5.1 Using Visualization Science to Evaluate Effective Communication of Climate Indicators

Tuesday, 12 January 2016: 3:30 PM
Room 333-334 ( New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center)
Melissa A. Kenney, University of Maryland, College Park, MD; and M. Gerst, J. F. Wolfinger, A. Lloyd, and I. Feygina

Indicators are observations or calculations that are used to track social and environmental conditions over time. For a large coupled system such as the economy and environment, the choice of indicators requires a structured process that involves co-production among facilitators, subject-matter experts, decision-makers, and the general public. This co-production is needed in part because such indicators serve a duel role of scientifically tracking change and of communicating to non-scientists important changes and information that may be useful in decision contexts.

Because the goal of the indicators is to communicate and inform decisions, understanding by non-scientific audiences is critical. Thus, different visualization techniques may be required for these indicators as compared to those designed for scientific audiences. Here we describe a process of rigorously evaluating visual communication efficacy by using a simplified taxonomy of visualization design problems and trade-offs to assess existing and redesigned indicator images.

The experimental design is three-part. It involves testing non-scientific audiences' understandability of scientific images found in the literature along with similar information shaped by a partial co-production process that informed the U.S. Global Change Research Program prototype indicators system, released in Spring 2015. These recommendations for physical, natural, and societal indicators of changes and impacts involved input from over 200 subject-matter experts, organized into 13 technical teams. Using results from the first two parts, we then explore visualization design improvements that may increase understandability to non-scientific audiences. We anticipate that this work will highlight important trade-offs in visualization design when moving between audiences that will be of great use to scientists who wish to communicate their results broader audiences.

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