4.6 Climate information flow: Testing methods for continuous climate assessment

Tuesday, 19 July 2011: 11:45 AM
Salon A (Asheville Renaissance)
Mason Matthews, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL; and N. E. Breuer

The Southeast Climate Consortium (SECC), a National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) Regional Integrated Science and Assessment Center (RISA) has embarked upon a pilot phase of regional assessment, or "pre-assessment". In the past, many climate assessments have been undertaken with the aim of producing a solid, one-time report of the state of climate in a region, country, or the world. Many useful assessments have been conducted with this focus. However, the NOAA-RISA regional climate assessment, projected to build into the national climate assessment and become an important component of the next IPCC assessment requires a broader, iterative, and continuous approach. The theory of distributed and iterative approaches to assessment is best described in the work of Cash and Clarke (2001). We build upon this theoretical approach that posits that what is needed to provide assessments that are useful and continuously updated is a focus on process rather than punctuated products. In this sense, assessment can be conceptualized as a social communication process through which multiple stakeholders interact to define relevant questions, mobilize expertise, and interpret findings.

SECC RISA social science researchers are conducting a series of pilot interactions with relevant stakeholders in coordination with our biophysical scientists. The latter are concurrently developing regional modeling techniques at scales suggested by end users and that will help develop scenarios that are relevant to these stakeholders' practical needs. This paper deals with the social science methodologies under development. The principal objective is to test research methods that might be recommended for the proposed National Climate Assessment, and to identify elements within the methodologies that might be transferred and used by other RISAs in their assessment efforts. Work has begun on literature and web searches of existing methodologies and science that has been produced since the last assessment report in 2002. Special emphasis will be placed on what SECC researchers have learned as a result of our ongoing assessment activities. The SECC has a rich history of stakeholder engagement that has enhanced our studies and helped prepare us to transition from seasonal scale research to longer-term climate change research. As a result of stakeholder engagement we found, for example, that users are interested in near-term climate for decision making (5-10 years) rather than modeled scenarios and projections at the 50 to 100-years time scales. The documentation of this type of stakeholder interactions is a fundamental cornerstone of our continuous assessment methodology.

Systems are made up of components and flows. The system we will focus on contains four components. These are the scientific community, the Cooperative Extension Service and similar boundary organizations, end users, and policy and decision makers in key industries. We will use surveys, semi-structured interviews, and social network analysis methods with a purposive sample of these groups to determine: 1) which sources of climate information they trust, 2) how they obtain information, 3) to whom they transmit the information, and 4) what decisions are made based on this information. Because this a pilot phase, target groups will be limited in number and size and we will cover a few selected sectors rather than attempt an all-encompassing analysis of the region.

A web-based survey will be conducted using a purposive sample in which respondents will be asked questions about their attitudes toward climate, as well as climate information production, dissemination, and use. The sample population will be drawn from members of various professional organizations including Florida fruit and vegetable growers' associations, and the Environmental Managers Association of Florida. In addition to the questions regarding climate information, social network content data will be elicited in the survey. We plan to use regression analysis to determine what percentage of survey respondents' climate information use is explained by the content of their social networks and what percentage is explained by other characteristics (age, sex, profession, etc.).

Social Network Analysis will be used to determine the interactions between climate scientists, cooperative extension agents, policy makers, and other potential users of climate information. Co-publication and meeting participation data will be reveal the type of climate information generated by SECC scientists and the degree to which they participate in forums in which they exchange climate-related information. Next, participation lists for in In-Service Training (IST) events will reveal which of these scientists interact with extension agents and how climate information is transmitted through this training model. Participation lists from “field days” and other events will in turn shed light on how extension agents transmit the information they have obtained from scientists during IST sessions to their constituents, some of whom will be potential users of climate information. A subset of participants from each of these groups will be interviewed to better understand: 1) their motivations for participating in these events, 2) what types of information flows through these networks, and 3) what other sources they may use to obtain climate-related information. We expect to be able to identify the key “brokers” who are in positions to facilitate the flow of information between these different groups. This analysis can help measure the effectiveness of scientist/extension/end-user networks as a channel for the transmission of climate-related information and how the exchange of information through these networks can be improved.

This is on-going research and results are yet to be obtained, but the process is well underway. It is expected that the multi-method approach focusing on different but interrelated components in the chain of climate information flow will provide lessons to be incorporated not only in the long-term SECC assessment model, but also transferable methods that may lead to design and implementation of instruments that will yield commensurable or quasi commensurable knowledge about climate information flow in different regions of the country. Overall, the emphasis on the social science focus on process of continuous stakeholder interaction among scientists, boundary organizations, end users, and policy makers rather than a one-time snapshot is expected to provide a strong compliment to existing and developing modeling approaches.

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