92nd American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting (January 22-26, 2012)

Monday, 23 January 2012
Matching Technology to Audience Needs: Lessons Learned From the Carolinas Coastal Climate Outreach Initiative
Hall E (New Orleans Convention Center )
Jessica C. Whitehead, South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium, Charleston, SC; and R. H. Bacon, J. F. Thigpen, G. Carbone, K. Dow, and D. L. Tufford

As technology for presenting climate information advances, it is tempting to integrate the latest and greatest into every aspect of outreach. However, adequate audience characterization is a vital step toward designing any outreach program. If the objective of an outreach program is to reach local decision-makers, but those decision-makers do not use social media, then a program built around social media may effectively reach a national audience of early adopters but fail at engaging the local target audience. One common way of characterizing audiences revolves around surveys, but stakeholder survey fatigue is a growing problem, especially around coastal climate change information needs. This presentation will share some of the lessons learned about effectively using technology from the last three years of the Carolinas Coastal Climate Outreach Initiative (CCCOI). The CCCOI experience suggests that outreach professionals deciding whether technology should play a central role in a program should think critically about the accessibility of the technology to the target audience, the audience's willingness and ability to overcome the technological learning curve, and the amount of upkeep required to sustain the technology.

The CCCOI is a partnership between the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium, North Carolina Sea Grant, and the Carolinas Integrated Sciences and Assessments (CISA) program at the University of South Carolina. Funded by the National Sea Grant College Program and the NOAA Climate Program Office, the CCCOI uses a regional climate extension specialist to coordinate a coastal climate outreach program for 8 coastal South Carolina counties and 20 coastal North Carolina counties. Since 2008, the climate extension specialist has used multiple technologies to reach different audiences with varying degrees of success. For example, an online web log (blog) was initially successful with providing information on coastal climate issues to the Carolinas. However, the blog was discontinued after failing to sustain a local readership. Conversations with stakeholders and consultation with an advisory committee revealed that many in the blog's target audience prefer to access professionally relevant information at their places of employment, but are blocked by their employers from accessing any type of blog or social media. Other technologies, like facilitated computer-based conceptual diagramming, were more successful in supporting decision-making because of their ability to foster understanding of climate concepts and catalyze climate adaptation planning. However, decision-makers were more interested in these technologies when the burden of using them fell to the outreach facilitation team rather than to themselves. Finally, professionally oriented custom social networks were initially helpful at building regional and national outreach capacity; the lure of discussion forums and resource pages fostered a large membership within the Sea Grant Climate Network in 2009. As time has gone by, it has become clear that a dedicated central core of users is necessary to keep up interest in the social networking site. Lessons from these examples and others will help outreach professionals consider matching appropriate technologies to their audiences, even when audience surveys are not feasible.

Supplementary URL: