September 16, 2019

5 Easy Tips for Superior Climate Assessments

Joel Nodelman

About the Author

Joel is an engineer and risk management specialist with over forty years of professional practice. He is committed to helping his clients achieve climate resiliency and sustainability.

And Now - Something Different

This week, a more technical post offering five easy tips to get superior climate assessment results. Over the last month, I focused on the emotional and social faces of climate. I think the range of opinion about climate change is both depressing and fascinating. However, today as therapy, I want to focus on things we can actually do to pave a path forward.  

Joan has asked me several times to write about scoping climate projects. We both believe a solid plan is essential for a good project. 

We have done many assessments. Some did not go well.  Some were average, nothing to write home about, but providing adequate results and useful suggestions. 

However, a few jobs were spectacular.  We provided a clear picture of the climate risk and offered workable solutions. Our clients took action and the change in their company culture made them leaders in their field.

What is Necessary for a Superior Climate Assessment?

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What's the difference between a poor, average and superior climate assessment?  We find clients who provide a clear scope of work for the assessment get the best results. This may seem trivial, or old hat. Of course, you need a clear scope of work. Every project management textbook says the same thing. However, the books often leave out the bit presenting the detailed picture of what a clear scope of work looks like. 

Consultants need explicit guidance on the work they are doing. They need a sense of the timeframe, budget, and priorities for the project. Even then, folks will simply ask us:

“Do an assessment for me.”  

Sometimes, they don’t understand the work they are requesting, but they recognize a government program requires it. However, as they figure things out, they may adjust the tasks for the project and their definition of good work. Often, they do this on the fly, while we are working. These projects go off the rails. Nobody is happy. The client doesn’t get what they feel they need. The consultant cannot deliver on the client’s expectations within the project budget and gets frustrated. These are situations we are hoping to avoid. 

What Do We Look For in a Superior Climate Assessment Scope?

So, what is a good scope? We look for several things.


We like defined boundaries and need to understand timeframes for your project. Are you worried about right now, the next ten years, or perhaps thirty to forty years hence. And, we need to define the region we are considering. For a single location, this may seem obvious. But, for linear systems like roads, pipelines and power lines, we need to define the geographic boundaries of the project. Also, we need to understand the business activities to include. Do you want us to consider every department in the organization? Or, are there specific activities that  worry you? These decisions have major cost implications we need to understand early in the project. 


We need a sense of the climate risks worrying you. Sometimes, we develop this understanding with the client as a preliminary step of the project. However, budgets must recognize the time commitment for this work. If you have already defined the specific perils you wish us to consider, then it is best to lay this out in the scope. This ensures we offer a fair price for the work.  


We also like to get some sense of your risk tolerance. Our feelings about risk are personal. They vary from person-to-person and from business-to-business. What I consider a big risk, you might consider minor, or at worst you can live with it. This is a key difference between entrepreneurs and salaried employees. Entrepreneurs have a higher tolerance for the discomfort of surviving though boom and bust periods.

Risk tolerance is a measure of just how much, and what type of risk you will accept? We can help you sort this out as part of the job, or you can specify it in the scope. For example, some organizations have standard risk procedures defining these things. We like to use the existing guidance and not reinvent the wheel. 

"Data is like garbage. You’d better know what you are going to do with it before you collect it"

- Mark Twain -

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We also like the scope identify relevant data sources for the project. We do not require access to the data at the proposal stage, but we like to understand what data we need to develop and what data you will provide. Once again, there are cost implications for literature reviews, data mining, and data development. Some clients have lots of useful data they can offer the project. Some, have very little. We can do assessments in either case, but we need to understand the level of effort necessary to provide you with a fair cost estimate for the project.  


We like to define the level of detail you require. Do you want a quantitative, deep-dive, assessment? Or, do you want a screening study? The answer to this question is case specific. We like to understand why you need the assessment and your audience. Different audiences and purposes required different levels of detail, and this defines the assessment methods we use in the work.  There are costs associated with this. Not every tool requires the same level of detail. Detailed data can be expensive.  

Too often, folks want a Cadillac assessment for a Chevy budget. They provide enough funds for a screening study but want detailed work. To be clear, both methods have their place, benefits, and pitfalls. However, a superior scope will ensure everyone is on the same page.

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5 Easy Tips for Superior Climate Assessments

With all this in mind, here are my 5 easy tips for superior climate assessments.

1. Define the Project Boundaries

What is in and what is out? Describe the geography, the timeframe, and the work included, and excluded.

2. Identify Your Risk Priorities

Describe the perils that most worry you. If you don’t know, state that the consultant must identify the relevant perils and hazards. Being vague about this can cause major scope creep.

3.  Define Your Risk Tolerance

Describe what do you consider a big risk. If you don't know, provide a budget for the consultant to work with you to establish your risk tolerance. Often, folks miss these steps. But, when a consultant tells you that something is a big risk, they are stating an opinion on what should matter to you. This may not reflect your perception of risk and it can be way off the mark. So, tell the consultant your view of big and small risk. Require them to work within that framework.  

4.  Identify Key Data Sources

Describe the data that you will provide to the project team. If you don’t understand the data requirements for the job, allow the budget for a literature review, data mining and development. We have seen several projects run into severe budget constraints because of poor definition of data sources and requirements. This is one area in your direct control. If you have the data, provide it. If you don’t have the data, provide sufficient budget to get it.  

5.  Define the Level of Detail

Describe why you are doing the work, the audience, and the level of detail you need to meet those demands. Require that that consultant use methods that address those specific requirements, and that they do not simply apply an off-the-rack tool. This will curb the project costs, as the consultant should only do a deep dive if the project objectives and audience demand it.  

Over to You ...

  1. Have you ever worked on a project where scope creep caused serious problems?
  2. What did you do?
  3. What other suggestions can you offer to get the best climate risk assessment scope?

Let’s keep the conversation going. Share your comments.

Are you interested in learning more about scoping assessment projects? 

Let us know if you would like us to host a webinar on this topic. If there is sufficient interest, we’d love to do this. 

We can learn from each other. I’d love to hear from you!

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