Since there are no currently active contests, we have switched Climate CoLab to read-only mode.
Learn more at
Skip navigation
Share via:


Engaging rural Midwestern communities to study, deliberate, and act to address the local impacts of a changing climate.



Rural communities in the United States are incredibly diverse. It is misguided and unproductive to assume rural communities, even within a given state, will want to pursue the same actions, outcomes, or implementation strategies to address climate change. That’s why the Jefferson Center and our partners have developed the Rural Climate Dialogues platform.

A Rural Climate Dialogue engages a diverse, demographically balanced microcosm of a rural community to study and discuss climate change and community resilience issues over the course of many days. Participants are randomly selected and paid to ensure demographic and cognitive diversity. Their discussion is based on issues identified by community stakeholders as critical for the community to consider (e.g. agriculture in some communities, forestry and recreation in others), but participants are otherwise free to direct the course of conversation and deliberative inquiry. Participants interact with local experts and deliberate among their peers to identify the top climate-related challenges that the community faces, opportunities to address those challenges, and actions members of the community can take individually or collectively to address challenges and realize opportunities. These recommendations provide unique insight into the priorities of a community.

Following the in-person Dialogue event, we work with partners, community members, Dialogue participants, public officials, businesses, and others to implement these recommendations and enhance community resilience. In our pilots, community organizations and public officials have found the community Dialogue recommendations a useful starting point to begin addressing climate change.

We hope to conduct a series of Rural Climate Dialogues in select communities in Midwestern states to identify issues and priorities specific to individual regions. Outcomes from these events will inform local, state, regional, and national policymakers.

Category of the action

Mitigation/Adaptation, Changing public attitudes about climate change

What actions do you propose?

Actions will vary from community to community, based on local needs, challenges, and ambitions. We've included a selection of actions identified by participants in two Rural Climate Dialogue pilots as indicative of potential community recommendations in future Dialogues.

 - - -

Community #1

1) Assess and adapt agricultural practices to ensure future productivity in the face of extreme weather events and a shifting climate.

  • Encourage diversity in crops and crop rotation
  • Provide farmers tools to adapt crops
  • Implement diversified farming
  • Design agricultural drainage for more severe rainfall events with less erosion

2) Adopt new technologies to improve individual and community resilience in response to extreme weather, climate changes, and increases in energy and insurance costs.

  • Create a committee to start looking at building codes to promote weatherproofing
  • Assess your home for potential structural and energy-saving improvements
  • Incorporate better building techniques and materials to improve energy efficiency
  • Take into account other factors of the manufacturing process (energy, etc.)
  • Create an organization to find, educate, and assist people in accessing resources to make their homes more efficient and sustainable
  • Encourage better construction in new homes, quality retrofitting of old homes, and investment in energy-efficient appliances and alternative energy sources
  • Promote use of green products/industries (ex. solar panels)

3) Plan for changes in the water cycle (ex. more frequent heavy precipitation events) and implement new techniques to protect private property, maintain and improve water quality, and ensure an adequate water supply for present and future generations.

  • Use water channeling and drainage to control flooding and erosion, and, where possible, capture water for other uses
  • Look at the possibilities of different storm protection for sewer systems
  • Publish information on rain gardens for local homes in newspaper
  • Find larger scale uses for rain gardens (ex. Irrigation)

4) Educate community members on the concerns, opportunities, and actions associated with more frequent extreme weather and changes to our local climate.

  • Implement discussion of climate change into K-12 education
  • Begin education in early years
  • Search for information on preventative measures and check out resources to help when disaster occurs
  • Find ways to use social media to inform and educate people
  • Get article in newspaper to begin an awareness program
  • Create an education site for information on climate change
  • Pay attention to global weather patterns

5) Ensure the entire community is aware of local weather and climate issues and able to provide input to address concerns and opportunities.

  • Elect officials who will take the issue seriously
  • Hold town meetings where government officials, agricultural producers, utility providers, human services, and the public can generate and discuss new ideas so voters and consumers can make more informed decisions


Community #2

We can install green infrastructure to reduce stormwater runoff on new developments. We can reduce risks associated with stormwater runoff by pursuing low impact development best practices. We should educate our public officials and our general public about balancing risks associated with stormwater and the costs of managing stormwater. We should pay attention to new data and research.

To ensure tourists come to Itasca County, we can be adaptive and focus on what we have. We can create new reasons for tourists to come to Itasca County if weather conditions don’t support traditional tourist activities.

To improve our infrastructure systems, we should be more creative and keep an open mind, for example, by implementing green design ideas (e.g. new thermal pavements that reduce damage related to severe fluctuations in temperature).

Related to our forest resources, educate stakeholders on thinning strategies to build drought tolerance while also avoiding degrading pine stands.

Work with lawmakers, foundations, and others to offer grants, cost-share, reduced interest loans, and other incentives for loggers to increase the practice of thinning.

Encourage private landowners and regional entities (DNR, Counties, Bands, Federal) to implement and evaluate strategies to transition black ash wetlands to replacement tree species.

Work with legislators and foundations to fund the implementation of forest adaptation strategy trials.

Encourage use of Minnesota DNR’s Native Plant Community guides as a basis for managing mixed-species forests (because some native species are likely to be future-adapted).

Begin to evaluate the potential of future-adapted tree species in forest settings (assisted migration) by asking extension agents which species to try and how to manage them and asking tree nurseries to supply these species.

Community members can spread information related to the challenges and opportunities facing our fisheries.

To protect our fisheries, we can find and empower local citizens to champion adaptive planning and management.

We need to find economic incentives to encourage creation of habitat for birds and insects.

We can change the way we manage our individual properties to protect wildlife habitat and water quality:

  • Create more natural or wild areas so that birds and insects have more habitat
  • Build birdhouses to provide habitat for birds
  • Leave dead trees and snags on our property (if they don’t threaten our structures)
  • Plant flowers and native plants on our property (without diminishing our property values)
  • Plant early blooming plants on our property to provide more food sources for insects
  • Encourage attitude shifts away from highly manicured “Home and Garden Magazine” lawns (which remove habitat for insects and birds and adds carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to maintain) to “wilder” properties
  • Reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides to protect insects
  • Raise our own bees
  • Address stormwater runoff and noncompliant septic systems (if you own waterfront property)

Actions by individuals add up! We can insulate our homes, use efficient bulbs and appliances, use solar power, travel by bike, improve the fuel efficiency of our vehicles, travel less, increase energy efficiency, and pursue alternative energy sources.

We can participate in public decision making meetings related our infrastructure systems. Get involved by asking what you can do on your property to address stormwater and infrastructure issues. To understand and be involved in managing our public infrastructure, we can get educated on local regulations, the latest research and trends, and the consequences of pursuing different public policies; and we can share knowledge with our friends, peers, and neighbors.

We can encourage shifts in attitudes so that people value insects and work to protect them.

We don’t need to wait for policy consensus to act!


The collection of actions identified by participants in numerous communities and states will show the similarities and differences in the ways rural communities want to address climate change and enhance resilience. This information will indicate which actions are best pursued at the local, regional, state, and national levels.

Who will take these actions?

The number and diversity of actions a community needs to take to enhance resilience in the face of climate change necessitates an "all hands on deck" approach. Elected officials (at all levels), local businesses and organizations, and individual community members should all have a role in developing and implementing a community response to changes in climate. Recommendations from any given community Rural Climate Dialogue serve as a starting point for action and further conversation about how a community wishes to respond to climate challenges. Recommendations also indicate support for various immediate actions government and other interested organizations can take to address climate change in a way that's responsive and considerate to the needs of those affected by climate change.

The Rural Climate Dialogue model is unique in that it allows an informed microcosm of the public to assess the challenges of a changing climate and invite responses to address those challenges. Expert views are considered and debated, but not automatically elevated to the forefront of public policy decision making. Empowering community members to be or directly inform decision makers increases the willingness of the broader community to engage on climate issues, because the process is driven by their neighbors and peers (whom they trust and, more often than not, perceive as relatively unbiased) rather than by agenda-driven organizations or activists (whom they often do not trust).

Where will these actions be taken?

The Midwestern region of the United States (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin). Communities will be selected and prioritized based on available resources, responsiveness to the Dialogue process, and the degree to which climate challenges and potential solutions are reproducible in other contexts.

What are other key benefits?

Resilience refers not only to the capacity of infrastructure and natural systems to "weather" an extreme event, but also to the capacity of a community (as a collection of families and individuals) to work together after severe or extreme change(s). Rural Climate Dialogues encourage community members to see themselves as capable of addressing community problems on their own, rather than relying exclusively on top-down, technocratic interventions. Dialogues also encourage the development of new community networks. These new capabilities mean communities can bounce back much more quickly after extreme events.

Dialogues rely on everyday community members (not experts/scientists) to assess evidence of climate change and climate impacts. These intermediaries help ease the cognitive blocks that prevent individuals from accepting or even engaging with climate change science. That is, "if my neighbor and friends believe this is happening, maybe something's really going on here."

What are the proposal’s costs?

The cost of a community Rural Climate Dialogue may cost between $10,000 and $35,000 depending on the location, the number of participants, the number of days participants are involved, and so on. The cost of implementing action recommendations identified in the Dialogue will vary immensely, depending on the nature and breadth of the recommendation.

Time line

The Dialogues themselves can be convened quickly over the next few years. The actions communities identify in the process may take longer to implement, depending on the nature of the action and the availability of funding from local, state, and national actors.

Related proposals


Flexibility, Argumentation and Confrontation. How Deliberative Minipublics Can Affect Policies on Controversial Issues
Ravazzi, Stefania and Pomatto, Gianfranco (2014) "Flexibility, Argumentation and Confrontation. How Deliberative Minipublics Can Affect Policies on Controversial Issues," Journal of Public Deliberation: Vol. 10: Iss. 2, Article 10. Available at:

Public Deliberation and Co-Production in the Political and Electoral Arena: A Citizens’ Jury Approach 
Munno, Greg and Nabatchi, Tina (2014) "Public Deliberation and Co-Production in the Political and Electoral Arena: A Citizens’ Jury Approach," Journal of Public Deliberation: Vol. 10: Iss. 2, Article 1. Available at:

Variations of Institutional Design for Empowered Deliberation
Johnson, Carolina and Gastil, John (2015) "Variations of Institutional Design for Empowered Deliberation," Journal of Public Deliberation: Vol. 11: Iss. 1, Article 2. Available at:

Can you hear me? Citizens, Climate Change & Open Local Government, Involve UK

Why the Many Are Smarter than the Few and Why It Matters
Landemore, Helene E. (2012) "Why the Many Are Smarter than the Few and Why It Matters,"Journal of Public Deliberation: Vol. 8: Iss. 1, Article 7. Available at:

Citizens' Initiative Review Process - This project site brings together research, blog posts, and relevant links and writing on the Citizens’ Initiative Review (CIR) process. This unique method of citizen deliberation was first implemented by statute in the State of Oregon in 2009 and is based on the citizens jury process that informs the Rural Climate Dialogues.