opinions and concerns from both the experts and the local community members by showing them the assessments. Finally at the last stage, the Institute combined the research analysis and these opinions and concerns to provide recommendations for each of the four steps for policymakers to follow. 

This guidebook can be helpful for states to reexamine their existing grants programs and policies and better create equity-centered climate adaptation grant programs and policies in the future. 


Publication Date: August 2019

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Resource Types:

  • Engagement
  • Planning guides
  • Policy analysis/recommendations

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