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Resilience and Adaptation Planning for Communities in Protected Areas: A step-by-step guide

This guide provides the practical tools needed to effectively engage with communities living in, and around, PAs regarding appropriate strategies to deal with the negative impacts of climate change.
Multiple Authors
WCMC table
  • Level: Advanced
  • Time commitment: 1-2 days
  • Learning product: Guidance
  • Sector: Multi-sector
  • Language: English
  • Certificate available: No


The negative impacts of climate change are already being felt around the globe, and countless communities, particularly in developing countries, are becoming increasingly vulnerable. In response to climatic risks, communities need to understand and build appropriate strategies that offer an opportunity to adapt to environmental change. Protected areas (PAs) are important tools for conserving biodiversity and ecosystems, which provide numerous services that support the livelihoods of many people. Furthermore, their importance in climate change mitigation and adaptation is increasingly acknowledged. With this in mind, the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) has developed a step-by-step manual for engaging with communities living in PAs regarding climate change and empowering local people to plan for such change.

This manual* provides the practical tools needed to effectively engage with communities living in, and around, PAs regarding appropriate strategies to deal with the negative impacts of climate change. It outlines a practical and pragmatic community-based resilience and adaptation planning process, offering step-by-step guidance on initiating the planning process, engaging the community in it and refining and implementing action plans.

This manual is aimed at practitioners from non-governmental organisations (NGOs), government departments, PA management and research institutions with some experience in participatory work and a good understanding of climate change. The process described can be tailored to different contexts and used to work with PAs managed under different types of governance (e.g. co-management, state-run or community-governed). In addition, the detailed instructions on undertaking the community-based workshop component of the process, along with several practical annexes, are ideal for training workshop facilitators.

*Download the full manual from the right-hand column. The manual is also available to download here. This manual is also available in French (download provided under further resources).

In this manual

The resilience and adaptation planning process outlined in this manual is broken down into three main sections:

  1. ‘Preparation’;
  2. ‘Workshop’; and
  3. ‘Refining and Implementing’.

‘Preparation’ provides guidance on the important elements to consider when initiating the process, as well as specific logistical preparations for the community-based workshop component of the process.

‘Workshop’ covers the community-based workshop component of the resilience and adaptation planning process. It starts with the Community Planning Workshop which assesses the vulnerability of the community to climate change, maps resources and capacities, gathers information on local values and future aspirations, and develops Community Action Plans. These action plans aim to build resilience to climate change through various measures, including adaptation options. Following this, a series of one-on-one Follow-up Interviews complement information gathered in the workshop, and a Scenario Development Exercise tests how robust the Community Action Plans are, offering improvements where necessary. Overall, the community-based workshop component has been designed to empower communities and is an important entry point for engagement.

‘Refining and Implementing’ provides post-workshop guidelines which are designed to ensure that the Community Action Plans will be resilient under current and projected climate change, can be sustainably implemented in the PA, and will be appropriate in the local social, economic and political context. It is important to refine these action plans through an iterative process of consultations with local communities, PA managers, technical experts and other key stakeholders.

End results

The resilience and adaptation planning process outlined in this manual equips communities living in, and around, PAs with:

  • ƒshared visions and aspirations for the future;
  • ƒimproved and expanded relationship networks;
  • resources for sustainable, climate-resilient community development; ƒ
  • a plan for achieving the desired vision using the resources available; ƒ
  • greater capacity to cope with uncertainty;
  • ƒcritical thinking skills;
  • ƒand increased strategic capacity.

Bringing together local communities and other relevant stakeholders involved in the PA during the Community Planning Workshop and Scenario Development Exercise links the visions and activities of the communities with PA management and monitoring processes; in turn, helping to create more sustainable, well-adapted and equitable plans for the future.

Figure 6 from page 21 of the manual: The What’s Important? exercise visually represents the community’s priorities

Development of this manual

This manual was developed in the context of the Climate-Resilient Communities and Protected Areas project, funded by the MAVA Foundation and executed by UNEP-WCMC. It builds on several other manuals and frameworks developed by the authors, including the vulnerability assessment and adaptation planning toolkit developed by ENDA, SEI and local partners in Gambia, and supported by UNITAR through the C3D+ project.

As part of the project, the planning process – now refined and outlined in this manual – was implemented at three pilot sites in the Gambia and Senegal. Working with communities living in coastal PAs in the pilot sites, the project undertook Community Planning Workshops, which resulted in Community Action Plans. The project supported the communities involved in implementing several of these action plans, which included multiple community-based and ecosystem-based adaptation options.

Lessons learned from implementing the planning process at the project’s three pilot sites have been incorporated into this manual to add to its relevance. Furthermore, this manual is informed by a wealth of existing knowledge of community adaptation planning frameworks, a number of participatory tools and methodologies tried and tested around the world, and extensive knowledge of PA management processes. This document should, therefore, provide useful guidance to a wide audience wishing to work with communities to holistically strengthen their resilience to climate change and implement actions that will ultimately help them to adapt to it.

This manual is unique because it is tailored to the context of communities living in, or around, PAs and dealing with the effects of climate change. Thus it focuses on the need to balance community and environmental adaptation and development goals with the objectives of managing the PA. The planning process outlined is suitable for implementation across all types of PA management and governance systems, ranging from state-run PAs to private- and co-managed areas or community reserves.

Figure 5 from page 20: Scribe taking notes for illiterate participants

The United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) is the specialist biodiversity assessment centre of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the world’s foremost intergovernmental environmental organisation. The Centre has been in operation for over 30 years, combining scientific research with practical policy advice.

Suggested citation:

Wicander, S., Helfgott, A., Bailey, M., Munroe, R., Ampomah, G., Diouf, A., Devisscher, T. and Corrigan, C. (2016) Resilience and adaptation planning for communities in protected areas. A step-by-step guide. Cambridge: UNEP-WCMC.


  • Sylvia Wicander, Robert Munroe, Colleen Corrigan – UNEP-WCMC
  • Ariella Helfgott, Meghan Bailey – CGIAR Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security Research Programme (CCAFS)
  • Gifty Ampomah, Aliou Diouf – ENDA – Energie Environnement Développement
  • Tahia Devisscher – Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI)

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