How do we measure adaptive capacity, resilience, and equity?

Stemming from Brendle Group’s engineering roots, we’re always thinking about measuring our impact. That impact comes in many traditional forms like greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions, energy reductions, and water savings. But how do we measure impacts that are less numeric like social equity or community resilience? Here are three ways Brendle Group is excited to be leading the charge in identifying ways to measure and implement these concepts:

Infusing Equity in Sustainability

Building sustainable cities requires an inclusive approach for engaging the entire community, not just those who can more easily afford to participate in processes and programs. Underserved populations are often underrepresented in planning processes as they are faced with more immediate concerns like safe housing, child care, and feeding their families. Brendle Group encourages communities to take a holistic look at sustainability planning, paying attention to ways communities can enhance equity.

For example, a traditional GHG inventory can be viewed through an equity lens by identifying neighborhoods and populations with highest energy use or lowest access to public transit.  Thinking this way, allows communities to identify where inequities may exist, and in turn, can help bring greater support and more targeted solutions to these areas.

So how do we measure equity improvements? First, it’s important to establish a baseline of current or average conditions so that you can measure and monitor changes over time. For example, if we are looking at equity in a sustainability planning process, tracking average public engagement (e.g., number of participants) for certain groups or geographic locations is a starting place. To measure improvements in equity and engagement, you could track the number of new community members who have not previously participated, the number of new meeting locations piloted, or even shifts in meeting formats or times.

Resilience Planning

We’re excited by the shift away from the silos of climate mitigation work to holistic resilience planning that, among other things, blends climate mitigation, climate adaptation, and hazard mitigation planning.  As with recent disasters like Hurricane Harvey and the Tubbs Fire, unprecedented and larger storm and hazard events are occurring with increased intensity and rapidity.  As climate projections continue to suggest greater climate variability, increased climate extremes, and warmer weather, it makes sense to plan for inevitable natural disasters. However, it’s more than the response and recovery process that allows cities to bounce back from natural disasters. It’s about bouncing forward and adapting to provide greater benefit to the community.

Measuring resilience can take many forms from identifying the number of structures in the wildland urban interface, to evaluating the number of days of downtime a building can withstand without grid electricity, and even to strengthening and measuring neighborhood networks and community preparedness training.  While future uncertainty can seem overwhelming, Brendle Group breaks down the process by working with organizations and communities to build understanding of climate science, assess vulnerabilities, and define strategies to enhance resilience.

Data Visualization and Storytelling

Gone are the days of complicated charts and data with no connection to what they mean or what happens next.  At Brendle Group, we understand that data that can’t be easily interpreted or read quickly is less helpful or even counterproductive to building understanding.  Infographics that use icons and headlines that summarize multiple pages of texts and charts in can be significantly more accessible and impactful. Another benefit is that these types of visualization techniques more readily lend themselves to online and mobile device viewing and interaction.

In addition to continuing to grow our data visualization skills, we are working to incorporate more storytelling experiences in our projects. Storytelling helps root audiences in the personal story of a community or organization, making a given issue more tangible, personal, and memorable. This personal connection can be an effective way to drive action and implementation.

How are we measuring the effectiveness of data visualization and storytelling enhancements in our work? We start with measuring downloads, web-hits and dashboard views for online products. Storytelling in print or in-person formats can’t be measured in the same way, but surveys or focus groups can be good ways to capture what people retain from these stories.