Session 5.1 Defining utilization

Wednesday, 22 June 2005: 8:00 AM
North & Center Ballroom (Hilton DeSoto)
Mark A. Shafer, Oklahoma Climatological Survey, Norman, OK

Presentation PDF (132.5 kB)

Much like the parable of the blind men and the elephant, when people speak of utilization, they may be describing different features. Utilization can range from reception of information to the information actually affecting some aspect of a problem which it sought to address. Both measures would be considered utilization, but the latter is much more difficult to achieve, and especially difficult to attribute changes to the source. Do we, as scientists, need to concern ourselves with whether or how the information is used? Is delivery of information to a decision-maker sufficient to consider our part as finished?

Utilization may also mean more than direct application of information by an individual. In addition to instrumental use there is conceptual use. This category encompasses much of the way scientific information is used. Conceptual use includes knowledge-driven, background information on a problem, to ‘enlightenment' – analyses that create ‘inventories of information' that alter subsequent debate, but do not have immediate impact. Neither necessarily changes immediate outcomes, but both have the capability to alter the policy environment in which decisions are made.

Scientists, and academics in general, have an additional barrier to overcome: the so-called cultural divide. Norms differ between researchers and practitioners, scientists and policy-makers. The scientific model of seeking objective truth may fall short within the problem-oriented, contextual, multi-disciplinary, and normative realm of decision-making. There are some factors that producers of scientific information can control, such as how information is presented, when it is made available, and additional context that addresses a problem. Tailoring information to address specific needs, within the context in which the decision-maker acts, can increase the likelihood that information will be used appropriately and effectively.

Thus, scientists must be aware of the target for which they are aiming. The way research and analyses are conducted and the way in which information is presented affects its use. Awareness of the multiple needs or opportunities for that information to influence both immediate needs and long-term issues will allow scientists to more effectively contribute to solving societal problems.

Getting the right fit of information to the decision-maker is a critical element of utilization. The way scientists select and distill relevant information will vary, sometimes on a case-to-case basis. Examples from climate services, product development, and outreach programs from the Oklahoma Climatological Survey will be used to demonstrate these differences.

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