Home » Making Space for Climate Resilience- A Capacity Assessment for Mansfield, MA.

Making Space for Climate Resilience- A Capacity Assessment for Mansfield, MA.

Map of Mansfield, with points of interest (POI) in different colors. During the workshop discussions, participants marked POI on a map to show the spatial distribution of features that are listed on each of their matrices (view report).

The town of Mansfield, MA, a growing suburb between Boston and Providence, has recently benefited from an influx of young residents and initiatives led by many local agencies to maintain healthy watersheds and preserve natural spaces. Over the past five years, the Town of Mansfield has launched an ambitious portfolio of conservation and climate-focused projects– from stormwater management upgrades and water quality measures to trail stewardship and public education.

Taking on these new projects encouraged Conservation Planner Katelyn Gonyer to start thinking more critically about how to prioritize resilience across numerous town initiatives and Departments. With many initiatives spread between the Conservation Department, the Planning Department, and the Department of Public Works, as well as a growing role in regional projects to support the Canoe River Aquifer, many Departments were starting to feel a crunch when it came to internal capacity and time limitations.

 After participating in the Massachusetts Vulnerability Planning Workshop, the Town of Mansfield came across an opportunity to advance their efforts with the Southeast New England Network (SNEP Network). In 2021, The Town of Mansfield applied for and was awarded free technical assistance from the SNEP Network to undertake an organizational capacity assessment.

 By working closely with SNEP Network partners, Syracuse University Environmental Finance Center (SU-EFC) and Kimberly Groff Consulting, the Town of Mansfield completed an inventory of stormwater and resilience planning initiatives. The assessment also included an analysis of the challenges, responsibilities, and progress made towards climate resilience for each initiative. The inventory was built using key planning documents that were selected for the analysis based on their relevance to climate change planning and relevance to statewide funding mechanisms.

A snapshot of the dashboard, a finished product from the Organizational Capacity Assessment

One goal of the organizational capacity assessment was to identify what initiatives had already been implemented and what efforts were in need of immediate action, while also providing a reflective process for Town staff and officials to think about how resilience and climate change are embedded in the Town’s plans. Katelyn Gonyer, Conservation and Environmental Planner for Mansfield, described; “The capacity assessment process helped to reframe our needs and efforts to not only help with internal priorities, but also to communicate broader climate-related needs to external audiences.” The analysis identified 38 unique initiatives that together amount to over 145 strategies and actions. The findings of the assessment are available on a live, interactive dashboard. By visiting the dashboard, viewers are able to filter the data inputs and see a snapshot of the status of each project. 

 As a result of the inventory and assessment, the Town of Mansfield and SNEP Network team were able to review the plans and projects in development, assign accountable agencies, and identify the highest priority actions from the MVP workshop. For example, the team quickly found that many of the highest priority and impactful actions involve outreach and communication tasks that would set plans in motion and involve stakeholders. 

Katelyn Gonyer and Tess Clark present their findings and key takeaways at the SNEP Symposium, a virtual event. A recording of the event can be found on EPA regions Youtube Page

 By undergoing the organizational capacity assessment process with the SNEP Network, town staff were able to make small changes that help mainstream resiliency efforts, including increasing the communication between the Conservation Department and other committees.  Mansfield staff commented that the process itself provided valuable opportunities to discuss resiliency in an organized way without introducing a higher burden of information gathering. Additional benefits of the capacity assessment was that it provided the town with a clear understanding of the breadth of work that it is already doing, reinforced the need to communicate, and sparked dialogue, excitement and confidence in pursuing resiliency planning within the municipality. 

 The collaborative nature of this work offers an opportunity to show the town and the surrounding communities a strong commitment to resiliency planning. Tess Clark, Program Manager with the Syracuse University Environmental Finance Center, advises, “The organizational capacity assessment is not something a municipality can do on its own—outside support can help identify gaps and new questions while also relieving administrative burden..” The process distilled a large amount of information, beyond what is typically doable for day-to-day operations, and made it digestible for short-term decision-making. Now that a clear plan has been formulated, the town, with the help of their partner organizations, can move forward with implementing its plan, as well as serve as a model for other Southeast New England towns. 

The Town of Mansfield is optimistic about moving forward on their initiatives, and encourages other municipalities to dial in their own efforts. As Katlyn Gonyer describes “Since we’re all facing the same issues, reach out to communities in your region to connect on regional approaches”

The SNEP Network is a project of the New England Environmental Finance Center and is funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Southeast New England Program. For more information about upcoming SNEP Network webinars and events, other assistance and training opportunities and resources, or to get in touch with us, visit the SNEP Network’s website at snepnetwork.org.