3
Lessons Learned from the Case Studies

The case studies presented by the workshop participants yielded a number of lessons about the communication and understanding of information that are of general application regardless of the specific situation. At the conclusion of the presentations, the workshop participants were asked to identify the key lessons. Again, it is important to note that these are the views of the participants in the workshop and do not constitute findings and recommendations of the National Research Council or the Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate.

CONSIDERATIONS BEFORE A FORECAST IS ISSUED

Communication and dissemination of information should be integral, ongoing parts of the process, not afterthoughts. Suggestions for forecasters and communicators for improving the overall process included:

  • Invest time and effort in communication from the outset, in some cases even prior to the event as in the example of severe weather.

  • Make an effort to understand the communication process.

  • Make education of the user community a goal of good communication.

  • Use multiple modes of communication where appropriate.

  • Repeat important messages. A startling warning may not be believed the first time.

  • Understand communication as part of a broader process of decision making, and produce useful products that support that process.



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A Workshop Summary Communicating Uncertainties in Weather and Climate Information 3 Lessons Learned from the Case Studies The case studies presented by the workshop participants yielded a number of lessons about the communication and understanding of information that are of general application regardless of the specific situation. At the conclusion of the presentations, the workshop participants were asked to identify the key lessons. Again, it is important to note that these are the views of the participants in the workshop and do not constitute findings and recommendations of the National Research Council or the Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate. CONSIDERATIONS BEFORE A FORECAST IS ISSUED Communication and dissemination of information should be integral, ongoing parts of the process, not afterthoughts. Suggestions for forecasters and communicators for improving the overall process included: Invest time and effort in communication from the outset, in some cases even prior to the event as in the example of severe weather. Make an effort to understand the communication process. Make education of the user community a goal of good communication. Use multiple modes of communication where appropriate. Repeat important messages. A startling warning may not be believed the first time. Understand communication as part of a broader process of decision making, and produce useful products that support that process.

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A Workshop Summary Communicating Uncertainties in Weather and Climate Information Two-way communication and feedback is essential between information providers and users. Create understanding between the culture of decision making in forecasting and cultures of decision making in the user communities. Understand not only the words used in the forecasts but also the meanings of those words in the user community. Accurately understand the forecaster’s role, place, and responsibility in the decision-making process. The following actions were suggested: Know the audience. Coordinate across the spectrum from science to decision making to enhance appropriate responses. Learn about the decision-making process and “thresholds” in that process as a part of the responsibility of the information provider. Pressures in a competitive market can result in unwarranted urgent responses to many weather threats. The following factors may affect these situations: Forecasts not fully supported by the state of the science may have an enormous impact on decision makers and may reduce the credibility of future forecasts. Dissemination of guidelines and case studies and an active role by professional societies could be used to limit the negative effects and user confusion associated with the possible trend toward unwarranted hype and unfounded claims of accuracy of previous forecasts. Information providers should understand and nurture the role of the media in educating the users of weather and climate information. Heightened interest during and following weather and climate events provides opportunities to educate the public. Clear, graphic warnings, which the public can grasp, may increase the chances for intelligent responses to threat. If part of the goal of a scientific endeavor is to communicate the findings to the public and policy makers, then the charge and findings should be written with that audience in mind. Dissemination should not be an afterthought. Executive summaries and press releases are helpful, but lay language should not be confined exclusively to these documents.

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A Workshop Summary Communicating Uncertainties in Weather and Climate Information CONSIDERATIONS DURING THE RELEASE OF FORECASTS AND INFORMATION Understanding, communicating, and explaining uncertainty should be an integral and ongoing part of what weather and climate forecasters do and are essential to delivering accurate and useful information. The following suggestions were made during the workshop to improve information delivery: View communicating uncertainty to all information users as a key part of the decision-making process. Communicate why information is uncertain, not just the fact that it is uncertain. Communicate why information about uncertainty is important. Use multiple measures of uncertainty and ways of communicating uncertainty to reach diverse audiences. Use both qualitative and quantitative forms to communicate uncertainty. Effectively communicating uncertainty and its context appropriately shifts the burden and responsibility of decision making to the information user. The following suggestions could improve communications to decision makers: The use of context (a tie to a past experience) in the face of complexity and uncertainty frequently makes the meaning of the uncertainty tangible. Comprehensively communicate what is known, rather than only what it is thought the decision maker needs to know. Success or failure of forecasts and the portrayal of forecasts by the media and decision makers guide opinions and help determine the credibility of future forecasts. The following actions were suggested: Expect misinterpretation. Make an effort to correct problems as soon as possible. Feedback from users is critical. Provide a “measuring stick” to decision makers to guide their evaluation of forecasts and forecast uncertainty. Avoid over-selling or over-interpreting the science. Provide follow-on information about forecast quality to help ensure the credibility of future communications. This information is particularly important following the forecast of significant events (e.g., when a forecast was successful despite a large uncertainty or when a forecast was highly credible and failure resulted).

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A Workshop Summary Communicating Uncertainties in Weather and Climate Information Diverse and different forecasts from multiple sources might have considerable value but may also have the potential to create confusion. The following factors may be considered: Multiple forecast efforts are of considerable value in the drive to improve future forecasts as well as to understand uncertainty in present forecasts. Emphasizing a distinction between “official” operational products and experimental research products may limit confusion. A source of compiled information (e.g., a Web page for a particular type of forecast), including diverse products labeled as operational or research, has the potential to achieve two goals: (1) the provision of a measure of uncertainty and (2) an understanding of the varying and multiple sources of information. Conflicting forecasts and information in life threatening situations may result in decision errors, including potentially dangerous inaction by users and decision makers. It is important always to include and highlight “official” forecasts in such cases.