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Weather and Society Watch
Guest Editorial

How Important Is Knowledge Management for Meteorology?
by Jacques Descurieux*

intro text

Over the past 15 years, the increasing number of scholarly papers and books dedicated to the subject have shown that more and more scholars and scientists are recognizing the need to manage knowledge. Although weather and meteorological services organizations are generally effective information managers, managing knowledge is the next and inescapable step toward any substantive improvements in meteorological and weather forecast services.

Knowledge management is too often confused with information management. To differentiate the two, we must understand the difference between data, information, and knowledge. Data are facts such as measurements or statistical results: A temperature reading of –25°F is data. Data becomes information when placed into context. When the wind chill makes the outside temperature feel like –45°F, that’s information. Understanding that –25°F with a wind chill of –45°F will cause any exposed flesh to freeze in two minutes is knowledge. Knowledgeis data and information that acquires meaning through refinement, synthesis, and presentation in ways that can guide action. Information is documentation—the basis of knowledge—which includes meaning and is understandable, usable, and actionable.

Information management is about collecting, controlling, disseminating, and using the information. Knowledge management is about capturing, selecting, developing, refining, analyzing, transferring, and sharing information to make it usable and actionable in a decision-making or social context.

Knowledge is generally described as a continuum. At one end, tacit knowledge encompasses skills and know-how. As the cognitive dimension of knowledge, it includes beliefs, values, insights, intuitions, and hunches, and is difficult to express. At the other end of the spectrum, explicit knowledge is expressed in words or numbers, and is easily transmitted, communicated, or codified. Weather forecasters and meteorological services use both dimensions of knowledge daily.

Meteorologists make forecast-related decisions several times a day. Several recent papers (Doswell 2004; Hutton 2007; Stuart et al. 2007) describe the process of forecast development and the cognitive dimension of weather forecasting. The evidence presented in these works is clear and incontrovertible: Forecasters use tacit knowledge and heuristics when making decisions under uncertainty. Heuristics are subjective expertise, insights, intuitions, personal beliefs, abilities, and skills that are internally anchored and based on personal learning and experiences. In other words, heuristics are tacit knowledge under another name. To improve the forecast process, weather services need to capture that tacit element, translate it into explicit knowledge, and share it.

Explicit knowledge is extremely important for any meteorological organization that aims to disseminate the information or knowledge required to make weather-related decisions. Decision makers and private individuals can protect or safeguard against the weather only if they know and understand its potential—or probable—consequences on people, their environment, their economic activities, or all three.

A forecast that tells only what the weather will be is only information. But a forecast that includes the potential consequences of the weather transforms the information into usable and actionable knowledge. Indeed, the potential consequences of the weather are seldom included in forecasts, watches, and warnings. The correlation between the weather and its consequences is the difference between plain information and usable and actionable knowledge.

Knowledge management is about facilitating the transfer and exchange of information combined with expertise. It links people, processes, and technology to broaden situational awareness. It facilitates decision making and increases organizational effectiveness. To capitalize on knowledge that already exists, an organization must manage it as it would any other resource. Given that knowledge management relates to decision making and that meteorological processes include both the tacit and explicit dimensions of knowledge, knowledge management becomes elemental for weather forecasters and meteorological services.


*Jacques (jacques.descurieux@ec.gc.ca) is the national communications advisor for the Service Improvement and Development Division of the Meteorological Service of Canada.


References

Doswell, C. A., 2004: Weather forecasting by humans—heuristics and decision making. Forecaster’s Forum 19(6): 1115–1126.

Hutton, J. B., 2007: Supporting Weather Forecasting Expertise: A Human Factors Workshop with a Cognitive Spin. Final report prepared for Environment Canada under Contract #KA315-06-9953, by Klein Associates, a Division of Applied Research Associates Inc., Fairborn, Ohio.

Stuart, N. A., D. M. Schultz, and G. Klein, 2007: Maintaining the role of humans in the forecast process. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 88(12): 1893–1898.


Footnote

“Of Heresies,” Sacred Meditations.

Photo credit:

An overturned mobile home rests in a mobile home park in Gassville, Ark., near where one woman died when an EF 2 tornado hit the area - Photo by Julie Demuth

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