Assess progress and continue to adapt

In order to continuously validate and assess the goals and objectives previously set by the municipality, a regular internal review of the municipality’s adaptation plan should be conducted to look at what actions have been implemented. In addition to building the capacity for collective action, climate change adaptation requires the ability to reflect, learn and adjust course in response to developing knowledge and conditions (this is known as “adaptive management”.

Adaptive Management

Appearing in Climate Ontario’s Adaptive Management in Climate Change Adaptation, Adaptive Management is a systematic, rigorous approach for deliberately learning from management actions with the intent to improve subsequent management policy or practice.  It promotes flexible decision making that can be adjusted in the face of uncertainty as new outcomes from management actions and other events develop.  In the context of climate change, documentation and monitoring of each step and all outcomes advances the scientific understanding of climate change and informs adjustments in policy or operations as part of an iterative learning process. It is not a ‘trial by error’ process but rather learning while doing.

Keeping on top of Adaptation

At the continuous improvement level, there should have a strategic plan already set out to strategically improve with continuous development and understanding of current and future climate risks and their implications for the municipality’s evolving context.  Also, building a repository of adaptation resources and responses that are emerging both locally and around the world, and developments in policy and regulation that may be required to comply with are important. In order to assess improvement as well as the effectiveness of the adaptation planning, it is important to utilize the key performance indicators identified to assess the progress and identify areas of strength and weakness.

The strategic plan contains the long-term goals and strategies of the organization. Strategic plans have a strong external focus, cover major portions of the organization, and identify major targets, actions and resource allocations relating to the long-term survival, value and growth of the organization. A strategic plan will include a variety of plans addressing different aspects of the organization’s responsibilities, such as an asset management plan, which provides a snapshot of the state of the municipality’s physical infrastructure and the plan for its future management.

Keeping a repository of data sources and adaptation tools will be important when checking for improvements, especially since climate adaptation monitoring is still in its infancy and new tools and resources are likely to be introduced.  Annual reviews of progress on adaptation initiatives should be incorporated into year-end reports to ensure that the process remains “top-of-mind”, with justification being that climate adaptation affects several municipality departments concurrently, requiring an integrated and continuous monitoring approach.

Assess Progress

The plan should reflect the municipality’s overall adaptation vision and strategic plan. Given the comprehensive nature of adaptation planning, a typical timeframe for this review is every five years.

  • It’s critical to get a baseline idea of what’s been achieved, what barriers were encountered, and begin identifying potential solutions
  • The purpose of this step is to assess progress towards the goals and objectives that were set out by the adaptation practitioners in order to reassess the scientific information upon which vulnerability and risk were evaluated
  • The ideal outputs from this step would be review of scientific information, progress on implementation, effectiveness of actions, updated action plan, and communication of accomplishments

It’s important to keep in mind that the monitoring and reviewing progress on adaptation should be ongoing and happening on multiple levels (political, staff, technical, budgetary), and for multiple audiences.  For example, in the Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government’s Climate Adaptation Manual for Local Government, it specified that measurement, monitoring and review are important components of any adaptation plan or strategy, as they evaluate effectiveness and inform a process of ongoing review and improvement. It’s important to note that climate change adaptation plans should be incorporated into the management plans of critical city infrastructure, and evolve through time as climate risk assessment, evaluation of adaptation strategies, and monitoring.

At the current level, it’s important to evaluate the effectiveness of actions, especially if based on the evolving needs of the community. Questions to ask during this progress includes:

  • How are the actions increasing or maintaining that adaptive capacity of service areas in the municipality?
  • If reassessing baseline conditions, how have the conditions in the municipality changed?
  • How effectively is the municipality’s technical capacity being used to evaluate risk and vulnerability?
  • How effective have the measures been in achieving the municipality’s vision and goals?
  • Are there any formal mechanisms in place that “mainstream” or otherwise facilitate climate change adaptation planning? If not, what has prevented this from happening?
  • How has awareness about climate change its projected impacts on the municipality increased?

Linking data collection and monitoring back to Key Performance Indicators connects actions to impacts, and will require establishing processes to ensure that data is gathered and analyzed with a consistent methodology, accounting for changes in the adaptation team and other staff over the next several years.

A sample strategy matrix for monitoring and documenting Key Performance Indicators is given below, adapted from Quest Canada’s Getting to Implementation Strategy 8, and can be used to populate databases for tracking progress on adaptation initiatives.

Monitoring Strategy Matrix

Key Performance Indicator

Data Source

Relevant Adaptation Actions

Frequency of Data Collection

Staff Dept./Person Responsible











In terms of resilient strategies, design standards that are recalibrated depending on the climate change projections should be put in place, so that long-lasting infrastructure will be prepared to withstand future threats. Adaptive management is addressed by means of focusing on strategies for responding to incremental changes (e.g. annual temperature and precipitation changes) as well as low probability, high impact events (e.g. extreme coastal flooding exacerbated by sea level rise).  This data should be incorporated into annual or biannual updates to the risk and vulnerability assessment, and subsequently into updates of the adaptation plan itself. 

Case Studies

Case Study

City of Surrey Coastal Flood Adaptation Strategy

The City of Surrey developed a Coastal Flood Adaptation Strategy (CFAS) to explore the impacts of climate change on Surrey’s coastline and the long-term adaptation options available to the City. Land use and managed retreat from high-risk areas are being considered. The strategy will help coastal communities become more resilient. At the continuous improvement level, the CFAS has been engaging with residents, stakeholders and partners since 2016.

“To assist the City in dealing with climate change uncertainties, an adaptive management approach will be employed. Adaptive management is the process of putting in place small, flexible, incremental changes. This approach is based on regular monitoring and revision of plans using information available at the time, rather than relying on one-off, large-scale treatments. Adaptive management leaves scope for decisions about actions to be reviewed in the future, as improved information becomes available about the nature of climate change risks.”