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This case combines text and video to explore the local and national leadership role of King County Executive Ron Sims, in Washington State, as he made climate change mitigation and—even more pathbreaking—“adaptation” a centerpiece of his administration in the mid 2000s. The written case shows how Sims’ thinking evolved as he worked his way through the issues to better understand the impact of climate change on the county, to think about risk and uncertainty, to come up with a strategy, and to address local politics.

A 13-part video features segments of 2-4 minutes each drawn from in-depth interviews with Ron Sims and other key players in his adaptation initiatives. Each short video chapter takes a deep dive on particular aspects of Sims’ strategy—for example, the relationship between King County and climate scientists at the University of Washington; the political and budgetary challenges associated with a radical expansion of the flood prevention system; a reclaimed water project; floodplain restoration initiative; and guidebook for other government agencies. The video complements the written case and can either be viewed before class or shown during class as part of the discussion.

Learning Objective:
In addition to addressing certain generic leadership challenges—how to navigate the difficult intersection of politics and science, how to think about uncertainty, how to make an argument for long-term investments, how to prove effective on both local and national stage—the case introduces readers to a compelling contemporary public issue, growing in urgency worldwide.

Other Details

Case Author:
Pamela Varley
Faculty Lead:
John D. Donahue
Video Producer:
Patricia Garcia-Rios
Pages (incl. exhibits):
United States
Funding Source:
Robert G. Wilmers Local & State Government Case Studies Fund