This project evaluates water supply forecasts in the Upper Colorado River Basin by developing a series of rigorous user-needs assessments. Project goals include (1) improving the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center’s water supply forecasts for various user groups; (2) expanding the user-base and enhancing their understanding of forecasts; and (3) understanding the role of uncertainty and risk in interpreting and applying the forecast. This research uses a variety of social science methods to help product developers identify, engage, and build relationships with diverse users, with the end goal of constructing more useful climate products. These methods include educational workshops, focus groups, structured interviews, surveys, and decision games.
While one of our main goals is to get feedback on the Water Resources Outlook, we also want to develop a comprehensive understanding of users and potential users of water forecasts. This includes an assessment of users’ current understandings of climate science, their perceptions of climate forecasts and future climate projections, gaps in their knowledge about climate science and climate forecasts, as well as a general assessment of how forecasts are currently applied in water management and other sectors, and the role uncertainty plays in decision processes. We chose the following social science-based methods, each of which provides unique insight into these assessments.
Survey: We developed an online survey with approximately 40 questions and distributed it to participants who signed up for a workshop. The goal of the survey was to generate a database of regional stakeholders to help a) assess the accessibility and utility of water and climate information and data, b) assess participants’ perceptions and knowledge about water and climate, and c) evaluate user needs and the gaps in existing water and climate information. As we continue to gather data from users from different regions of the U.S., we hope this data will be used to compare perceptions and knowledge about water and climate between regions and user groups.
Usability Survey: This survey consisted of approximately 35 tasks and questions incorporating all different aspects of the Water Resource Outlook. It was designed to teach participants about the Outlook’s functions and capabilities, while gathering feedback on how to improve the tool, in terms of ease of use and practical applications to participants’ occupations. The survey was administered during the workshop in a computer lab and took participants about 1-2 hours to complete. We then held a group discussion, going through selected questions from the survey and soliciting open feedback and suggestions. Web developers were present in the computer lab, enabling them to answer participants’ questions and to hear their feedback first-hand. Their presence led to nearly immediate changes regarding the website design or outlook features. Participants identified this portion of the workshop as the most useful because it gave them hands-on experience with the Water Resources Outlook and allowed them to explore all its available tools and information.
Decision Games: This exercise consisted of six scenarios in which participants were asked to make a decision based on information from the Water Resources Outlook. The design of this exercise was derived from the social science method of participant observation, in which a researcher watches and observes, and sometimes participates in the actions of their subject. Since we could not actually do this with each workshop participant, we sought to recreate water-related scenarios that participants could potentially face. Using this method, we could systematically collect data on participants’ decision-making processes given a controlled scenario, selected pieces of climate and water information. We also aimed to understand how people’s individual and institutional knowledge factor into the decision process.