Common characteristics of successful RISA teams

The RISA program has been conducting its work for close to 25 years. From this experience, the RISA community and CPO RISA Program Managers have found that successful RISA teams need to balance a number of characteristics and structural elements that allow them to be successful. A successful RISA team conducts, translates and communicates research, co-develops knowledge and tools with decision makers and intermediary institutions, and iteratively engages with decision makers to support the integration of climate knowledge in planning, preparedness, response and policy efforts.

1. Core Activities

The following summarizes the types of RISA capacities and activities that take place within the context of a research endeavor with a strong engagement approach:

A diagram showing 5 RISA core activities enveloped by
Credit: Adapted from a Susanne Moser diagram and based on Owen et. al. 2019

2. Structural Components

RISAs are encouraged to be innovative and diverse in their approaches to team structure, advisory mechanisms, research, and stakeholder engagement.  Below are some common key components of successful RISA teams that have evolved over the years.

  • Interdisciplinary social and physical science expertise
  • Engagement with high-level decision makers
  • Strategic management of team science
Program Management
  • RISAs often hire program management staff who devote(s) time to team management, integration across projects, research and engagement with decision makers, and synthesis and reporting
Research and Engagement
  • Integrated approach to research and engagement projects across prominent themes
  • Interdisciplinary approaches that combine research expertise with stakeholder engagement expertise. This includes representation from social, behavioral, physical, natural, engineering, communication, etc. sciences. 
  • Engagement practices that include: 
    • Dedicated experts to facilitate effective engagement techniques and incorporate engagement into all activities
    • Collaborative partnerships such as linking with extension networks, state/local governments, and other intermediary organizations to reach wider groups of decision makers

Outreach, Communication, and Translation
  • RISAs often hire communications specialists, leverage experts at their institutions, or contract with specialists (i.e. graphic designers) when needed.
  • Evaluation of projects, tools and/or engagement processes
  • Evaluation of overall impact of the team’s efforts on climate adaptation in the region
Students and Young Professionals
  • Support of and opportunities for early career researchers and young professionals, undergraduate, and graduate students especially in the model of use-inspired research with a heavy engagement focus
  • Mentoring of this cohort by RISA investigators
Advisory Mechanisms
  • Reception of input from regional and national partners in order to coordinate within the region and guide team strategy. Teams take different approaches as to how they receive this input through the types of advisory committees they form and how they function.



Dr. Chelsea Combest-Friedman
Social Scientist, Program Director (Acting)
P: (301) 734-1240

Caitlin Simpson
Program Manager
P: (301) 734-1251

Dr. Ariela Zycherman
Social Scientist, Program Manager
P: (301) 734-1244

Sean Bath*
Program Specialist (UCAR)
P: (301) 734-1294


Owen G., D. Ferguson, and McMahan B. “Contextualizing climate science: applying social learning systems theory to knowledge production, climate services, and use-inspired research,” Climatic Change 2019.


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