Partnership Case study

Niagara Adapts Case Study: An Interview with Dr. Jessica Blythe

What is the greatest benefit from collaboration to building a sustainable community?

Sustainability in general, and climate change in particular, are complex, dynamic, and cross cutting challenges. It is difficult, if not impossible, for any single individual or disciplinary group to identify and understand climate solutions and the dynamics of potential impacts and unintended consequences they may entail (Brondizio et al., 2016).

Therefore, one of the benefits of collaboration is that collaboration can support the development of robust and nuanced, rather than overly simplistic, solutions. This is essential in climate research and practice in order to account for the multidimensional nature of climate change and avoid maladaptation (Barnett & O’Neill, 2010). Working together allows us to tackle bigger questions and challenges than we could as individuals. Developing robust and nuanced climate adaptation plants requires collaboration and the inclusion of a range of stakeholders, perspectives and knowledge systems.  Collaboration between individuals with widely different, even polarized, perspectives has been shown to generate higher quality research than traditional disciplinary approaches alone. As Crow and Dabars (2017, p. 482) effectively point out, “biologists alone cannot solve the loss of biodiversity, nor chemists in isolation negotiate the transition to renewable energy.”

What is the greatest challenge of collaboration in the context of sustainability?

In my experience, the benefits of collaboration greatly outweigh the challenges. However, there are some challenges of co-operation in the context of sustainability that are important to account for in project planning. First, collaborative projects take longer. For example, most collaborative projects begin with a team building phase, in order for team members to become familiar with one another, to foster a culture of inclusion, trust, and respect, and to co-identify relevant sustainability challenges (Lang et al., 2012). This phase can take months or years to complete effectively. Knowledge in collaborative partnerships is co-created, which is often a slower process in comparison to disciplinary approaches. In partnerships like Niagara Adapts, for example, that aim to develop climate change adaptation plans, knowledge co-creation involves iterative cycles of research, stakeholder engagement, formal council meetings and approvals, among other activities. Finally, collaborative projects often aim to create knowledge that can be applied in the real world. Developing effective implementation strategies and effective monitoring and evaluation protocols requires an additional investment of time.

A second key challenge is that collaborative, or interdisciplinary, projects can be more difficult to fund than classic disciplinary research (Bromham et al., 2016). Therefore, diversifying your funding sources and investing in the team’s capacity to secure funding (e.g., through grant writing workshops) are potentially useful activities for collaborative partnerships.


Summary of Niagara Adapts

Niagara Adapts was a 2 year partnership between 7 municipalities in the Niagara Region and Brock’s Environmental Sustainability Research Centre that assisted municipalities with building innovative municipal climate change adaptation plans. Although the majority of the Niagara Adapts partnership occurred during a global pandemic, this partnership is a true success story of a university working with municipalities to generate innovative climate change solutions that are tailored to the Niagara Region. Niagara Adapts was a success for many reasons, but the main one being that all partners brought their unique set of skills and resources to the table which broadened all participants’ knowledge of climate change and how to adapt to it in their respective communities. The following are some examples of outcomes of the partnership:


Town of Lincoln

City of St. Catharines

Town of Pelham



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Building Sustainable Communities: Collaboration Copyright © 2022 by Ryan Plummer; Amanda Smits; Samantha Witkowski; Bridget McGlynn; Derek Armitage; Ella-Kari Muhl; and Jodi Johnston is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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