Equitable Adaptation Legal & Policy Toolkit

Data, Metrics & Monitoring Tools


Best practices in equity-centered adaptation planning processes include data-driven decisionmaking with direct community participation. However, data-driven approaches can have both positive and negative impacts. On the positive side, data, tools, and metrics about geographic, social, economic, and environmental characteristics of a region can identify areas vulnerable to climate-related weather events and disasters, and pinpoint communities most in need of support to respond to those events. These tools can be very valuable in helping policymakers develop and prioritize planning initiatives and direct resources to protect and prepare those residents most likely to experience increased incidences of flooding, storm surges, and extended periods of extreme temperatures. 

On the other negative side, planning processes that rely exclusively or too heavily on data and technical experts may reinforce patterns of social exclusion because of top-down, mainstreamed processes that are inaccessible to traditionally marginalized populations.See footnote 1 To avoid the problem of reinforcing disparities, therefore, policymakers should pair the benefits of data-guided decisionmaking with substantive community engagement at each stage of the adaptation planning process. 

A woman demonstrates how to test water quality samples by holding up a test tube and demonstrating to four people gathered around her.
Community water testing workshop in Detroit
(Source: We the People of Detroit)

The data needed to inform equitable adaptation strategies include measurable indicators about the demographic and geographic characteristics of the area and the stories of communities living in that area. Some of the important data is quantitative, such as the numbers of residents of a certain race, age, gender, and income level.See footnote 2 However, to capture the unique characteristics, perspectives, and knowledge of the community, those numbers need to be combined with qualitative data, or information typically collected through surveys, focus groups, and in-person interviews.See footnote 3 

It is important to include the community in the collection of both quantitative and qualitative data. That offers an important opportunity to share the motivation for policy initiatives and to build a constructive relationship between the community and policymakers. It also enables policymakers to take advantage of a broader base of knowledge to improve decisionmaking for adaptation programs and to increase the likelihood that programs will achieve their intended outcomes. In addition, the collecting and tracking of data enables periodic review and analysis to evaluate how effective the programs are in reducing vulnerability to climate risks. These processes can also inform fiscal decisionmaking about whether the investments in adaptation projects are aligned with the intended goals and objectives that serve the best interests of the community.

This chapter provides an overview of (1) the data sets that provide information about the areas most likely to face extreme climate-related weather events; (2) data and mapping tools that identify areas that have historically suffered from exposure to environmental pollution, social and economic factors; and (3) the measures that policymakers have adopted to ensure that communities have the access to technology to contribute to policymaking.


Data, metrics, and mapping tools can support decisionmaking, planning, and policymaking in a number of ways. First, as the science and modeling of climate change data becomes more granular, policymakers have more accurate tools to help identify the populations on the frontlines of climate change.See footnote 4 Second, the development of data, mapping, and screening tools can be used to layer information about climate-vulnerable geographical areas with social, economic, environmental, and census data to provide a more complete description of the challenges and burdens that residents may face within climate-vulnerable areas.See footnote 5 These tools can also identify the areas where there has been a history of cumulative environmental impacts and violations under environmental law. Low-income communities and communities of color that live in or near industrial areas are likely to suffer from greater incidences of health problems including cancer, heart attacks, and asthma, due to prolonged periods of exposure to toxic air and water.See footnote 6 Data and mapping tools enable policymakers to identify and prioritize these communities and develop planning interventions to mitigate the risks that additional environmental stresses may place on already burdened communities. Together, data and mapping tools allow policymakers to identify the areas and populations most in need of policy intervention while providing an evidentiary basis for prioritizing adaptation-planning strategies that address racial, social, and economic inequalities.

Data-driven decisionmaking also provides planning professionals with the tools to set measurable goals, establish benchmarks for performance, and quantify the effectiveness of policy outcomes.See footnote 7 Data and mapping tools have been especially critical to policymakers designing projects that prepare communities for climate-related risks. For example, researchers at Arizona State University have used climate data from the National Climate Assessment on the increased frequency of extreme heat events and have identified the health risks to the homeless population in Maricopa County, Arizona.See footnote 8 Given that extreme heat is already the leading cause of heat-related death in the United States, planning professionals are now using that data to develop adaptation strategies to protect public health and improve access to drinking water and cooling centers. The collection of cooling center data will provide planning professionals with essential information to determine whether their public health interventions are successfully reducing mortality in the homeless population.See footnote 9 Here, data and metrics help to monitor, track, and report the progress of policies intended to mitigate cumulative environmental harms.

The process of collecting qualitative data, through workshops, surveys, and face-to-face interviews can also provide valuable information to policymakers while cultivating community relationships. Participatory research techniques, including community-based participatory research methods (CBPR), like citizen science projects or photovoice, where cameras are put into the hands of residents to document their surroundings,See footnote 10 enable residents to document community perspectives and become part of the critical knowledge that contributes to meaningful adaptation solutions. The information collected should become part of an asset map that identifies both historic hazards within the community and the places and structures that may have the potential for becoming an anchor for climate resilience solutions. 

In addition to ensuring that the community has sufficient opportunity to participate in focus groups, workshops, and other community-based research projects to shape the priorities of policy interventions, policymakers have also recognized the importance of ensuring that residents have the technology and tools to remain engaged with local governments. Digital equity programs that improve access to broadband, laptops, and digital training tools provide a number of co-benefits to communities.See footnote 11 When the community has access to online tools, policymakers have greater access to residents and direct channels for feedback about the effectiveness of policy initiatives.



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