Federal agencies need to build an effective foundation for climate intelligence. Here’s how

In part 1 of this commentary, Prachi Sukhatankar discusses the need for federal agencies to build a climate intelligence foundation, along with the benefits and...

In part 1 of this commentary, Prachi Sukhatankar discusses the need for federal agencies to build a climate intelligence foundation, along with the benefits and challenges of such an undertaking.

The perils of climate change are impacting many federal missions, and government agencies are busy mapping out their roles for a whole-of-government approach to the many problems we see emerging.

In our last article, we discussed the critical importance that climate intelligence — deriving actionable insights from multiple climate-mission relevant data sources and translating for specific stakeholders — will play in that effort. Climate intelligence is the keystone for collaboration that must occur across a wide spectrum of stakeholders to produce meaningful, effective responses to current and future climate challenges.

As discussed in our article, many agencies are struggling to embrace and incorporate climate intelligence due to siloed datasets, multitude of technologies and a proliferation of data products. However, many of these challenges are avoidable or surmountable.

As agencies collaborate and develop a roadmap for building a robust climate intelligence foundation, there are three guideposts that will help them avoid or overcome these challenges:

First, fully understand the problem space and bring the right multi-disciplinary experts

so your discovery and strategies are efficient, comprehensive and properly aimed to solve the problems. Take enough time to fully develop the core problem statements, do so efficiently by leveraging patterns from other domains, and be willing to iterate as new information is gathered. Part of this discovery is understanding and defining the stakeholders, their as-is environments, and barriers to effect change. This is done by employing various discovery methodologies, such as customer journey mapping, focus groups, one-on-one interviews, surveys and structured observations to immerse yourself in a stakeholder’s experience.

Second, establish a clear sense of the enablers you will need

to achieve the climate mission outcomes you are targeting. These include technologies, processes, capabilities and partners, and are especially relevant within the climate space given its all-encompassing, multi-sectoral nature. When smartly integrated, these enablers serve as the primary foundation of an effective climate intelligence solution that goes beyond an enterprise to an ‘ecosystem’ approach.

There are some common traits and design principles that should be designed into any climate intelligence solution to promote the greatest degree of success. These include:

Hyper-localized analysis The impact of climate change varies substantially by locality, and climate intelligence solutions should be equipped to deliver the necessary data and analyses to inform locally relevant resilience and response planning decisions.

Open architecture/Open science Delivering full-picture insights across programs and agencies — flexibly and at scale — requires an architecture that integrates across multiple IT environments. This means that climate intelligence solutions must rely on best of breed of cloud-native and open-source services and capabilities assembled through an open architecture.

The ability to empower communities of data providers. Climate challenges are multi-sectoral and time-sensitive, which means multiple data sets from federal, state, local and commercial data sources must be brought together and analyzed rapidly to deliver actionable insights. This requires data exchanges that allow for rapid collection, ingestion and data fusion.

Data democratization. The global and existential nature of the climate crisis warrants putting as many minds as possible to work on discovery and solutions. Climate intelligence solutions — equipped with a range of visualizations and other self-service decision-support analytics — can empower citizen scientists, professional scientists, researchers, policymakers and other stakeholders.

Ease of access. Without easy access to and understanding of data, data democratization means little. With an eye toward fostering a climate innovation ecosystem, climate intelligence solutions should use scalable, open APIs so that curated datasets and analytic-ready data products are easily discoverable and accessible.

Single source of truth. For any data to carry impact, it must be authoritative and verifiable, and transparency must be infused throughout. Any climate intelligence solution must offer users access to authoritative data sources across climate threat domains, including flood, drought, extreme temperatures, wildfire and others.

With these design principles in place, agencies can construct a climate intelligence solution that, over time, increases in value as it progresses from serving a single mission to multiple missions and, eventually, an entire community (such as with a public sector-wide initiative) and an ecosystem (a broad-based national or international community of stakeholders).

Third, keep your ultimate stakeholders in mind and identify how you can achieve the last-mile delivery of solutions to affect actual climate mitigation or adaptation benefits.

Understanding your ultimate stakeholders (e.g., communities impacted by climate change) is a fundamental but often missed step. Understand what questions your stakeholders are asking so you can co-create the solutions. Identify the optimal solution pathways that will produce the actual outcomes around climate mitigation, resilience and adaptation. Working with stakeholders, develop target metrics to define success and then map out processes and workflows to achieve them using an iterative discover-build-validate model.

There is an urgency for federal agencies to develop climate intelligence solutions that will advance the mission goals around combatting impacts of climate change in a scalable, timely and equitable way. These best practices will help ensure that the solutions developed address these goals effectively. Knowing your stakeholders, fully understanding the problem space, and leveraging all enablers effectively will accelerate the pathways to building a resilient nation.

Prachi Sukhatankar is a vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton who leads climate and infrastructure transformation for Booz Allen’s clients.

Read Part 1 here.


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