Building the Capacity for Climate Services: Best Practices for Next Generation Climate Science Translators

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Wednesday, 7 January 2015: 10:45 AM
226C (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
Julie Brugger, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ; and G. M. Garfin

Fulfilling the vision of providing weather, water, and climate information for every need, time, and place requires more and better tools and information. Perhaps more important are human resources: people who have a firm grasp of the physical science and can create better tools and information, but who are also able to understand the needs, values, and physical and social context of users well enough to be able to make a good match between the two. Training in meteorology or climatology can provide the former, but how can we encourage meteorologists and climate scientists to develop the skills to become good climate science translators (CSTs)? (Here, we define translator in the sense used by the medical and public health professions, where the process of translation encompasses a process of generating original and applied science insights, testing the efficacy and repeatability of research insights, and then communicating the insights to end users.) While there is a growing need for people who can fulfill this role, there is little information available about how best to fill this need. Are there resources or training programs and experiences that could help increase the supply of people who can fulfill this role?

To address these questions we conducted a study using mixed qualitative social science methods. The study aims to provide insights on best practices for climate science translation from practitioners and to offer recommendations for training and job experience. While there are needs for climate services and translation at a variety of levels, our study focused specifically on climate scientists with a strong background in climate dynamics who could serve as translators of complex climate science information for audiences whose decision-making processes need to take into account process causes and effects, uncertainties, and confidence in predictions and projections. We conducted interviews with experienced climate science translators to understand how they learned to communicate and interact with non-climate scientists, the challenges this role presents and how they address them, and what resources helped them along the way. We also collected journal entries in which early career climate science translators reflected on their ongoing experience working with stakeholders to acquire a real-time perspective on the learning process and challenges. In addition, we interviewed stakeholders who work with the climate science translators to learn how they view the process and what works best for them. Finally, we gathered information on existing training programs designed to develop skills for bridging the gap between the communities of scientists and practitioners.

In this presentation, we briefly discuss the preliminary results of the study with the goal of fueling further discussion at a side meeting scheduled afterwards. Some preliminary findings from interviews with experienced CSTs include: (a) they described themselves as “matchmakers,” whose job is to figure out the best match between science capabilities and the decision-making context of stakeholders; (b) they tend to lack formal training in science translation and to have gained valuable insights by working with a mentor; (c) they tend to view climate science translation as work that some people have a “knack” for, or is “personality-driven,” and is best learned by “just do[ing] it”; (d) they emphasize the importance of listening and asking questions when interacting with users, remaining unbiased, and the qualities of humility and patience. Informed by these results, our initial recommendations for training activities focus on ones that provide experiential learning opportunities, such as: shadowing experienced CSTs, apprentice or internship programs, exchange programs with stakeholder organizations, developing a support network for CSTs, and fellowships that provide experience working with stakeholders or policymakers.

We would like to attract to the side meeting both experienced and early career climate and weather science translators who would like to provide additional perspectives on the science translation process. These additional perspectives will enrich our preliminary results and contribute to the development of resources and training programs that will help train the next generation of science translators needed to turn the vision of providing weather, water, and climate information for every need, time, and place into reality.