Building Software Solutions for a Rapidly Changing World

Plus: Top Problems Getting Citizens to Act on Climate Change

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In This Issue

  • Building Software Solutions for a Rapidly Changing World

  • Upcoming Events

  • Top Problems Getting Citizens to Act on Climate Change

  • Thanks & Recognition: Climate Change Problem-Solution Respondents

Building Software Solutions for a Rapidly Changing World

Earth's Climate is Rapidly Changing, for the Worse

Extreme weather events are a growing concern around the world.

Sea levels are rising and coastal erosion is increasing. Rapid snow and glacier melt and torrential downpours are exacerbated by rising temperatures and increased atmospheric moisture carrying capacity. In other places, drought is worsening or appearing unexpectedly. Wildfires smoulder and burn in places and intensities seldom seen.

Often these disasters appear with only a few days or even just hours of warning. And, they build on each other in unpredictable and devastating ways.

Our planet is becoming more hostile for life as we know it. This is in line with decades of scientific analysis and predictions, with much worse to come.

Adaptation and risk mitigation steps are necessary and increasingly urgent. They must be taken not only by governments but by everyone including industries, communities, and individuals.

Software Solutions Can Help

Software applications can help provide vital and life-saving information, guidance, support, and community-building tools to affected individuals and groups.

There are almost infinite use cases or scenarios we can imagine for such software applications. But for our purposes let's generalize: we're talking about software that provides relevant and practical information insights and support before, during, or after a climate change-related impact or disaster.

Individuals and communities need help to prepare for, mitigate, respond to, and recover from these growing and unexpected impacts and disasters.

Authorities also need more assistance both for themselves, and in order to build the capacity and resilience of impacted individuals and communities.

Below is an example of the kind of information and functionality that a flood disaster-related software could have.

Example flood solution mobile device screens for citizens and communities

Who Needs Solutions?

Given enough time, and the increasing severity of climate change, eventually the user base of affected people is "everyone"!

But to be a bit more specific, we could say the general user base could include some or all of the following:

  • Individuals & Communities affected by, or likely to be, an impact or disaster

    • General public

    • "Citizen Scientists"

    • Community groups, faith leaders, and trusted intermediaries

  • Trusted Authorities

    • Government officials (municipal, province/territory, federal)

    • Emergency Response officials

    • NGOs

    • Academics & scientists

  • Industry

    • Insurance companies

    • Banks

    • Industry associations

  • ?

If you feel we're missing anything major, please let us know!

What kind of information or assistance could they need?

Again, there are so many possibilities but we can divide the period of information and support into three parts: before, during, and after a disaster or impact.

The questions below are only indicative and would be entirely dependent on the individuals and communities affected, the type of disaster or impact, where it was located, local rules and regulations, and so many other variables.

Before an impact or disaster

  • "What is the likelihood that my area will be affected?"

  • "What is the likely severity and risk?"

  • "How long do I have to prepare?"

  • "What steps can I take in the short term?"

  • "What steps can I take in the long term?"

  • "How and where can I volunteer to help others prepare?"

The mockup below shows a recommended "action" or task that an individual could take to protected themselves from coastal erosion (obviously a longer term risk than some scenarios we can imagine!)

Example action form showing how to prepare for an impact

During an impact or disaster

  • "What's the latest information I absolutely need know?"

  • "Which evacuation routes are congested or blocked? What are the safe alternatives?"

  • "Where is the nearest emergency shelter?"

  • "Where can I safely keep my pets while I’m in the shelter?"

  • "How many people are affected?"

  • "What are the most urgent community needs?"

Below is an example of a simple checklist available on a mobile device.

Example of an Action Checklist shared on a mobile device during a flood

After an impact or disaster

  • "Which nearby fueling stations currently have power and supplies?"

  • "What kind of supplies are needed and what can I contribute as an individual?"

  • "How and where can I volunteer to help others recover?"

  • "What kind of information do I need to contact my insurance company and file a claim?"

  • "How do I safely dispose of debris or materials in my house?"

  • "Which communities are making progress in recovery efforts? What remains to be done?"

This shows a possible screen a trusted authority might use to help monitor community clean up and recovery efforts, with various hotspots and callouts.

Example of affected areas report for community recovery actions

The example questions above could be answered in many different formats depending on the precise scenario, audience, and need.

These formats could range from static web checklists, digital maps, interactive web forms and wizards, downloadable PDF brochures posters & infographics, chatbots and help desks, and scheduled or ad-hoc virtual meetings and townhalls.

Communication and Collaboration Paths

Software could provide at least partial answers to some of these questions, and offer ways to communicate and collaborate. These might be the major pathways:

  • Individuals and communities <=> Individuals and communities

  • Trusted authorities <=> Individuals and communities

  • Trusted authorities <=> "citizen scientists"

  • Trusted authorities <=> Trusted authorities

  • Trusted authorities <=> Industry

  • Industry <=> individual and communities

Such software solutions would most often be available via the web on a desktop/laptop and on mobile devices. This is because to be truly useful in communicating and assisting, the solution would have to be widely available across a wide geographic area.

Wrapping Up

The intent of this topic to identify some of the core scenarios and use cases that can be considered when producing software solutions for climate change impacts.

Upcoming issues will use this as a background and drill down on key requirements, features, options, challenges and opportunities when building such software.

What do you think of this topic? Is it useful or too broad? Are we missing important concepts? Let us know! 

Upcoming Events

In last week's issue, "Selfies from Space", we talked about why space exploration is vital to better understand and care for the Earth. This October Nick Kellett plans to attend three Canadian space events. He will be networking about ways to improve and accelerate the use of Earth Observation in software solutions:

If you're attending any of those, please say hi to him!

Top Problems Getting Citizens to Act on Climate Change

A major theme of our climate change-related software development work has been identifying communication barriers between individuals and authorities.

Between January 24th and June 31st, 2020 (just before/at the beginning of the pandemic) we held 30-minute surveys with 115 individuals across Canada, trying to determine the barriers that prevented people from taking action and authorities from helping them overcome those.

Research participation (early snapshot)

Participant Demographics

The participants were from a range of backgrounds and jobs (all in Canada). 52% of the respondents work with NGOs, 18% are Educators, 3% are faith group leaders, 4% own businesses, 7% are provincial government officials, 8% from municipal government, 3% are with the federal government, and 5% classified themselves as "ordinary citizens"

16% of respondents were from Alberta, 6% British Columbia, 4% Manitoba, 6% New Brunswick, 3% Newfoundland and Labrador, 2% Northwest Territories, 5% Nova Scotia, 3% Nunavut, 32% Ontario, 2% Prince Edward Island, 9% Quebec, 13% Saskatchewan, and 2% from the Yukon.

Running and Analyzing the Survey

We presented these participants with a standard set of questions including a randomized list of problems, derived from our secondary research. We asked them for their attitudes to climate change, and then asked them to priority rank problems, or discard those they did not feel applied or were not capable of ranking.

Problem Ranking Survey

We then imported the survey results into a SQL database, and ran queries on the database in Tableau Desktop to analyze the demographics and survey results.

Problem ranking survey analysis (in Tableau Desktop)

Here are the top problems as ranked by our survey participants, in reverse order of importance:

  • #9: Trusted authorities don't have a way to compare their jurisdiction's readiness with others

  • #8: Trusted authorities don't know how well-prepared citizens are

  • #7: Trusted authorities have difficulty collaborating and sharing information with other trusted authorities

  • #6: Trusted authorities don't know if and where citizens are acting on the advice they provide

  • #5: Citizens receive information that isn't true or scientifically accurate

  • #4: Citizens who try to act get stuck or need help

The Top 3 Problems

These are the top 3 most important barriers to individual action to prepare for climate change:

  • #3: Trusted authorities have difficulty directly collaborating and sharing information with citizens

  • #2: Citizens receive information that isn't personalized for their needs

  • #1: Citizens feel overwhelmed by the volume and variety of information

The responses were fascinating and these are just the top-level findings. We will dig into these in future issues. As a disclaimer, while this represents a good cross section of Canadian attitudes, it was taken before the pandemic and may differ in other countries.

If you want to try to reproduce this survey in your country, get in touch and we'll share the details of our survey process!

Thanks & Recognition: Our Climate Change Problem-Solutions Respondents

We would like to thank Canadian citizens, NGOs, academics and scientists, businesses, faith-based leaders, and officials at all levels of government, for taking the time to interview with us and respond to our survey questions.

You can read more about this project (and all the other research projects and contributors) at

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