Current computing methods addressing climate change employ open data platforms, interactive maps, and predictive modeling to support policy analysis, evaluate effects of policies, and support information access. These data exploration and analysis tools carry beautiful visions, including helping people better understand their cities, making communities’ challenges transparent, and facilitating systematic approaches to decision making for sustainability issues. They are also limited, and the reality they partake in turns out to be more nuanced. The tools that help us to get to know a city through data are never neutral but always an expression of politics and power dynamics. Data-driven decision-making also often produces biased, discriminatory, and unfair results that are difficult to trace and comprehend.
This paper attends to five key tensions in this design space by demonstrating how design theories can reorient the design process for computing systems used in both top-down decision-making and bottom-up community effort. More specifically, we investigate how four design approaches (Social Design, Speculative Design, Feminist Data Practices, Design Justice) can be applied to a tool for empowering community efforts and informing decision-making for climate change. We illustrate this through an open-source map-based data platform aiming to support communities with sustainability data exploration and information sharing. We unfold the challenges and opportunities in designing during a climate crisis by translating design theories into concrete actions that prioritize community values.