Making Climate Action Data More Accessible and Engaging—Ingrid Thyr

“How do you explain ‘quintile rank’ to make it easily understandable?” 

“Should we use morning, afternoon, or evening temperature?” 

“Should there be more narrative around this statistic?” 

“How can we incorporate data or stories from users?” 

“How many blurbs is too many blurbs?” 

These are the sorts of questions that have been occupying my day-to-day the past few weeks while interning in the Executive Climate Office (ECO) in King County, WA. They’re stemming from two projects I’m working on this summer, both of which circle the question of how to make climate action data more accessible and engaging to elected officials, county partners, and the general public. One project is developing a user guide to accompany an extreme heat mapping tool that is scheduled to be released later this summer, and the other project is researching platform options for a “climate dashboard” that can live on the office’s website and provide updates on the office’s goals and achievements.  

Initially, these projects can feel a little removed from the more tangible aspects of climate action; After all, this mostly looks like me at my laptop, checking out dozens of other cities’ and counties’ climate action plans, chatting with ECO colleagues about their priorities when displaying data in their area of expertise, and delving into the nitty-gritty of how the U.S. Census defines “senior social isolation.”  

But the nature of climate change as a problem means that solutions and action are needed at a variety of geographic scales and across sectors, and one of the best tools we have to create and implement those solutions are data. Making these data and accompanying data tools, that are information-rich and easy-to-use, means that not only can departments and staff across King County develop the most informed climate strategies possible, but local non-profits and concerned citizens can use these data to take action as well – including pushing government to address an issue.   

While much of my work so far has been focused on making county data available to the public, I hope to close the loop and think about ways that the public can provide critical data back to the government. For example, in addition to highlighting the most heat-burdened areas, the extreme heat mapping tool could include community-led heat adaptation efforts and resources as submitted by community members.  

Thankfully, King County hasn’t experienced any heat waves while I’ve been here this summer, but climate predictions indicate they will become hotter and more frequent in the years to come. With places around the world experiencing record heat and other climate-change-related disturbances, the need for data and tools that can help prevent and alleviate climate impacts from the scale of citizens to governments is clear. I’m grateful to be a part of this work happening at King County and will share what I learn with the wider American West and beyond.  

A King County Metro bus passes in front of the Chinook Building in downtown Seattle, home to the Executive Climate Office.