Resilience Project Prioritization: The benefits of a structured approach

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Closeup of a green pen checking off a box on a checklist.

Faced with staff and funding shortages, small communities have few resources to spend on resilience planning and project implementation. Local leaders often have to make tough choices about which projects to fund and which to set aside. Yet deciding on which project to implement is easier said than done – resilience encompasses so many components that local stakeholders can struggle to weigh resilience projects against one another. How do you measure the benefits of a resilient infrastructure project against those of a residential solar incentive program or completing an emergency operations plan update?

To overcome these obstacles, IBTS resilience experts recommend taking a structured project prioritization approach. This should include data and a wide range of community stakeholder input to assess the impact on all sectors of the community, in addition to defining how the project can leverage existing resilience assets to define the projects’ cost-effectiveness and feasibility.

A structured approach allows for data-based assessments that clearly distinguish the benefits and drawbacks to one project over another – no matter how diverse the projects under consideration may be. This not only helps local stakeholders more clearly communicate their justification for choosing one project over another, but also to gain stakeholder support and buy-in from funders.

Use the tips below as a starting point for developing a structured project prioritization process unique to your community.

A good starting point is to collect and analyze data related to the following questions about the social, economic, environmental and government resilience impacts of each project:

  1. Does the project solve a problem or only a symptom?
  2. What will the social impact of the project be?
  3. How might the project impact future development?
  4. How does this project contribute to environmental sustainability?
  5. What, if any, are there available (public, private, philanthropic, other) funding sources for the project?

Integrate stakeholder input from all government agencies and sectors of the community.

  • This ensures all interests are represented, increases stakeholder and community buy-in, and builds a sense of transparency and trust. Including multiple viewpoints also helps to more easily identify potential problems and benefits to certain community sectors.
  • Stakeholders can include representatives from:
    • Local departments such as planning, economic development, finance, public safety, emergency management, and parks
    • Local sustainability and environmental groups
    • Homeless assistance agencies
    • Chamber of commerce
    • Religious group leaders
    • Intergovernmental partners, such as neighboring counties, cities, etc.
    • Local land developers or construction companies
    • Utilities
    • Public schools

Don’t take a one-sized-fits-all approach, assess how projects can leverage your existing assets, and account for your local hazards.

  • Focus your prioritization process on your regional hazards to evaluate how a specific project will mitigate, exacerbate, and withstand their impact.
    • Example: Coastal communities may consider a transportation project that also provides protection from sea-level rise.
  • Leverage your unique existing resilience assets – such as recently updated building codes, an engaged citizenry, or strong regional relationships – to prioritize projects that require minimal investment but have the largest impact.
  • Examine community data, such as neighborhood-level socioeconomic and geographic data, to assess how projects will impact or withstand local hazards and chronic stressors.
    • Example: Vulnerable populations are disproportionately more impacted by disasters; assess the likelihood of grocery stores in these areas becoming inaccessible in a flood, and develop a plan that ensures residents will have access to food and water in a flood event.

Consider collateral benefits of potential projects.

  • The best resilience projects will serve multiple purposes and provide a host of secondary benefits, such as job creation, land reuse, decreased environmental impacts, bankable income, or increased tourism revenue.
    • Example: In Norristown, PA, the local government developed a resilient plan to relocate their sewer treatment plant, which mitigated the risk of the plant flooding, opened new opportunities for mixed-use land development, and improved property values in the area.
  • Review your comprehensive plan and how a project aligns with forwarding long-term planning goals and your community vision.

IBTS provides a suite of resilience services to help communities, including the Community Resilience Assessment Framework and Tools (CRAFT) – an online platform that provides local governments with an all-encompassing assessment of its resilience strengths and vulnerabilities.

Read more about IBTS’s CRAFT assessment tool here, and learn more about how IBTS’s additional resilience services can help your community get started with the resilience planning and project prioritization processes.

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