8.2A Assessing the Usefulness of Citizen Science Information in Drought-Related Decision Making

Wednesday, 13 January 2016: 1:45 PM
Room 333-334 ( New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center)
Kirsten Lackstrom, Carolinas Integrated Sciences & Assessments, Columbia, SC; and A. Brennan and K. Dow

Although citizen science has been gaining attention as an effective means to support ecological data collection, a greater understanding of how decision makers view the credibility, reliability, and usability of this information is needed. For this project the Carolinas Integrated Sciences and Assessments (CISA), in collaboration with the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), conducted research to assess the usefulness of information provided by volunteer observers through the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow (CoCoRaHS) network in supporting drought-related decision making.

In addition to daily precipitation measurements, CoCoRaHS volunteers in North and South Carolina were asked to submit regular condition monitoring reports to describe how recent weather conditions affect environmental, social and economic systems in their communities. In contrast to drought impact reports, submitted only when notable or severe changes caused by a lack of rainfall are observed, condition monitoring reports allow an observer to describe normal conditions that are likely to change during periods of less or more rainfall, creating a basis for comparison. From September 2013 through June 2015, 58 volunteers submitted 1,154 condition monitoring reports. Using QSR Nvivo software, CISA researchers coded and analyzed report content according to drought impact categories and other variables of interest to drought decision makers. Maps and graphics were created to aggregate and visualize the coded data.

Interviews were conducted with drought decision makers at the local, state, regional and national levels to obtain feedback on report content and analysis and assess how the information might be incorporated into various drought-related decisions. Interviewees included representatives from a variety of agencies and organizations, including the North and South Carolina state climate offices and drought committees, the CoCoRaHS national office, the National Drought Mitigation Center, National Weather Service Weather Forecast Offices, and county-level soil and water conservation districts.

Interviews revealed that a range of intrinsic and extrinsic factors mediate the usefulness and usability of condition monitoring report content. For example, intrinsic factors related to the reliability (e.g., whether a volunteer regularly reported precipitation and conditions) and salience (e.g., the type and extent of details provided about dry conditions) of the reports. Drought stage and time of year, as well as the organizational and management context of the interviewees, also affected how the interviewees incorporated the information into their decision making. Despite the lack of severe (or greater) drought conditions in the Carolinas during the study period, some interviewees demonstrated current application of the condition monitoring reports. For example, representatives from the North Carolina State Climate Office use the condition monitoring reports in their weekly assessment of drought conditions for the state's Drought Management Advisory Council. The findings from this project will help guide development and delivery of drought impacts information produced through networks like CoCoRaHS into drought planning and response systems, not only for the Carolinas but at the national level as well.

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