Game changer: New England climate change adaptation project

With sea levels rising and severe storms happening more frequently, coastal communities are on the front lines of climate change. Planning for these impacts involves making complex, difficult decisions with limited resources. It also involves two things that make many of us uncomfortable—uncertainty and compromise. The New England Climate Adaptation Project tested the use of role-play simulations, or “games,” to help community members come together to discuss and catalyze action around managing climate change risks in four New England communities.

Project Impact

Through risk assessments, public opinion polls, pre- and post-workshop surveys, and stakeholder interviews, each of the participating communities gained valuable resources and insight about local perceptions and barriers to climate change adaptation.

The project team engaged more than 500 people in role-play climate change adaptation workshops across the four municipalities. While each community has its own set of climate-related risks, adaptation barriers, and stakeholder perspectives, participants in all communities reported increased understanding of, and openness to, different viewpoints because of the role-playing exercise. For example, residents in Barnstable, Massachusetts, the games built participant confidence in the town’s ability to respond to risks; in Cranston, Rhode Island, the workshops contributed to increased support for integrating climate change considerations into short- and long-term planning; and in Dover, New Hampshire, the games raised awareness and concern about local climate change risks and increased participants’ confidence in the City’s ability to address these risks.

These communities can now serve as models for other communities looking to navigate difficult conversations about climate change risks and impacts. The project team’s experience provides helpful insight into the value of role-playing simulation in enabling productive conversations and fostering empathy for other viewpoints. The role-play simulation exercises and teaching notes are available for others to apply to their own local context.

How it worked

MIT scientists collaborated with coastal training specialists from New England’s Wells, Great Bay, Waquoit Bay, and Narragansett Bay reserves to identify four local communities at risk for significant impacts due to climate change. Using the extensive network of relationships the Reserves had built with community leaders, the team developed risk assessments using downscaled climate projections and stakeholder assessments through public polls and interviews to better understand the perceptions and attitudes of community members about these risks and the potential for adaptation. Based on the assessments, the team designed and tested role-play simulations for each town, with a goal of diverse community members in a mock decision-making process about the key climate change risks facing their community.


This project generated a variety of tools and resources relevant to coastal communities interested in effectively engaging communities in public learning, risk management, and collaborative decision-making around controversial, science-intensive issues. To learn more, visit the project’s web page or browse the resources below: