Research across natural resource management disciplines has identified an implementation gap between researchers and managers, where institutional norms and practices limit the application and synthesis of novel data and observations in decision-making. With their increasing social media and internet presence, federal agencies have grown their communication portfolios past traditional communication tools such as scientific conferences, meetings, publications, and newsletters. However, simply providing more information is not enough to aid decision-making; to be effective these communication tools must present the right content in successful manners. Additionally, science communication literature increasingly emphasizes the importance of built relationships between researchers and managers as a key to successful science communication and application.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Western Regional Collaboration Team’s NOAA West Watch is a bimonthly webinar series that shares data, observations, and predictions regarding large-scale weather, ocean, and climate anomalies to NOAA personnel and key external partners. Currently, this communication tool functions in a one-way capacity where the webinar coordinators deliver information to their current audience with limited engagement. This research uses a mixed-methods approach to evaluate the effectiveness of West Watch and the possibility of it becoming a useful two-way communication tool that facilitates engagement between the research-based presenters and an expanded audience. Community-based experts (CBEs) from Oregon such as state, local, and tribal resource managers, industry personnel, non-governmental organizations, and other science practitioners with close ties to their community were invited to watch a NOAA West Watch webinar. These CBEs provided qualitative data through follow-up interviews about the webinar’s utility to an expanded, practitioner-based audience. Concurrently, the current webinar attendees were surveyed and the webinar coordinators (developers, presenters, and decision-makers) were interviewed to determine the effectiveness of this webinar series.
Results show that NOAA West Watch is an effective one-way communication tool because of its capacity to transfer information from the webinar coordinators to the current attendees. However, it is not an effective two-way communication tool because of the lack of engagement with current and new audiences. Expanding the webinar’s audience by including individuals like the community-based experts may increase engagement if the coordinators dedicate time and effort into building relationships with their audience. Results from this research will inform NOAA West Watch decision-making and lends best practices to individuals and agencies looking to use informal science communication tools in the future.