September 22, 2023

By Lucy Perkins, NHDES Coastal Program

This year, CAW members gathered at three retreats to pause and plan forward. Over the course of these retreats, CAW members set guiding principles to anchor future work, generated realistic and ambitious goals, and developed strategies to help these goals come to life. This work resulted in CAW’s Five-Year Intentions. CAW’s Five-Year Intentions are a living document which articulates how the workgroup will focus its energy, time, and resources over the next five years. In addition to this tangible outcome, the impact of the retreats reaches far beyond a single document. Several CAW members generously shared their reflections on the time spent together and below you will find some of the themes that emerged from their thoughts.

The Atmosphere

The retreats offered the first time in a long time that CAW members came together in person. CAW members enjoyed hot coffee and fresh breakfast treats as they rekindled connections and made new introductions. Retreat organizers used a series of ground rules adapted from AORTA, the anti-oppression resources & training alliance, to foster constructive interactions and allow CAW members to feel both comfortable and challenged in conversation. And over the course of three months, CAW members made generous commitments of their time to deep and collaborative work amidst busy schedules. Here’s how CAW members said it best:

Hearing stories of others about their relationships with CAW gave us all a chance to connect more deeply and understand who we are and why we are here. In the end, I felt much more part of the group, welcomed and useful…All of this helped me, and all of us I hope, grow a greater capacity for collaborative work.”


“The retreats were thoughtful, optimistic, and solutions-oriented. I’m still fairly new to CAW, but these words summarize how I feel about the approach CAW takes, which I think is really important when thinking about big challenges like sea level rise and planning for climate change. I left the retreats feeling a renewed sense of why I value and want to do this work.”

“Relationships and projects over years forged an atmosphere for listening, mutual learning, and honest interactions.”


The Ideas

A unique combination of storytelling, small group discussions, SWOT analyses, and goal setting exercises generated rooted, actionable, and aspirational ideas. CAW members organized these ideas into four intentions, which provided a helpful framework for CAW’s Five-Year Intentions.  These intentions are to:

  1. Evolve our practice: Pause, learn, and grow in ways that expand and challenge our thinking individually and collectively so that we can affect meaningful and long-lasting change.
  2. Advance knowledge and the field: Provide a forum for generative exchanges of information, resources, and accomplishments among local adaptation practitioners, community leaders, and local decision-makers.
  3. Catalyze principled climate adaptation: Bring together existing partners and nurture new partnerships for collaborative and emergent progress toward just, healthy, and vibrant communities and ecosystems.
  4. Enable a thriving workgroup: Enhance and sustain the connectivity, health, and impact of CAW so that we can continue to be a sustainable and collaborative community of leaders, learners, and practitioners.

The intentions are broad, flexible, and directional. They are supported by specific activities in spaces where CAW is already a leader and in spaces where CAW hopes to grow. Here’s how CAW members said it best:

“I found that how much time and energy we put into the words we used had a big impact on me. I think that work helped us all to think critically about who we are, which has everything to do with imagining where we want to go and how to get there.”

“I like to think big picture and I was glad to have people that get the practical.”

“What excites me most about the Five-Year Intentions is how encompassing and balanced all the elements are together. They spin rich fiber from our collective work into a beautiful yarn. It gives shape to CAW as well as our work in a way I could never see so clearly.”

The Road Ahead

CAW is already an award-winning collaborative. Through more than 100 projects CAW has helped communities develop technically-sound plans and adopt local regulations to enhance resilience, build public participation in climate-related decision-making, and advance shoreline management strategies using natural materials. Upon this foundation and at this moment in its trajectory, CAW is well-positioned to build sustained capacity and enhance its impact as a regional convener and collaborative community. The confluence of funding opportunities, renewed clarity of CAW’s principles and direction, and an engaged membership create an exciting moment to launch the Five-Year Intentions. Here’s how CAW members said it best:

“The Five-Year Intentions put CAW on a track to be an organism that lives out all these wonderful things that emerged in the retreat process—interdisciplinary collaboration, inclusive engagement, humans in trusting relationship. This is the big work, the special stuff that will enable us to do all the other work.”

“Through the retreat series, follow on conversations, and recent planning for funding opportunities it feels like we are building a workgroup that advances climate resilience together in a more strategic way. We have a history of great work, both as individuals and collectively as a workgroup, and this is another opportunity to lean into our shared goals. I’m excited to see how CAW members pick up pieces of this work to help advance our collective goals and strategies.”


“The Five-Year Intentions and the work they put forward can really contribute to pushing the consideration of social justice and equity forward. And what we do here has a particular relevance for the state like New Hampshire.”

CAW’s Guiding Principles and Five-Year Intentions are available on the CAW website. We share this work with deep gratitude for the contributions of CAW members—those who shaped the activities, facilitated small groups, shared creative ideas, and suspended disbelief along the way. If you are interested in getting involved or see your organization as a partner in implementing these intentions, please CAW-nect with us.