Developing useful science: methods for engaging stakeholders and evaluating integrated climate tools

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Thursday, 21 January 2010: 1:30 PM
B211 (GWCC)
Gigi Owen, CLIMAS/University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ; and K. Averyt, K. Werner, and D. Ferguson

A burgeoning need for climate information is rising from a variety of stakeholders, ranging from regional land managers to recreational users to federal scientists. With an expanding user base, climate information providers are finding that the methods they have traditionally employed to present and communicate climate information are no longer sufficient. The presentation of projections is particularly complicated by uncertainty. Uncertainty is manifest in natural resource decision-making, not only in the technical aspects of forecast information, but also in user interpretation and application of forecast information.

The RISAs in the West have been successful in assessing and evaluating climate tools and information products. Now, we are expanding this effort and building on lessons learned to develop a process for creating integrated climate tools and products. To help providers of climate information address these issues, the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center (CBRFC), Western Water Assessment (WWA), Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS), and the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) have teamed up to develop rigorous assessments of user needs using a variety of social science methods to evaluate water supply forecasts in the Upper Colorado River Basin.

Here we present the framework for these user-needs assessments, which are designed to a) improve the water supply forecasts for various types of users, b) expand the user-base and enhance understanding of forecasts, and c) illuminate the role of uncertainty in interpreting and applying the forecast to risk and decision-making. User interpretations and acceptance of forecast information are subject to social, cultural, and psychological characteristics. By understanding the ways in which people make decisions and engaging users in an ongoing, iterative process, developers can better tailor and interpret forecasts to meet particular stakeholder needs. This research draws upon a variety of tested social science methods, such as educational workshops, focus groups, decision games, surveys, and structured interviews with stakeholders. Ultimately, this research will demonstrate a process to help product developers identify, engage, and build relationships with diverse users, with the end goal of constructing more useful climate products.