Developing a Southwest Drought Learning Network: A Case Study on Community Engagement & Education

Viktorya Martinez & Maude Dinan
Posted on: 7/26/2022 - Updated on: 7/26/2022

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In 2018, the Colorado Plateau experienced an exceptional drought that impacted wildfire potential, agricultural production, water management, the economy, and human well-being. Though this drought mirrored previous drought experiences in the region, the region lacked a way to succinctly document and communicate the novel drought experiences and responses among service providers, federal and state officials, scientists, and stakeholders. In response, scientists from the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC), and the USDA Southwest Climate Hub (SWCH) initiated the development of the Southwest Drought Learning Network (DLN) to convene and learn from people studying and experiencing drought. 

This network provides a space for climate change service providers and resource managers to meet regularly, share resources and lessons learned, and develop adaptation strategies together. This framework for knowledge-, resource-, and tool-sharing will help to prepare for future drought, while providing a community for climate service providers and natural resource managers in challenging times. 

Participants in the DLN include resource managers at all levels of government and communities that have the opportunity to learn from one another about recommended actions in response to a variety of drought impacts. It is also a place for drought and climate service providers (NIDIS, NDMC, State Climatologists, USDA Climate Hubs, Climate Assessment for the Southwest, Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program, etc.) to: a) foster bidirectional knowledge exchange in learning about community and researcher needs, resources, responses and knowledge gaps; b) support the creation of a self-directed peer-to-peer learning network; and c) establish structures that are co-lead by the users to support the efficient and effective function of DLN to best respond to future drought.

Key Issues Addressed

The Southwest is one of hottest and driest regions in the world. While drought has been a consistent issue in the region, scientists expect droughts to increase in intensity and duration. These changes threaten already-stressed ecosystems, agriculture production, and human well-being. For instance, coping with drought can be a stressful experience for agricultural producers, degrading their mental health. Often, drought impacts exceed people’s ability to cope with drought despite their familiarity with it. 

Further, drought impacts manifest in a variety of ways, often hitting communities unequally. This complexity not only necessitates understanding and documenting these different impacts, but also having a range of resources, tools, and adaptations to meet the multitude of needs people must take to combat drought. 

Project Goals:

  • Develop avenues of communication among resource managers and climate service providers to increase collaboration and effectiveness of drought responses
  • Create a one-stop-shop of tools, resources, and contacts to help people learn from past drought and better prepare for current or future drought
  • Foster peer-to-peer knowledge exchange and a sense of community that ensures resource managers are better supported when facing drought challenges and are able to assist in ameliorating drought impacts on livestock, landscapes, and communities 

Lessons Learned

Involvement in the DLN is an additional responsibility to the many jobs members already hold. Thus, finding network structures that accommodate work loads is critical. The team created a multi-team structure, each with multiple leaders, to carry out the goals of the DLN without putting excessive burden on any one individual. Just as multiple leaders maintain momentum for each team, having multiple teams maintains momentum for the DLN. 

Members come to the network with access to their own agency’s or organization’s resources available for leveraging. In identifying these resources, the network saves time and energy in accomplishing goals by not recreating the wheel. For example, CCAST already had an existing process and platform for developing case studies on drought adaptations for use by the DLN teams. The regular drought impact briefing webinars were an original idea by the New Mexico State University Climate Center; however, this goal was made possible through the partnerships within the DLN who saw value in these opportunities and had additional resources to make it happen.

The DLN has succeeded in increasing communication among climate service providers; however, fostering communication between service providers and resource managers, and among resource managers, has been more challenging. Technical language barriers common in drought conversations can pose a challenge in fostering communication between service providers and resource managers. Further, establishing trusting relationships and the appropriate communication channels is a long-term process.

Project Contacts


Martinez, V., Dinan, M., Elias, E., and Bernadt, T. (2022). “Developing a Southwest Drought Learning Network.” CCAST. Retrieved from

Affiliated Organizations

National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC), USDA Southwest Climate Hub (SWCH)

Affiliated Organizations

The National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) helps people and institutions develop and implement measures to reduce societal vulnerability to drought, stressing preparedness and risk management rather than crisis management.

USDA's Climate Hubs are a unique collaboration across the department's agencies. They are led and hosted by the Agricultural Research Service and Forest Service located at ten regional locations, with contributions from many agencies including the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and the Risk Management Agency. The Climate Hubs link USDA research and program agencies in their regional delivery of timely and authoritative tools and information to agricultural producers and professionals.