Mentorship Spotlight: Adaptation Knowledge Networks

Alexander Hurley is Jr. Vice President of Operations for smart-cities startup firm Venture Smarter, Inc. and leads the company’s energy and resilience practice. He is dedicated to supporting governments, businesses, and universities that are researching, building, funding, and deploying smart and sustainable solutions to make better places to live, work, play, and visit. Alex completed a Master of Science in Environmental Studies degree through Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs in May of 2018. In this degree program, he studied the nature of large organizational partnership networks focused on developing localized climate change policies and programs.Dr. Richard Moss is visiting fellow at the American Meteorological Society and a senior scientist at the Joint Global Change Research Institute (currently on leave). He is part of a team that recently completed a report on the sustained national climate assessment. His research focuses on global change impacts and adaptation; uncertainty characterization; and scenarios. He served as director of the U.S. Global Change Research Program (spanning the Clinton and G.W. Bush Administrations) and head of technical support for Working Group II of IPCC. He received his Ph.D. from Princeton University in public and international affairs.

Both Alex and Richard are interested in exploring how they can help leverage available climate science to accelerate mitigation and adaptation to climate change at local scales. The challenge is often expressed in terms of “downscaling” physical climate data but doesn’t always consider the contributions that user communities can make regarding localized information that is at least as important as physical climate information in determining what works. They have each explored this from different angles — Alex from the perspective of a private firm working to support local government agencies, and Richard from the

perspective of assessments of knowledge for application. They have discovered a common perspective on both the opportunities and challenges: opportunities for using new data sources and methods to understand connections between physical and social systems and challenges in helping organizations change to adapt to either opportunities or challenges. Critical questions to ask in order to make meaningful progress on a complex issue like climate adaptation include:

  • Where is the knowledge located in a network?
  • How has it come to be there?
  • How is the knowledge used?

Alex and Richard shared that there is also the “challenge of integrating information about the future, as it doesn’t come from an understanding of the past. It’s not that the past has no relevance, just that with climate change, people can’t assume the future is what it has been! This is tricky for people. How do you mainstream this sort of information into everyday practices like budgeting, emergency preparedness, and providing services?”

Something interesting that Alex learned about Richard is that he chaired the Sustained National Climate Assessment, which was designed to make scientific information more helpful to stakeholders. When this group was

terminated by the current Presidential administration, Richard and others began setting up an independent organization to continue this work (which is now near completion).

Richard enjoyed learning about the arc of Alex’s career journey, as Alex is part of a small private sector firm that works to incorporate technology and data solutions into city services. While Alex’s firm doesn’t yet have a large adaptation practice, he is trying to help it develop one. Additionally, Richard was pleasantly surprised that Alex “did his graduate work just “down the road” from where my daughter is in graduate school (both in Ohio!).” As they say, it’s a small world!

Thanks to both for participating in the ASAP Mentorship Program.