83rd Annual

Wednesday, 12 February 2003: 3:45 PM
A user study approach for identifying needs for regional climate services
Andrea J. Ray, NOAA/CIRES/CDC, Boulder, CO; and R. S. Webb and R. S. Pulwarty
Development of regional climate services will require sustained and systematic communication of climate information with users, and ongoing interactions with these users to determine their evolving priorities and needs. Through these interactions, we can identify types of climate products desired by a broad spectrum of users by integrating knowledge about what climate information is needed, when, and how.

However, these systematic interactions are time- and labor-intensive. Thus methods are needed for identifying potential users and situations which are most likely to produce partnerships for developing and evaluating experimental and prototype climate services. We have found that these studies work well when approaches are focused around a specific societal problem, versus a sector orientation, and by assessing how this problem and possible solutions relate to climate. Furthermore, it is important to understand the decision processes undertaken by these user groups, and within which these problems are embedded.

This study documents a process for identifying users’ needs based on interdisciplinary insights, and illustrated in a case study of water management in the Upper Colorado Basin. We have identified four steps in this process. First, assess and identify potential users’ critical problems which are sensitive to climate. Second, identify decision makers and their key stakeholders with respect to those critical problems; these decision makers and their key stakeholders form the basis of subsequent user studies and interactions. Third, assess how climate variability interacts with the critical problems. For recurring decisions, a decision calendar may help organize and identify overlapping needs and reveal entry points for climate information provision. For decision processes that are longer term (e.g., long-term water availability), understanding the users’ time frames of planning is necessary. Fourth, within this problem-oriented and climate sensitive context, user groups who are interested partners for testing and prototyping this new technology need to be identified. Potential users in a rapidly evolving phase in their critical problem, such as immediately after a focusing event, may be more open to interacting as partners in experimental climate services. This openness may be prompted by social changes, a policy or legal change, environmental factors, or a climate event such as drought or flood. Consistent with previous studies, we have found that potential users seeking new ways of doing business in responding to increasing criticality may become early adopters of new technology.

More than simple two-way communication is needed to develop appropriate products and facilitate technology transfer: effective partnerships must be developed at this initial stage of climate service implementation. The user study approach suggested here helps identify appropriate partners for experimental climate services, with the objective of improving mechanisms for developing and making useable climate and weather products provided by NOAA and others.

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