SSAC Report - Science and evidence for place-based adaptation

SSAC Report - Science and evidence for place-based adaptation.pdf

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Executive summary 

Context and scope 

The Scottish Government (SG) has a duty under the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 to update the Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Programme (SCCAP) every 5 years. Adaptation Scotland (AS) is a programme funded by SG to help deliver the SCCAP, through helping organisations, businesses and communities across Scotland to understand what climate change will mean for them and to identify the best way for them to plan for the impacts. 

Through discussions with colleagues in the Climate Change Policy Implementation Unit and in AS, the Scottish Science Advisory Council (SSAC) identified an opportunity to potentially strengthen delivery of future SCCAPs. Specifically, this was through facilitating links between the academic community (primarily social scientists) and adaptation initiatives at community level to build a better evidence base to inform development of further phases of the SCCAP. This led to the creation of a short-life SSAC Working Group (WG)[1] to steer the project. 

The small amount of resources (money and time) available meant that this project could only be an initial evidence gathering exercise to identify priorities for more substantive projects in this relatively under-researched area. The WG agreed that the aim of this project (see Scoping Agreement for more detail)[2] was to: 

i. “set the scene” of recent and current research and development projects on place-based adaptation (PBA) across Scotland with reference to their strengths and weaknesses; 

ii. identify potential research questions that could strengthen the delivery of PBA; and 

iii. provide reflections and recommendations to the SG that could inform the development of the next SCCAP. 

Given the small scale of the project and primary emphasis on social science, the WG agreed that the project would focus on two specific outcomes of the SCCAP, namely: 

1. Our communities are inclusive, empowered, resilient and safe in response to the changing climate (Outcome 1); 

2. The people in Scotland who are most vulnerable to climate change are able to adapt and climate justice is embedded in climate change adaptation policy (Outcome 2). 

The approach adopted included: a) a literature review to help design an online questionnaire and semi-structured interviews (Annex A), and b) a virtual roundtable (Annex B) of key stakeholders from academia, the public sector, the third sector, and from communities already undertaking work badged as “adaptation”. This report draws on each of these sources of evidence (details given in Annex A, Annex C and Annex D) and knowledge from within the SSAC to draw out insights, research questions and reflections for the SG in developing the next SCCAP. 

Key insights

i. Setting the scene of recent and current research and development projects on PBA across Scotland:

  • Only eleven responses were received in response to the online questionnaire (Annex A), while the roundtable attracted forty five attendees. Other SSAC studies and the experience of those on the WG have identified more place-based activities addressing adaptation, while not “badged” as such. These include projects associated with, e.g., local food production, regional land use, catchment management strategies and climate action networks. 
  • The lack of documentation of existing projects in terms of impact, reach, learning, and outcomes makes it difficult to define what success might look like and what is (or is not) good practice. 
  • There was recognition that climate change will affect not just the physical features of a “place” but also established cultural traditions, identities, and the social fabric of communities – all of which differ between groups and areas. 
  • There is more demand for collaboration across sectors as well as demand for innovative approaches to financing, governance, and democratic practices. 

ii. Suggested research approaches and questions 

  • The need for accessible data and the potential for developing “models for action” was emphasised by stakeholders at the roundtable. Consideration of new economic models should be included. 
  • There are examples of good practical initiatives on adaptation; for example, Climate Ready Clyde (CRC). However, what is currently missing is empirical research to identify and understand in more depth what have been the factors behind success – and what has not worked – and how successful initiatives can be rolled out at scale (e.g. sharing experiences between regions with similar priorities). 
  • Over the past 10-15 years, both the SG and the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) have established collaborations between universities and research centres to undertake research at the science/policy interface.[3] Resources within these boundary organisations could be harnessed to help develop a shared vision of PBA, and ensure the objectives, timelines of delivery, and access to resources are locally appropriate and acceptable, while also contributing to a national strategy. 
  • The need for inter-disciplinary research approaches is clear. Social science could play a key role in defining targeted methods and approaches to community engagement to ensure participation of “hard to reach” groups. Engagement with other disciplines is essential to help identify practical options. 

iii. Reflections on strengthening the next SCCAP: 

  • SG policies already recognise key principles of place-based working, such as collaboration, partnership, and cross-sectoral thinking. Innovative thinking on how to leverage multiple sources of funding (including research) to stimulate appropriate initiatives should be considered.
  • There are legal requirements for collating and managing data (GDPR),4 resulting in extensive protected databases which are not always accessible at a local level. Finding ways in which to communicate the need for data collection so that it is seen as a way of ‘giving back to the community’ could help with systematic prioritisation of local issues and help to resolve potential conflicts. Identifying champions to promote data awareness might be beneficial – presumably the Digital Office | Scottish Local Government could help with this.
  • Local authorities are often too budget and human resource constrained to lead local action and some communities may have stronger leadership within the community than others. Social science research may be able to suggest ways of efficiently accessing expert advice at a local level to help develop more equitable resource distribution across Scotland.
  • Further development of the national “framework” (or strategy) for adaptation could include mapping of local and regional priorities (based on local authority strategies, regional land use plans etc).


[1] The WG included SSAC members SG policy officials, academics and AS staff

[2] SSAC Adaptation Scoping Agreement

[3] e.g. the SG’s ClimateXChange | Scotland’s centre of expertise on climate change, CREW | Scotland’s Centre of Expertise for Waters | Connecting Water Research and Policy and the SFC’s Scottish Research Alliance for Energy, Homes and Livelihoods (

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