14th Conference on Applied Climatology
15th Symposium on Global Change and Climate Variations


Helping resource managers apply seasonal predictions: considerations of equity in providing knowledge development and decision support tools

Holly C. Hartmann, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ; and B. Imam, E. Lay, D. Lamb, and S. Sorooshian

Expectations for hydroclimatic research are evolving as changes in the contract between science and society require researchers to provide “usable science” that can improve resource management policies and practices. However, decision makers have a broad range of abilities to access, interpret, and apply scientific research. “High-end users” have technical capabilities and operational flexibility capable of readily exploiting new information and products. “Low-end users” have fewer resources and are less likely to change their decision making processes without clear demonstration of benefits by influential early adopters (i.e., high-end users). Should research programs aim for efficiency, targeting high-end users? Should they aim for impact, targeting decisions with high economic value or great influence (e.g., state or national agencies)? Or should they focus on equity, whereby outcomes benefit groups across a range of sophistication?

In this case study, we focus on hydroclimatic variability and forecasts; almost all resource management decisions require, whether explicitly or implicitly, some sort of hydroclimatic forecast. Agencies and individuals responsible for resource management decisions of many types have varying perspectives about hydroclimatic variability and opportunities for using forecasts to improve decision outcomes. Improper interpretation of forecasts is widespread and many individuals find it difficult to place forecasts in an appropriate regional historical context. We encountered perceptions that taxpayer-funded hydroclimatic research would be used to their detriment rather than their benefit. For example, ranchers in the U.S. Southwest expressed fears that research results and products would be used exclusively by agencies to exert more control over their operations.

In addressing these issues, we attempted to mitigate traditional inequities in the scope, communication, and accessibility of hydroclimatic research results. In our experience, high-end users were important in prioritizing information needs, while low-end users were important in determining how information should be communicated. Consideration of equitable access to information led us to create a series of user-centered knowledge development tools for seasonal hydroclimatic forecasts, available over the Internet. For example, a set of tools for evaluating past forecast performance enables low-end users to increase their understanding of probabilistic outlooks, what makes a forecast ‘credible’, and implications of uncertain predictions for decision making. Recognizing that many individuals lack Internet access, the design for our webtools also includes capabilities for customized report generation so extension agents or other trusted information intermediaries can provide material to decision makers at meetings or site visits.

Our experience in creating hydroclimatic knowledge development tools highlights several issues associated with development of nontraditional research products that are fundamentally different than traditional research products or even many decision support tools. In particular, the long-term sustainability of knowledge development tools is an open question because their components may not be easily transferable to agencies, and website maintenance requires ongoing commitment. Regardless, from the perspective of decision makers, such products may be more useful than traditional products.

Joint Session 4, Applications of Seasonal Predictions (Joint with the 15th Symp on Global Change and Climate Variations and 14th Conf on Applied Climatology (Room 609/610)
Wednesday, 14 January 2004, 4:00 PM-5:30 PM, Room 609/610

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