To build capacity for local governments to address climate change and water management needs.
What is CivicSpark?
Each year, CivicSpark recruits 70 Fellows—50 Climate Fellows and 20 Water Fellows—who contribute over 65,000 hours to help California communities respond to climate change and water management needs. In collaboration with local government staff, CivicSpark Fellows implement a needed climate or water-focused project, while also building long-term capacity to ensure the work is sustained after their service year is completed. Local governments get dedicated project support from a focused team of enthusiastic emerging professionals who receive specialized professional development and sector training. Local benefits include:
- Direct support for specific climate and water project needs with defined outcomes.
- Increased capacity for sustainable communities and response to climate change/water resource needs.
- A pipeline for future sustainability efforts.
- Stronger State-local partnerships for information and expertise exchange.
- A workforce with local expertise in climate change, energy, water, and sustainability.
- Access to affordable resources, resulting in increased capacity and hands-on training.
- Increased volunteerism at the local level.
CivicSpark Fellows get unparalleled real-world experience, spending 11 months working alongside regional leaders and coordinators to implement cutting-edge sustainability projects for forward-looking communities. Benefits include:
- Intensive mentorship and supervision.
- Training on the latest climate-change and water management tools and techniques.
- Statewide networking with local, regional and state leaders.
- An exceptional outcome-driven project management experience in a growing field.
- Stipend, student loan deferral, health care, and child care support, if needed.
How does it work?
The program offers two fellowship tracks: CivicSpark Climate (50 fellows) and CivicSpark Water (20 Fellows). Climate Fellows, organized in regional teams of three to fourteen Fellows throughout the state, work on mitigation and adaptation projects on a range of topics including sustainable transportation, energy efficiency, implementation of climate action plans, and GHG inventories and benchmarks. Water Fellows focus specifically on local government challenges related to water and land-use, and serve with local leaders responding to statewide priorities in water resources, such as implementing the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) and the California Water Action Plan.
CivicSpark Fellows provide capacity-building support to local governments while simultaneously supporting volunteer engagement. This approach offers a unique opportunity to accelerate local climate and water action efforts.
CivicSpark support will include four components: (1) an initial gap assessment to determine specific project needs and finalize the project scope; (2) service project (research, planning, or implementation projects); (3) support increased volunteer engagement by establishing new volunteer programs or enhancing pre-existing program relevant to climate change or integrated water management; and (4) transitional support in the form of stakeholder presentations and/or staff training to ensure that project deliverables and resources are adequately handed off to local government participants.
Sample CivicSpark Climate capacity-building projects include:
- Educating community members about climate change.
- Benchmarking commercial building energy use.
- Conducting electric vehicle readiness planning.
- Inventorying greenhouse gas emissions.
Sample CivicSpark Water capacity-building projects include:
- Conducting a water needs assessment of underserved communities.
- Implementing green infrastructure projects.
- Educating local leaders about watershed management.
- Developing groundwater sustainability plans.
For more information on eligibility and pricing, please visit our Project Support page.
Our Theory of Change
In order for California to meet its ambitious climate change goals and to prevent significant, negative impacts on California’s economy and environment, local governments—recognized by the state as critical to these goals—need expanded capacity (in terms of new program development, stakeholder engagement, and enhanced staff skills and expertise) to manage the new research, planning, and implementation tasks required.
Additionally, the unprecedented severity and impact of California’s current drought illustrates the fact that water is a preeminent asset to our state’s viability. Land use planning, groundwater management, flood mitigation, and watershed health must be addressed from an integrated approach for California to weather the current drought and be resilient against future impacts to one of our most valuable resources.
AmeriCorps Members working with local governments to implement targeted research, planning, or implementation projects, while simultaneously supporting volunteer engagement, offer a unique way to accelerate local government climate and water action efforts while contributing to our collective response to these pressing problems.
This model of change leverages the strengths of the AmeriCorps service model to support climate change and water capacity building for local governments by providing beneficiaries with: (1) tangible products (research reports, plans, demonstration projects), which provide stakeholders and staff with concrete actionable information and resources they need to move forward on their own; (2) opportunities to engage new and critical stakeholders (including volunteers) into climate and water initiatives, so their efforts have the support that is needed to continue to grow; and (3) direct experience working with the new tools, methods and resources they need to integrate climate and water management concerns into existing skills and responsibilities.
In the longer-term, CivicSpark Fellows contribute to a more effective community and state climate change response by building regional networks that enable economies of scale in response, creating a statewide platform to disseminate more effective climate change and water management response strategies and resources, and strengthening linkages between state and local governments in order to better align state and local efforts.
Serving Local Governments and Communities with High-Need
As CivicSpark is affiliated with AmeriCorps, and aims to provide services to build capacity in local governments, it has clear guidelines as to what partners it can work with. CivicSpark Climate Fellowship projects may focus on a range of climate-change response projects, but all participating local governments must:
- Lack one or more of the following capacities:
- Complete a pre and post service Climate Capacity Assessment survey.
- Have a defined scope that CivicSpark team can complete in the agreed upon timeframe.
- Agree to follow all AmeriCorps requirements and prevent members from participating in prohibited or unallowed activities.
CivicSpark Climate also has a goal that at least one-half of local governments we work with each year are considered “high need”, defined by a mix of the following criteria:
- Community unemployment is above the state average for the current recorded year
- Community-wide energy use is higher than the previous recorded year.
- Local government employment is lower than 2007 levels
- CalEnviroScreen rating in the top one-third. (score of 23 or greater)
CivicSpark Water Fellowship projects may focus on a range of water and land-use projects, but all participating local governments must meet one of the following four requirements:
- The agency does not have a dedicated staff person whose sole responsibility is cross-sector and inter-jurisdictional collaboration, and coordinating water management with land use planning;
- The agency is not a member of an Integrated Regional Water Management Plan (IRWMP);
- The agency is not actively participating in their regional Groundwater Sustainability Agency formation process or Groundwater Sustainability Plan development process; or
- The agency is not currently equipped to meet all data, research, planning, engagement, and/or coordination needs to adequately meet all ten priorities outlined in the Governor’s California Water Action Plan (CWAP).
CivicSpark Water also has a goal that at least one-half of local governments we work with each year are considered “high need”, defined by meeting at least three of the following criteria:
- Are within one of the 24 counties designated by the state as most severely impacted by the drought.
- Are within a medium- or high-priority basin experiencing critical overdraft, as defined under Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).
- Have a majority of organizational service area or jurisdiction (>50%) with CalEnviroScreen Impaired Waters score in the top 1/3 (67% or above).
- Have a majority of organizational service area or jurisdiction (>50%) with CalEnviroScreen Drinking Water score in the top 1/3 (67% or above).
- Have a majority of organizational service area or jurisdiction (>50%) with CalEnviroScreen Groundwater score in the top 1/3 (67 or more clean-up sites).