Preserving Our Place — A Community Field Guide to Engagement, Resilience, and Resettlement: Community Regeneration in the Face of Environmental and Developmental Pressures

Executive Summary

In 2019, the Isle de Jean Charles Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Tribe (IDJC) collaborated with the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to release a field guide, Preserving Our Place  A Community Field Guide to Engagement, Resilience, and Resettlement: Community Regeneration in the Face of Environmental and Developmental Pressures. IDJC is in the process of relocating from the Louisiana coast to a new community further inland due to significant land loss and flooding impacts. The field guide was developed to serve dual purposes: first, to document the community engagement process that IDJC has developed throughout its resettlement planning process; and second, to provide procedural guidance and lessons learned for communities that are also contemplating large-scale relocation. The field guide includes six chapters, starting with identifying communities’ needs and visions to building up their planning resources and evaluation processes. The guide also documents the collaboration between IDJC and NAS, a project utilizing cross-boundary networks of professionals and experts to help IDJC resettle from southeastern Louisiana. The field guide can be used by other tribal or frontline coastal communities that are considering potential larger-scale managed retreat or relocation strategies to adapt to climate change impacts like sea-level rise and other stressors and pressures, like environmental justice and encroaching development. 



The State of Louisiana is working with tribal residents and representatives from the island of Isle de Jean Charles  which includes bands of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians and United Houma Nation  to relocate people to a new higher ground community. Isle de Jean Charles has lost 98% of its land to the climate change impacts of sea-level rise, land subsidence, and erosion. As a result, The “Isle de Jean Charles Resettlement Project” is being led by Louisiana’s Office of Community Development and funded by a $48-million grant through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2016 National Disaster Resilience Competition. This field guide is a separate effort between IDJC and NAS to document this process and have it serve as a resource for other communities. 


Managed Retreat Examples

Community Engagement

From the outset, the authors state that resettlement or relocation is not “an easy, quick fix” and that the field guide is not meant to be prescriptive or say how a “community” should be defined or conceived for purposes of resettlement. Communities, however they are defined or conceived, are each distinct and confronted by unique contexts (e.g., history, geography, environment, and politics) that will shape the development of these processes and plans. The aim is that this field guide is flexible enough to fit and accommodate these differences. 

The field guide includes the following six chapters that other communities can consider incorporating into different stages of their own planning processes. The summaries below also include important takeaways from each chapter. Notably, the authors provide that the six chapters or stages do not have to be followed in sequential order and may even be repeated, especially for iterative processes. Each chapter also includes worksheets that can serve as templates for other communities to address their own specific needs.

1. Preparing to do the Work: The field guide provides several ways to help communities get started. 

  • Important takeaways from this chapter include:  
    • Creating your vision: It is important for communities to discuss their vision and goals together. 
    • Defining the holistic crisis and potential integrated solutions: Displacement or environmental change should not be viewed as an individual event or crisis, but should also take into account past and present events and crises. 
    • Staffing and time demands: Implementing a plan necessitates sufficient staffing and other resources and time commitments from communities.     
    • Identifying assets and gap analysis: Communities can better prepare for future planning processes by first identifying the assets they currently own and also resources that may be lacking or needed.  
    • Identifying and engaging potential partners: Creating a comprehensive adaptation plan necessitates engaging trustworthy, interdisciplinary experts.

2. Mapping Ecological and Cultural Lifeways, Contexts, Assets, Goals: This chapter discusses  the process of listening to and encouraging storytelling from each individual community member. Through this process, community members can share their own experiences and connections with the community to support planning efforts by mapping out a community’s history, context, ecological, knowledge, threats, risks, and known adaptation strategies.  

3. Keeping Community at the Forefront: This chapter focuses on ways communities can center and engage their members in resettlement planning processes. 

  • Important takeaways from this chapter include:  
    • Governance and administration: It is critical to understand what models (e.g., nonprofits, land trusts) the community may utilize during the resettlement planning process. Different models may require different expertise and affect accessibility to other resources. 
    • Creating, managing, and controlling the public narrative: It is important for communities to control their own narratives, especially as publicity and scrutiny may affect these processes. This is one of the field guide’s key concepts. 

4. Building a Cross-Boundary Network (Partnerships and Collaboration): This chapter discusses how communities can expand their existing networks and resources by engaging various partners and experts. Recommendations are also provided for how communities can select and evaluate partners and experts to better ensure that they are an appropriate fit for the community and set expectations for the roles they will play. 

  • Important takeaways from this chapter include:  
    • Deciding if and when to implement a cross-boundary network: It is critical to create a timeline to indicate when and what specific skills are needed at different stages in the planning process. 
    • Engaging partners: Partners/experts that are invited to participate in these processes should be interviewed and evaluated to ensure they are committed to the projects and will meet community needs and expectations. 
    • Community protections: To protect communities from being exploited throughout the planning process, a Declaration of Principles and Memorandum of Understanding can serve as a potential safeguard. 

5. Doing the Work  Creating Resources: This chapter recommends tools and resources communities can consider using to better track and implement resettlement and adaptation processes.  

  • Important takeaways from this chapter include:  
    • Creating checklists: Based on the key values identified by a community, they can create a checklist to track and assess progress throughout the resettlement planning process (e.g., community meetings, planning meetings, design events, etc.).
    • Funding resources: Communities should identify funding sources that are already available to them and potential future opportunities  from across multiple levels of governments and both the public and private sectors  that can be used to support these planning processes and project implementation. 
    • Prepare sample agendas and press releases: Draft sample agendas that community leaders can use to prepare for official meetings. After the meetings, press releases can ensure the delivery of accurate information and enable communities to tell their own narratives. 
    • Creating Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for planning processes: IDJC created SOPs for meetings and community engagement processes that can serve as a reference for others to enable consistent operations. 

6. Doing the Work  Actions: The final chapter focuses on staffing and evaluation needs communities should consider to effectively design and implement these processes. 

  • Important takeaways from this chapter include:  
    • Staffing needs: It is important to have designated staff positions, such as development staff, secretarial staff, legal counsel, ethical review committees, committees of elders, and a cross-boundary network, to accomplish large-scale projects.    
    • Designing an Integrated Design Process (IDP): IDP is a highly collaborative method for the design and operation of sustainably built environments and projects. The main concept of IDP is to create a team that includes all partners from design, construction to operations, and maintenance at the beginning of the planning process.
    • Evaluation of the collaborative process: Conducting external evaluations and interviews with partners can be very helpful to assess and potentially adapt or amend these processes. 

Considerations and Lessons Learned

The suggested procedural steps and takeaways included in the field guide can serve as a resource for other communities considering or implementing planning processes for managed retreat. The templates and draft materials can also help communities get started. These complex, long-term processes necessitate meaningful community-driven and -led engagement that can also serve as a resource for state and local decisionmakers involved in providing legal, policy, funding, and/or technical support.


Publication Date: 2019

Related Organizations:

Related Resources:

Related Toolkits:


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Best practice
  • Case study
  • Engagement
  • Planning guides

States Affected:


Go To Resource