example, if a certain group is engaged in identifying what information is needed and/or they are the only group to receive such information, does it benefit them to the disadvantage of other groups? Participants pointed out that although it is important to try to identify all of the appropriate users early on, program managers should expect to learn of additional users later and should design programs so that there are numerous opportunities to engage additional users throughout the project; this occurs when those involved gain a better understanding of the various groups that have a stake in their work. Adaptively including more users as more is learned can help avoid longer-term inequities and can ensure that the most appropriate users are engaged.
In brief, discussions at the workshop suggested that collaborative, user-driven dialogues could help identify:
What problem needs to be addressed: For example, moving from the more general “reduce uncertainty about climate change feedback loops” to the more decision-specific “improving predictions of variations in the water supply for a region”;
What information users need to address a problem, what producers can offer, and how those two converge: In many cases, the user comes to a different understanding of what he might need and the producer comes to a different understanding of what he can offer or how he should offer it.
How that information should be communicated: According to one participant: “If the purpose of the effort is to convey insights to decision makers, communication during the problem formulation stage is important to ensure that useful assessment endpoints are identified and pursued. Not only should information needs be identified but analysts should also understand how and when stakeholders would use assessment information. Will end users find and read a scientific journal article? Would they prefer a tool or model to help them evaluate and employ assessment results? If the audience is the public, is it best served by a pamphlet that simply and accurately relates the findings? Understanding the audience’s ultimate needs shapes the communications strategy.”
How the local context varies: For example, practices that have proven successful in the United States might not prove as effective in other contexts. One participant explained: “Addressing (problems associated with poverty) requires the application of engineering knowledge and resources in a developing-world context. Solutions must be practical [and be] implemented and maintained using available skills and resources, and consistent with local culture and customs. These facets of engineering are not taught in schools nor are they acquired in an engineer’s normal career experience. Furthermore, the practical ‘low-tech, high-content’ technologies needed to solve these problems do not receive much attention.”