The Senses Toolkit – making sense of climate change scenarios

Country/area: Germany

Organisation: ᴜᴄʟᴀʙ – University of Applied Sciences Potsdam (FHP), Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Wageningen University and Research (WUR), Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI)

Organisation size: Big

Cover letter:

SENSES is a joint effort by four international climate research institutions, namely the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Wageningen University and Research (WUR), and the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and the ᴜᴄʟᴀʙ, a visualization research group situated between design, computing, and the humanities at the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam. SENSES is part of the European Research Area for Climate Services (ERA4CS), an ERA-NET initiated by JPI Climate. It is funded by BMBF (DE), BMWFW (AT), NWO (NL), FORMAS (SE) with co-funding by the European Union.

The research project running from 2017 to 2020 was aimed at fostering understanding of the new generation of climate change scenarios by the means of knowledge co-production and data visualisation. We held several workshops with policy, business, finance, and regional stakeholders. These enabled us to produce outcomes such as a co-production techniques database, scenario study factsheeets, an application programming interface (API) to make scenario data more accessible, and the centerpiece of the project: The Climate Change Scenario Toolkit, an online resource that features visualisation-heavy articles based on climate change scenario data and explorative interfaces to access the underlying data.

To design our articles we drawn extensively from a wide range of references, going from other newsroom work to our and others prior research efforts. Other articles such as Bloomberg’s «What’s Really Warming the World?» (2015) and New York Times’ «How Much Hotter Is Your Hometown Than When You Were Born?» (2018) to mention a couple. Also other directly unrelated visualizations projects inspired us along the way: like Moritz Stefaner’s Project Ukko and Federica Fragapane’s Noise Pollution project. We also drawn for inspiration directly from the IPCC reports and books like Image politics of climate change: visualizations, imaginations, documentations from Schneider, B. and Nocke, T. , all references that could give us a solid climate science visualization background. Lastly it is important to present also other institutions efforts in communicating climate change scenarios, the MIT Climate Primer was a must in our design process. Our previous research efforts played also an important role as pathfinders: the FHP and PIK «A Brief History of CO2 Emissions» was a benchmark in deciding how to structure narrative and journalistic instances on climate scenarios.

Description of portfolio:

The SENSES portfolio consists of 10 data articles part of climatescenarios.org, a toolkit for understanding and using climate scenarios. The individual data-driven articles are self-contained interactive and visual artefacts addressing specific questions on climate scenarios. While the toolkit has been developed for scientific, policy and finance related target groups, the data-driven articles aim at a wider audience including activists, citizens, and other journalists. Each article unravels one aspect of climate change scenarios to make them accessible, understandable and actionable.

The challenge we faced in designing these articles are two-fold. On the one hand our readers come from a wide range of backgrounds, therefore we needed to cover a diverse set of topics: from investment opportunities to mitigation strategies and regional adaptation projects. On the other hand, individual articles have to abide to an high scientific standard to answer questions related to our climate future without being strongly biased or subjectively opinionated. It was not enough to simply visualise climate change scenarios data – we needed to describe and attentively contextualise them. We also needed to explain in detail how climate change scenarios are produced, how they rely on different kinds of models, how they can be interpreted and used. To overcome these challenges, we applied a rigorous user-centred design process that could enable us to meet the requirements of particular target groups and to transform abstract data sets into insightful visualizations. The close involvement of climate scientists throughout the entire process was also a prerequisite for the successful editing of articles. Individual essays were crafted in a joint effort: designers and scientists worked in tandem to ensure the quality of each one of them.

Articles were well received and spread within and outside the scientific community. To this day, climatescenarios.org counts 40.000 unique visitors. We receive various endorsements on social media and other platforms from all kinds of readers and organizations, including The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Single articles have been liked and shared multiple times on Twitter and other social media platforms over the past 6 months and we received offers from various organizations in different countries to translate the toolkit contents to their native language. We had the occasion to talk about our work at several events: the Berlin Datavis Meetup on Climate Change visualization at Zeit Online, the Graphic Hunters S-H-O-W conference and the SENSES online Outreach which attracted a consistent audience.

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