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State of North Carolina

Climate resilience clearinghouse for The North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency.

Services

  • Strategy

Summary

In June 2022, The State of North Carolina’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency (NCORR) retained the Usman Group to conduct user experience research and develop a strategic plan for the structure, functionality and governance of a clearinghouse website to help communities across North Carolina plan and better respond to future extreme-weather events caused by climate change.

NCORR enlisted the Usman Group team for our expertise in market research, website design, UX research, and digital marketing. Moreover, our background in the private sector and non-profit arenas, and the diverse voices and training our individual team members brought to the project, measured up to NCORR’s profile of the ideal vendor.

Background

In the wake of 2018’s devastating Hurricane Florence, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper established the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency (NCORR) to lead the state’s efforts in rebuilding smarter and stronger. At that time, many eastern North Carolina counties had yet to recover from a previous storm just the year before that brought flooding and extensive damage to the area.

What was the challenge?

Mandated to focus on long-term disaster recovery, NCORR manages nearly $1 billion in Block Grant funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for disaster recovery and mitigation efforts aimed at making North Carolina communities safer and more resilient from future extreme-weather events.

To accomplish this, NCORR plans to launch an online Climate Resilience Clearinghouse to address climate-related risks in all communities across the state—especially those that are most vulnerable—as well as provide local governments and community leaders with solutions that mitigate and safeguard against the hazardous effects of climate change.

Step One: Read Between the Lines

We were tasked with uncovering the needs and wants of NCORR’s diverse audience—all residents of North Carolina—with a focus on the equitable inclusion of underserved and underrepresented members of North Carolina communities who are most vulnerable to the environmental and economic impacts of climate change. 

Our detailed discovery process included: 

  • interviews of North Carolina stakeholders identified by NCORR;  
  • reviews of the Natural and Working Lands Action Plan and the 2020 North Carolina Climate Risk Assessment and Resilience Plan; and 
  • an extensive survey of existing climate-change resilience, data, and planning websites developed by other federal and state agencies.

Step Two: Make it Simple

Our findings from our five-month engagement with NCORR informed the design of visual prototypes of how the Clearinghouse website could operate. This included:

  • more than a dozen high-fidelity wireframes, or blueprints, of the site’s organization and functionality 
  • how to make Clearinghouse content accessible and inclusive to all stakeholders
  • a plan for the governance, maintenance, and content production of the site; and 
  • outreach and marketing strategies to engage all community members in the use and continuous improvement of the Clearinghouse.

Step Three: Build Consensus

Stakeholders in this project included local government staff (comprising scientists and practitioners), tribal governments, community organization leaders, regional councils of government, state government resource managers, and non-profit organizations focused on more equitable representation.

Our team interviewed more than 25 individual  stakeholders (via Zoom and Microsoft Teams) over four weeks. Transcriptions from each stakeholder interview were then summarized and organized into a table to easily identify patterns. We grouped our insights into four major principles (see chart below).

We shared our findings and insights on a biweekly conference call with the nearly two dozen members of NCORR’s Climate Resilience Steering Committee. Their feedback was essential to developing our UI/UX recommendations—that is, what the user experience would look like and how it would function—and gain buy-in from the project’s ultimate decision makers.

What were the ​outcomes​ of our strategy?

We organized our recommendations for the overall approach and development of the Clearinghouse into five key categories:

Definitions

  • explain the meaning of climate resilience that can be understood by lay audiences  
  • include definitions for nature-based solutions, green infrastructure vs. natural infrastructure, and other concepts to make them understandable to lay audiences
  • use visual aids such as layered maps and graphics to illustrate the intersectionality of climate change with issues such as food security, health, housing, and the economy

Data

  • use simple, geospatial climate-change resilience maps specific to North Carolina that live on the Clearinghouse site rather than third-party platforms
  • curate hyperlocal data specific to North Carolina

Resources & Solutions

  • provide solutions-focused content to assess risks and vulnerability 
  • solutions should include scale, costs, duration, benefits, relevant examples of ongoing projects, and case studies
  • include examples of existing policies and ordinances that address climate-change resilience goals

Funding / Financing

  • include calendar with information on funding sources, application requirements, and deadlines
  • make funding / financing tool searchable and filterable (e.g., type of grant, user, size, etc.)

Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion

  • ensure accessibility in design and functionality across different abilities (e.g., visual, auditory, etc.) and via technology (e.g., low-bandwidth access, mobile responsive) 
  • be inclusive in content by defining commonly used terms, employing words and phrases that respect the individual, writing content at a lower secondary reading level, and using technical terms, jargon, and idioms/slang sparingly
  • use authentic images that contain a diversity of people and environments; and build a library of visual assets that are shareable and offered royalty-free
  • contract with diverse vendors

Deliverables

  • a comprehensive final report including process, complete transcripts and summaries of stakeholder interviews, and content recommendations
  • more than a dozen wireframes to help client envision the structure, content organization and user experience of the Clearinghouse website
  • a comprehensive, detailed RFP to solicit appropriate web vendors following NCORR’s template and preferred language / terminology