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The Carpe Diem West Academy: Managing in the Era of Uncertainty – An Interview with Dr. Holly Hartmann


HollyWEB HSPeople often ask how Carpe Diem West’s small staff is able to have such an effective presence in the vast and complex world of western water and energy. The answer lies in our wide-ranging and accomplished Network leadership – and that when they come up with a good idea, we pay attention, roll up our sleeves, and figure out how to put it into action.

A great example of that is the brand new Carpe Diem West Academy website and project. At our Network gatherings over the past few years, a recurring theme raised by water and energy managers has been the need for some kind of central portal to help make sense of the vast array of tools available to incorporate climate uncertainty into their work. In response, and with the generous support of the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, we joined forces with the team led by Dr. Holly Hartmann at the University of Arizona/CLIMAS to develop this Carpe Diem West Academy.

We spoke with Dr. Holly Hartmann – now also the Director of the Carpe Diem West Academy – for the story on how the Academy got started, what it does now, and where it’s going in the future.

How did this idea of developing a website to help water and energy managers figure out the best available tools for dealing with climate change get started?

We started the Academy as a project to help water managers do a lot of the initial sorting of climate tools, and perhaps provide some more focused training down the road. The idea emerged from some of the convenings Carpe Diem West held in recent years. A recurring comment we got from water managers was the need for help in making sense of the huge number of climate tools being thrown at them, all addressing different areas of water management. Their experience was that they could spend days looking at different tools and still not get a sense that they had taken a comprehensive look at what’s out there, much less figure out which tools were best for their particular situation. So we thought it would be helpful to our Network to do a lot of that work up front, by applying a set of criteria designed to identify particular tools that are robust and scientifically supported, and most relevant to different stages of practical decision making.

What were some of the most surprising things you learned developing this Academy? Did they change the final product?

As we got into the project, we found that we shouldn’t simply create a compendium of the “best” tools, because which ones are best depends on where you are in the decision-making process – are you a general manager or commissioner making policy at the 30,000-foot level, or are you a manager who is down in the weeds looking at practical details? So we realized we had to come up with some kind of roadmap to help us analyze which tools apply to which stages of the process. We ended up adopting the iterative risk management framework originally developed by the United Kingdom Climate Impacts Program, which breaks the decision-making process down into eight individual steps. That was a big step forward, and one that we didn’t foresee when we started.

A second thing we learned once we started applying the roadmap, was that there are many tools for some stages of the decision-making process, and a notable shortage of tools addressing others. For example, there are lots of tools that help with technical analysis of alternatives, but very few that help with initial scoping and problem identification, or with actually making a decision among different alternatives. That’s an issue that needs to be addressed.

As we’ve worked with our network of western water professionals to develop the roadmap and compendium of tools, it’s become apparent that while having all this technical information is important, it’s equally important to create a place where practical experience and new ideas can be shared among peers. So that’s something we’ll build into the website – a learning community and user forum.

As the Carpe Diem West Academy has taken shape over the past few months, what have you heard from your peers in the water and climate community?

Last month I talked about the Academy at the American Water Resources Association conference on climate adaptation in Baltimore, and folks were really excited. They seemed impressed that we are not just posting a bunch of links to tools, but are instead providing a structured way to look at the tools. They found both the decision-making roadmap and tool criteria to be helpful, and said these are features you don’t see in a lot of places. They also liked the scope of the project – that we’re looking at tools from a variety of sources, and not just concentrating on tools from one sector such as government.

What will the future of the Carpe Diem West Academy look like?

In the short term, we’ll continue to build out the website to add more tools. More of them are coming out all the time, and in the next six months to a year a number of important new ones will be coming on line.

As I just mentioned, the next stage of the Academy website will include tools and support for the “learning community” of users – water and energy managers, decision makers, analysts, NGOs, and community stakeholders. The user community will be able to provide feedback on particular tools, and we’ll use webinars to highlight certain sets of tools every month or so. In some cases, we may have the developers of the tools do some video on how they apply to particular practical situations, and we’ll post that on the site.

After that, we’re looking at using the Academy as a place to foster customized trainings for site users, both in person and through webinars. Trainings could be focused on certain sectors – for example, a set of water managers in southern California with a common set of concerns who are interested in a certain set of tools – and we could have the authors of the tools present at the training. Then we’ll use the website as a way for the training participants to stay engaged with a broader community of people who are also using the whole set of tools. I don’t know of anything else out there like that.

Dr. Holly Hartmann is Director of the Arid Lands Information Center at the University of Arizona (UA). She is a co-investigator within the Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS) and leads the scenario development team within the UA Science and Technology Center for the Sustainability of Semi-Arid Hydrology and Riparian Areas (SAHRA). Holly is a national leader in research related to the development of decision support tools for climate, water, and other resource management applications, especially linking research with the needs of decision makers and moving research into agency operations. Current research projects include quantitative verification of climate and hydrologic forecasts; improving communication of probabilistic forecasts and uncertainty; incorporating complex integrated models and climate change within a scenario planning framework; and decision support tool development. Her research led to the development of a framework for evaluating forecasts from the perspective of decision makers, which has been implemented as a series of assessment tools available online.

She currently serves on the Board of the International Environmental Modeling and Software Society, and the American Meteorological Society’s Board on Economic Enterprise Development, and the AMS Committee on Climate Services. Holly received her MS degree in water resources management from the University of Michigan and her PhD in hydrology and water resources from the University of Arizona. Dr. Hartmann has been a Carpe Diem West team member since 2008.



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