The Bellwether Collaboratory offers a system-mapping tool that helps people working together to solve complex problems build collective perspective. Focusing each stakeholder's input on the causal connections they know best, and encouraging interaction and engagement, the tool creates a shared picture of feedback loops within the system. It then analyzes this network to highlight leverage points, those often unintuitive places where small interventions can create big change.  

Future plans include a low-cost climate adaptation toolkit for small cities, towns, and tribal organizations. While communities have a large number of free hazard-exposure tools at their disposal, few options exist to help them to choose among the tools or to interpret the results. The Bellwether Adaptation Planning Toolkit (Bw-APT), designed from the perspective of end users, will guide small municipal governments’ climate-adaptation planning activities with a great deal of built-in expertise but little expense, helping them move beyond forecasting climate exposure to assessing community vulnerability; understanding community strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities; soliciting and incorporating community members’ input; creating an inclusive strategy; and implementing the plan with appropriate monitoring and evaluation.

Bw-APT will comprise three accessible and intuitive tools:

  • The Exposure Assessor (APT-E) provides clear, scientifically sound estimates of the climatic changes that a community is likely to face in the next 50 years. It calculates statistical forecasts of climate variables that have implications for infrastructure, public health, and food and water security, and references memorable events from historical weather records to express these forecasts in locally meaningful terms.
  • The Vulnerabilities and Opportunities Finder (APT-Scope) guides users through the process of inventorying community assets and vulnerabilities, and brainstorming and prioritizing opportunities for minimizing risk. APT-Scope is designed to find the leverage points in the complex systems that make up communities, and it can be run by a single user or collaboratively by multiple stakeholders.
  • The Communication Hub (APT-Comm) facilitates public engagement by compiling all of the relevant data, projections, and recommendations and generating infographics and textual summaries suitable for inclusion in public reports, websites, and interactive data dashboards. Because communication goes two ways, APT-Comm invites and encourages input and interaction from a broad base at every stage.

Town managers completing the Bw-APT process will become members of the Bw-APT Community and be eligible to attend our bootcamps and refreshers, to share experiences and advice on Bellwether’s network of member communities, and to access technical expertise. Climate adaptation doesn’t end with publication of the plan, and Bellwether will provide tools, guidance, and community for every step of the journey to climate-smart sustainability.


Our innovation

We see a parallel between adaptation planning and tax preparation. Households and firms with complicated finances will always benefit from hiring professional accountants to prepare their taxes, while the majority of people will be fine preparing their taxes by themselves—either by consulting government publications and advice from friends, or by using an online tax tool like TaxHawk or TurboTax. Online tax tools lack some of the flexibility and creativity of human accountants—but they encode an enormous amount of expertise in a process that is sufficient for many users.

Similarly, large cities and communities confronting unusual problems will continue to be best served by specialized consultants, but most small communities will be confronting a small set of common hazards and will be contemplating solutions from a finite set of options. Similarity allows for automation, which in turn reduces overhead costs. Bellwether’s planning kit, Bw-APT, is a middle way between DIY climate adaptation planning and hiring a consulting firm—an affordable option for paid planning-support services.