Making SENSES — a Project Report

Reflections on communicating and visualising climate change scenarios

Screenshot from the Learn Module “Closing the Emissions Gap

What is SENSES all about?

The overall aim of the SENSES Toolkit — available under climatescenarios.org — is to make climate change scenarios more understandable, accessible, and usable. The results of the project are available for the general public. The SENSES project did, however, collaborate specifically with users from three different communities: policy, finance, and regional scenario users.

What are climate change scenarios?

Climate change scenarios are a powerful tool for describing how global climate will change in the next decades. They allow us to explore possible climate futures, chart response strategies, and inform climate policy making.

How did we start the design process?

You probably noticed: climate research in general and climate change scenarios in particular are not trivial. And since no one at the UCLAB is a climate scientist, the first thing we had to do was to establish an understanding of the subject matter. This meant reading a lot of scientific papers. Furthermore, we talked a lot about our understanding and our insights — both internally and with climate scientists. During this process, we started to sketch little explainers that helped us to establish a common ground.

Whom were we designing for?

The SENSES Toolkit is a web site that is available for the general public. However, actively using climate change scenarios requires a certain level of expertise. While we wanted to make the results publicly available, we understood that there was a real need to make climate change scenarios better accessible to decision-makers and stakeholders. So, in the design and development process, we collaborated with four distinct stakeholder groups: policy, finance and regional scenario users. Our partners in the consortium had excellent connections to these groups, so we were able to engage directly with our stakeholders.

How did we engage the stakeholders?

Together with the colleagues from the SENSES consortium, we conducted several co-design workshop with the stakeholder groups. The main objective of the first workshops was to understand how our users actually work with climate change scenarios. We wanted to find out what kind of topics they are interested in and how scenarios could be used to address specific questions like sustainable investments or mitigation strategies.

Stakeholder Workshop at the FHP in early 2020
  • Explore: facilitating self-directed as well as guided exploration of the climate change scenario space.
  • Share: using, reusing, and sharing visualisations and climate scenario data.

How did we collaborate with climate scientist and stakeholder?

After establishing a modular structure for the SENSES toolkit, we obviously had to fill it with both content (Learn Modules) and interfaces that would allow our users to access the scenario database (Explore Modules).

SENSES Scenario Finder
Guided Explore Module (GEM) for the Emissions Gap Learn Module

What can our stakeholders do with the toolkit?

As discussed above, the SENSES Toolkit has a modular structure. There is, however, an underlying course of action that guides the users in the Toolkit:

  • Find out about specific topics in the Learn Modules
  • Get acquainted with selected data points in the Guided Explore Modules (GEMs)
  • Autonomously explore the scenario space
  • Download data and visualisations for personal and professional use

Senses Earth

(Design lead: Fidel Thomet)

Fossil Fuel Risks

(Design lead: Francesca Morini)

Power Sector Transformation

(Design lead: Nadia Zeissig)

Dutch Case Study

(Design lead: Jonas Parnow)

Conclusion

Global warming is one of the greatest challenges humanity is facing right now. The way we deal with global warming today will determine how future generations will live on this planet. Climate change scenarios are a way to plan this future. They can be used to make both qualified and sustainable decisions today.

SENSES Consortium

Professor for Interaction Design at FH Potsdam, co-director of Urban Complexity Lab | http://uclab.fh-potsdam.de | http://esono.com