Co-producing Climate Knowledge and Sustained Engagement in the Great Lakes in Support of Stormwater Management Adaptation

This project was featured by the University of Michigan’s Engineering Research News, available here.


GLISA received funding from the NOAA Sectoral Applications and Research Program (SARP) to continue our 2017 work on the vulnerability assessment (VA) template with the Huron River Watershed Council (HRWC) and the Great Lakes Climate Adaptation Network (GLCAN). This project applied the VA template to stormwater management with twelve Great Lakes cities.

Annual precipitation, extreme rainfall events, and flooding have increased in the Great Lakes region during the last century, and these trends are expected to continue. Small and mid-sized cities in the region have limited resources and lack of access to climate information, which impedes them from implementing hazard- and climate-related actions to increase their resilience. While boundary organizations such as GLISA, HRWC, and GLCAN play a critical role providing decision-support in Great Lakes cities, they face challenges in sustaining engagement and in scaling-up processes that go beyond short-term funding for local projects. There remains a significant need to support the integration of climate information into planning at the community level, and to develop a tested strategy for sustained engagement that can be scaled up to other cities, sectors, and regions at lower costs.

With the support of the NOAA SARP award, GLISA engaged with twelve local governments in the Great Lakes region to:

  • Co-produce climate information using an existing vulnerability assessment tool for stormwater management projects; and,
  • Assess whether the boundary chain model can reduce transaction costs for scaling-up sustained stakeholder engagement through a series of social experiments that explore different forms of engagement.

To do this, the project team randomly assigned the cities to three different engagement methodologies: face-to-face, webinar-assisted, and written/self-guided. By applying the template to stormwater management using three test engagement methodologies, the team assessed whether GLISA’s boundary chain model can reduce transaction costs for scaling up sustained stakeholder engagement. As in the 2017 project, GLISA provided tailored local climate information for each of the cities on the project to be included in the stormwater VA template.

GLISA Principal Investigator Maria Carmen Lemos led the research, with GLISA Co-Director Jenna Jorns and Missy Stults, the Sustainability and Innovation Manager for the City of Ann Arbor, as Co-Investigators. GLISA partnered with GLCAN and the Huron River Watershed Council again to engage Great Lakes cities and implement the vulnerability assessment. Outcomes from the grant were anticipated to advance the resilience of stormwater management in the twelve project cities and the science of knowledge usability in the context of boundary organizations.

The grant was part of NOAA’s Sectoral Applications Research Program (SARP) solicitation on “Extreme Events Preparedness, Planning, and Adaptation within the Water Sector.” SARP supported interdisciplinary research to advance understanding of how climate variability and change affect key socio-economic sectors, and promotes the application of this new knowledge in climate-related decisions. SARP was under the Climate and Societal Interactions Program of NOAA’s Climate Program Office.

Cities enrolled in the project include:

  • Ann Arbor, MI;
  • Buffalo, NY;
  • Cleveland, OH;
  • Columbus, OH;
  • Dayton, OH;
  • Ferndale, MI;
  • Goshen, IN;
  • Grand Rapids, MI;
  • Kalamazoo, MI;
  • Madison, WI;
  • Toledo, OH; and,
  • Urbana, IL.

Examples of completed Climate and Socioeconomic Vulnerability Assessment (VA) templates from the project can be found here:

GLISA created the 12 customized city climate chapters for each VA template with locally tailored climate information.  Examples of this chapter can be found here:

For a list of project outcomes and testimonials from city practitioners who participated in the project and the 2017 pilot, see Great Lakes City Vulnerability Assessment Pilot Projects: City Outcomes and Testimonials.

Research Findings

Participating city staff shared their experiences related to the development of their assessment with the GLISA research team during pre- and post-engagement interviews. Perceptions of credibility of the information and facilitators were similar across three modes of engagement (in-person, webinar, self-guided). Practitioners appreciated the vulnerability assessment templates that GLISA pre-populated with city-specific climate and socioeconomic information, and felt that the co-produced workbook and template were applicable to their cities’ context. Credible information from a trusted source such as GLISA can provide support in conversations about climate change, stormwater management, and related issues with elected officials, upper level management, and residents. Following the project, most practitioners reported improved inter-departmental coordination and collaboration, finding it valuable to have various disciplines involved in the project to strengthen the report, secure buy-in from stakeholders, and build longterm relationships. City teams learned new climate and socioeconomic information and were more likely to discuss climate impacts on a regular basis in future work. Practitioners reported that the in-person workshops were engaging and resulted in higher numbers of attendees while practitioners who participated in the self-guided mode appreciated its flexibility, but felt that they might have been able to encourage more participation from additional staff with a different format.

Project Partners: Rebecca Esselman, Huron River Watershed Council; Missy Stults, City of Ann Arbor

GLISA Contact: Kim Channell, Climatologist:


“We passed a climate emergency resolution, and pieces like this stormwater vulnerability assessment are critical in continuing to reinforce the climate emergency and also bring awareness as staffing changes over time. [During the assessment] we brought all city departments and divisions together, as well as some of our regional partners, and I thought that it was a really good opportunity for all of us to get on the same page and think about the same types of issues and how they relate to all of us.”

Sustainability & Environmental Projects Administrator, Dayton (OH)

“Pulling in the vulnerability and socioeconomic information really changed the way I’ve viewed it [climate change impacts] in the past. We had an understanding of the increased rain events…but I didn’t really stop and think about how that might impact certain areas and populations of our city more than others. I think that was new information, a new way to look at it.”

Stormwater Coordinator, City of Toledo (OH), in reference to Toledo’s participation in our vulnerability assessment project

“The team at GLISA reached out after the worst flood on record hit the City of Goshen in February 2018, and offered us the opportunity to use a tool to better understand Goshen’s vulnerability to climate uncertainties like changing temperatures, increased precipitation, extreme rain events, and flooding. The City of Goshen is thankful for having worked with the GLISA team because we are steps ahead in understanding how to adapt and prepare for a changing climate. The time and work put into completing the vulnerability assessment for Goshen’s stormwater system has allowed the City of Goshen to have a strong foundation to build upon for other projects like the creation of a Flood Resilience Plan and watershed management grant applications.”

Jason Kauffman, Stormwater Coordinator, City of Goshen (IN) in reference to Goshen’s participation in stormwater vulnerability assessment project