10 Ways to Bring Actionable Climate Adaptation Data to More Cities


Data in the Streets

The effects of climate change are already being felt in cities around the world. From rising sea levels to extreme heat events, cities need actionable data to help them understand risks and make adaptation plans. Access to quality data allows cities to make evidence-based decisions to become more resilient.

Bringing climate adaptation data to more cities in a useful, equitable way is an urgent need. Here are 10 ways to make climate adaptation data more actionable and accessible for cities:

1. Partner With Local Universities and Research Centers

The University of Southern California’s Center for Sustainable Cities

Academic institutions are doing important climate research that cities may not be aware of. Forming partnerships between cities and nearby universities or climate research centers can make local climate data more usable.

Researchers can work with city staff to understand key information needs. They can tailor analysis and models to provide targeted insights for adaptation planning. For example, downscaling global climate models to neighborhood scales.

City-university partnerships also build capacity through training workshops, student projects, and sharing of knowledge and resources. This amplifies the impact of research.


  • The University of Southern California’s Center for Sustainable Cities partners with Los Angeles on climate vulnerability assessments.
  • The Chicago Urban Center at the University of Illinois applies research to the city’s resilience strategy.

2. Engage Community Organizations as Data Intermediaries

Community organizations often work directly with populations vulnerable to climate impacts. They can help “translate” adaptation data into information residents can readily act on.

Partnering with trusted local organizations builds equity into data sharing. It ensures data reaches those who need it most. Intermediaries can also provide insight on enhancing accessibility and relevance.


  • The Bronx River Alliance in New York City communicates flood risks and solutions to watershed communities.
  • APEN in Oakland, California helps neighborhood groups apply wildfire data to community preparedness plans.

3. Use Data Visualization to Make Data Usable

Visual representations of data through maps, charts, 3D models, and photos improve understanding for non-technical audiences.

Interactive visualizations allow users to explore data by location or drill down into details. Creative visuals also increase engagement and memory retention.

Consider these tips for effective data visualization:

  • Focus visuals on the most relevant information for decisions. Cut out “noise.”
  • Use familiar landmarks and points of reference. This makes data feel local.
  • Design for mobile screens and digital sharing. Make images and maps easy to view and post online.


4. Launch Targeted Data Assessment Projects

What climate data do cities actually need? Asking is key. Data assessments identify core gaps that hold cities back from using climate data.

Assessments can survey city officials on their priorities, barriers, and desired formats. Findings direct efforts to fill gaps and make data more usable.

Federal grants often fund city-led data assessments. For example, NOAA’s Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments teams conduct participatory research with cities to enhance usable climate information.


5. Support Open Data Access

Making climate data open and freely accessible removes barriers for cities. Open data enables cities to use, share, and integrate datasets without restriction.

Policy and technical steps that support open data include:

  • Making publicly funded data available under open licenses.
  • Ensuring data can be easily searched and downloaded from online portals.
  • Providing metadata and documentation.
  • Using standardized formats and building APIs for integration.

Leaders in open climate data include NOAA, NASA, the US Climate Resilience Toolkit, and Climate Data Canada.

6. Fund Climate Data Improvement Efforts

Generating actionable adaptation data requires investment. Cities need resources to monitor climate variables, run higher-resolution models, and analyze impacts.

Federal and state grants can fund city-level data improvement projects. Priority needs include:

  • Expanding urban weather station networks
  • Running local sea level rise and flooding scenarios
  • Mapping urban heat dynamics
  • Assessing climate vulnerability at neighborhood scale

Sustained funding also enables ongoing maintenance and updating as new data becomes available.

Examples of Climate Data Grants:

7. Develop Indicator Frameworks to Track Progress

Indicator frameworks help cities benchmark climate risks and track adaptation progress. Indicators compile relevant datasets into meaningful metrics.

Common climate resilience indicators relate to heat, drought, flooding, health, ecosystems, infrastructure, socioeconomic factors and more. Regional collaborations allow for consistent indicator tracking across cities.

Indicator platforms make data available on easy-to-navigate public dashboards. Examples include:

8. Provide Training to Build Data Literacy

Limited staff expertise in accessing, analyzing, and applying climate data is a common barrier. Training helps build this capacity within city departments.

Potential training topics include data fundamentals, finding local sources, using mapping tools, conducting vulnerability assessments, and interpreting climate projections.

Engaging formats like workshops, webinars, e-learning courses, and peer learning exchanges can make training more accessible. Develop user-friendly guidance materials to reinforce learning.

FEMA’s Community Rating System credits cities for providing floodplain data training for staff.

9. Develop Clear Translations of Climate Science

Scientific language in climate reports and datasets can confuse non-expert audiences. Developing plain language translations helps make technical data usable.

Guidance documents that spell out the local relevance of climate metrics in simple terms are very valuable for cities. Summaries pitched to local policymakers can encourage data-driven decisions.

Where possible, translate scientific probability statements into clear impact scenarios. For example, instead of “50% chance of exceeding 2°C warming,” say “Summers may be up to 4°F hotter on average.”


10. Fill Data Gaps with Community Observations

Peer-to-peer data gathering engages residents in tracking local climate impacts. Though not scientific grade, community data can fill information gaps and complement technical monitoring.

Ways to compile resident observations include:

  • Crowdsourcing apps to map flooding, urban heat islands, or extreme weather events
  • Community science initiatives to monitor weather, air quality, or biodiversity.
  • Interviews, focus groups, and surveys to gather experience-based climate insights

For example, the Citizen Science Community Resources platform integrates community data with official records on smoke impacts.

Making climate adaptation data usable takes collaboration, investment, and meeting cities where they are. Following these 10 steps will lead to data that empowers cities to enhance resilience to climate change impacts.


Climate change poses complex, interconnected risks for cities globally. Rising seas, extreme storms, heatwaves, drought, and other impacts endanger urban infrastructure, economies, and residents—especially vulnerable communities.

With climate change accelerating, cities urgently need data to understand threats and make smart, forward-looking decisions. But abundant scientific data does not automatically translate into local resilience. The gap between data and action remains wide.

Bridging this gap requires democratizing climate data access and enhancing usability for city leaders. Scientists, policymakers, community groups and technologists must collaborate to bring data to the ground level.

Making projections and assessments digestible and relevant for local contexts takes sustained effort. But it is essential work. Usable climate data provides the foundation for building urban climate resilience.

With thoughtful partnerships, policies, communication, capacity building, and co-production, cities can tap into data as a catalyst and roadmap for adaptation. Mapping future scenarios, tracking indicator trends, and conducting community-engaged assessments create a shared understanding of risk. This galvanizes strategies to manage climate impacts equitably and effectively.

Getting usable data into more cities will take continued experimentation, learning and resource sharing between leaders, experts and residents. But the collective benefits are immense. WithLocalized climate insights can help cities large and small re-design vulnerable systems, cool urban heat islands, restore protective ecosystems, strengthen emergency response, assist vulnerable residents, and anchor climate justice in decisions.

Unlocking the potential of climate data ultimately comes down to empowerment. Figures, maps, and models only drive change when activated by local players. Placing data tools directly in the hands of city leaders, community organizations, educators, businesses and residents transfers knowledge into action.

This democratization of climate data for cities serves as a model for broader climate empowerment. The future demands climate literacy across all of society. Everyone has a role to play in driving resilience. When diverse voices come to the table armed with usable climate knowledge, the status quo gives way to innovative, inclusive solutions.

With abundant creativity, care and cooperation, data can light the way to climate-smart, resilient cities where all communities thrive. The strategies outlined here are steps toward this vision of an informed, empowered urban future.

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