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Isaac Wolfson

Summer Scholar 2020 - Isaac Wolfson
Project Title: 
Climate Change Adaptation, Peer Learning and Network Building
Program Year: 
Environmental Science and Political Science
Melissa Ocana

After spending three of my first four semesters at UMass working with Massachusetts Ecosystem Climate Adaptation Network (Mass ECAN), primarily assisting in network maintenance and correspondence, I had the opportunity to add a new assortment of tasks this summer that better served my interests. My summer project focused on the creation of a couple of resources to build capacity for climate change adaptation. At the beginning of the summer, a new, nature-based solutions focused deliverable that Mass ECAN had been working on went into its final stages of development. This resource was created through collaboration with the Mass ECAN-affiliated Mainstreaming Nature-Based Solutions Work Group and Climate Communications Work Group, with support from the US Dept. of Agriculture and UMass Extension. From there, I moved onto the task that took up the bulk of my time, which consisted of investigating and compiling the best practices in peer learning and knowledge exchange for our collaborative initiatives. Peer knowledge exchange is primarily described as a form of learning that utilizes developing connections between peers to facilitate overcoming shared challenges. Using extensive online research, I was able to find many peer reviewed publications on the processes of peer knowledge exchange. This research, along with examples of activities from members of Mass ECAN, has allowed us to develop a one-page output that shares the best practices and real examples of peer knowledge exchange through the lens of climate adaptation. We hope that this will be widely used by adaptation networks looking to strengthen their peer-to-peer connections.


Through my research on peer learning, we were able to establish an in-depth background of the processes that best benefit networks similar to our own and will be able to connect members to useful information. I parsed together an annotated bibliography of the most impactful resources I came across, which was then used to develop the final output. I also contributed in several other ways throughout my time at Mass ECAN this summer. I helped to brainstorm ideas for a networking event between one of Mass ECAN’s expert work groups and a professional society for floodplain managers throughout Massachusetts. Together with the other facilitators, we came up with the general structure of the event along with prompts to guide participants into productive conversation. The day of, I attended the virtual event and helped to make sure the schedule ran smoothly and as planned. Additionally, I managed registration with those who signed up to assure they were informed and ready to attend.

The main objectives of Mass ECAN as a whole are to connect climate adaptation practitioners in a collaborative manner that allows for greater communication of ideas, strategies, and resources. All of the work that I did with Mass ECAN checked these boxes in one way or another and advanced the ability for the network to maintain relationships during an extremely troubling time for all practitioners. While some of our work was limited due to the pandemic, we were still able to hold virtual meetings and events that served to fill the gaps of in-person experiences. I believe we succeeded in doing so. Along with developing documents that will be used by professionals for years to come, our work, while challenging, met a lot of the goals we had set for ourselves and the network in general.


Taking Cues From Nature to Adapt to ClimateChange


My academic career has been defined by intersecting studies of the environment with deep analysis of the political world through Political Science courses. Whatever subfield I end up pursuing, I know it will require me to utilize these two disciplines in tandem. Mass ECAN has been a great way for me to explore the environmental side of my interests while dipping my feet into community-based outreach and collaborative work. It has introduced me to so many important ideas surrounding climate adaptation and the immediate need for response to climate change through policy. I have been able to expand my knowledge about such topics while developing important communication skills that are specific to my field. I know that I want to end up working with communities and small businesses to help implement clean energy plans focusing on the importance of renewables and other climate adaptation strategies. Without Mass ECAN, I do not think I would have been able to narrow down my scope of interest in a manner that allows me to feel secure with my goals, both academically and professionally.