The average person seeking climate information is likely to begin with the internet, and this quickly leads to a confusing array of very dissimilar climate information websites (CIWs), which presents formidable challenges: choosing which CIW(s) to use, learning to navigate the structure and interface, understanding the terminology and diversity of options, and extracting defensible and robust information relevant to the user’s application. The CIW landscape is complex, and with the scarcity of guidance materials comes the possibility that users end up with indefensible conclusions that in their application context could have dangerous outcomes.
An article recently published in WIRES Climate Change reviews a representative sample of CIWs from across the world, and draws out key issues for consideration in the ongoing evolution of CIWs. Two approaches are used to evaluate the CIWs. The first considers measurable characteristics of a CIW; the number of data products, whether they provide guidance material, who is providing the content, who are the target audience, etc. The second applies user scenarios to build a story about the experience of using a CIW, thereby highlighting issues that emerge when practically engaging with a CIW in order to find information for a specific purpose.
The review of CIWs finds that significant effort is required to construct information products that might be considered as defensibly appropriate to the use-case perspective; effort that many users might not be willing to expend. The inherent limitations in CIW content and guidance materials are identified and these present further significant barriers for the non-expert, raising important concerns about the construction, presentation, and added value of many CIWs.
Recognizing that CIWs can play and important role in influencing decisions with substantial real-world consequences, the paper explores the emergent issues and makes recommendations for future developments. Perhaps the foremost concern is the weak ethical framework for the climate services community who are providing access to data sets of variable quality without strong safeguards against over-interpretation. This leaves a difficult question about the required capacity development if climate information is to be responsibly provided and appropriately adopted. Specifically, how far do CIWs need to go in developing an understanding of diverse user contexts and tailoring support to match the skill capacity of users, versus the degree of capacity development of users needed in order to develop their skills in using CIWs?
Contributed by Katinka Waagsaether.