Beyond the boundary: it takes a village to provide climate services

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Wednesday, 20 January 2010: 5:15 PM
B212 (GWCC)
Daniel Ferguson, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ; and G. Owen

Recent work done by the Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS) program to evaluate the role that CLIMAS team members are playing in a broad network of stakeholders and collaborators has yielded several interesting findings that expand the traditional definition of what are often referred to as boundary organizations. CLIMAS, established in 1998 as one of NOAA's Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) programs, undertook this yearlong evaluation effort beginning in early 2008 to understand better who it was reaching; how it's information, products and services were being received; and to document outcomes that result from interacting with CLIMAS. The CLIMAS mission is to improve the region's ability to respond sufficiently and appropriately to climate events, variability, and changes. The program promotes participatory, iterative research involving scientists, decision makers, resource users, educators, and others who need more and better information about climate and its impacts. The evaluation project utilized a small team of primarily social science researchers, comprised of both CLIMAS team members as well as researchers with no prior association with the program, to collect data from a population of approximately 100 stakeholders and collaborators using surveys, telephone interviews and focus groups.

At the outset of the evaluation project, we identified four primary ways that CLIMAS interacts with collaborators and stakeholders based on our experiences: 1) information broker (e.g., climate summary publications, websites, conference presentations), 2) consultant (e.g., expert advice on project development), 3) short-term partner (e.g., cosponsor an event), 4) collaborator (e.g., long-term engagement to address a particular issue). Data collected during this project, however, revealed that CLIMAS also plays a critical role that goes beyond this conceptualization. As a member of a large, expanding, and evolving network of climate service providers and consumers in the US Southwest, CLIMAS is not only navigating back and forth across the policy/science divide, but is playing a role connecting other members in the network to one another. The traditional metaphor for a boundary organization as a bridge, connecting one community to the other, suggests a potential bottleneck where the flow of information runs through the boundary organization. Our data and experiences, however, suggests that CLIMAS often functions more as a bridge builder, connecting various individuals and communities to one another, thereby enabling information flows, consultations, partnerships, and collaborations that do not rely directly on CLIMAS continued involvement. Our results, therefore, suggest that a critical climate service provided by CLIMAS involves catalyzing a broadly diverse network of producers and consumers of climate information that is potentially more sustainable and powerful than any single entity.