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Partnerships for More Actionable Data

Researchers at the Climate Impacts Research Consortium and others want their data to be useful to practitioners in the field. Dr. Holly Hartmann sheds some light on how researchers and practitioners can collaborate to design research for decision support, not research for research’s sake.

Many scientists studying climate, water, ecosystems and other fields want their work to be used by decision makers. But they know that extracting actionable information from the journal articles they use to communicate with other scientists can be challenging. Not only is the language cryptic to people outside a specific field, but results are rarely definitive. Instead, their results are carefully couched in statistical terms, typically leading to new questions requiring more research.

The questions that the scientists address in their work are usually quite different than the questions that resource managers and decision makers have. Scientists try to understand how things work by posing questions in different ways, using specialized data, new technology, or novel techniques, testing assumptions, or focusing on unique locations or time periods. Their work is aimed at adding a few more bricks to the foundation of our understanding and identifying what research is needed for the next layer in that foundation. Building that foundation is an incremental process that, candidly, is heavily influenced by the funding programs of agencies that shift their priorities from year to year.

Many scientists recognize the gap between what they produce and what resource managers, policy makers, and other decision makers need to manage the risks posed by the impacts of climate change. They know they can do a better job of producing science that decision makers can use. Programs like NOAA’s Regional Integrated Science and Assessment (RISA) program and National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), the DOI Climate Science Centers, and the USDA Climate Hubs, encourage scientists to work with decision makers to frame their research questions, co-produce research, and translate research data and information to be accessible and actionable.

For these efforts to be successful, scientists need sustained engagement with resource managers, policy makers, and decision makers – in many areas. Individually and collectively, members of the Carpe Diem West network can contribute by connecting with scientists in these programs. I am especially excited about building on the work of the Carpe Diem West Academy and the Healthy Headwaters program in bringing the perspectives of the Carpe Diem West network to the Pacific Northwest RISA team, the Climate Impacts Research Consortium (CIRC), where I am leading efforts to mainstream decision support across all their research activities over the next four years. Our goal is to make sure that information from CIRC research is understandable and usable.

We will be testing and adjusting to make sure that CIRC information products provide clear and correct interpretation, that it’s clear how the information is produced, being transparent about the “weakest links” in the work while also identifying where the science is essentially settled, making clear where and when new information replaces or reinforces prior work, and providing management relevant statements that can be made with confidence. The team is also committed to moving beyond results that are presented as “averages”, and where the science supports it, providing tools that let users analyze and visualize for themselves how key information varies in different places and under different conditions (like El Nino), and that connect with tools and decision processes that are already in use.

No single study, data set, or decision support tool is going to provide all the answers that a decision maker needs. And no single meeting between scientists and managers will change an organization’s direction. It’s an accumulation of evidence, discussion, and incremental adjustments. The Carpe Diem West network has so much insight to offer the science community about the needs of decision makers. So don’t hesitate to let me and other scientists know what you need, and I encourage you to support efforts to improve their products and tools through testing and review.

Carpe Diem!

Dr. Holly C. Hartmann
Dr. Holly Hartmann is Carpe Diem West’s Director of Climate Science Applications and a researcher with the Climate Impacts Research Consortium.

June 24, 2016

Photo Credit: Tess McBride




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