Climate change presents an increasingly urgent planning challenge for small coastal and riverine towns. Sea level rise, increasingly severe storms, coastal erosion, and changes in habitats are just some of the threats confronting these communities. To compound the challenge, many communities make long-term zoning, investment, and permitting decisions based on the climate of the past rather than that of the future. Decision-makers face difficulty in gaining support for the tough choices that adaptation can require. To address these challenges, CBI partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Science Impact Collaborative (MIT SIC) and the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) on a two-year project to explore the potential of “serious games” to raise awareness about climate change adaptation in four coastal New England towns.


In year one, the New England Climate Adaptation Project (NECAP) team worked with experts at the University of New Hampshire to generate localized climate change projections and translate these projections into Summary Risk Assessments. CBI staff also worked with MIT graduate students to conduct a stakeholder assessment in each town. All this information was used to create tailored, science-based simulations.

In year two, the NECAP team engaged more than 500 people in the four towns through a series of role-play simulation workshops. Participants took on an assigned role in a hypothetical community facing the same sort of climate-related challenges that their actual community faces. Researchers conducted in-depth follow-up interviews with about 30 percent of workshop participants.


After the role-plays, 78 percent of participants were very concerned or concerned about possible impacts of climate change on their towns, while only 60 percent felt so beforehand. Before the role-plays, 44 percent of participants thought climate change risk should be a very significant part of town planning, which climbed to 61 percent after. Overall, CBI found that using local assessments, tailored role-plays, and direct engagement can lead to meaningful conversations in at-risk communities.