Cooperative product development between researchers and commercial fishermen to find applications for ocean condition forecasting technology Public Deposited


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  • This is a case study of the cooperative development of an ocean condition forecasting tool by Oregon commercial fishermen, Oregon State University (OSU) scientists, and OSU student software engineers. Ocean condition forecasting models developed by OSU scientists were used to create an online tool to assist decision-making for fishermen. This tool is loosely based on the NANOOS Visualization System (NVS), a publically available product of the Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems (NANOOS). The new tool was designed using data gathered from Oregon commercial fishermen in semi-structured interviews and group meetings. These interviews and meetings explored the ways that the fishing community uses ocean condition information to inform fishing tactics. Similar interviews with scientists explored why and how the scientific community creates tools like NVS. Interviews were also conducted with the software engineers who built the tool in an attempt to examine the product design process itself. Resulting findings were used to build a prototype tool that matches the capabilities of the scientific and development communities with the needs of the fishing community. This study also gathered observations on fishermen's, scientists', and developers’ motives for cooperation in research and product development. Research in the fishing community indicated that fishermen make use of a wide variety of information, and in a diversity of ways. For example, predictions of sea surface temperature were of particular interest to tuna, swordfish, and salmon fishermen, while crabbers placed an emphasis on the speed and direction of ocean currents. There was general interest in wave models, particularly at the entrance to harbors, given the impact of wave action on vessel safety. Fishermen expressed interest in accurate representations of bathymetry, as well as in subsurface currents. Interface issues with the tool were also important. Fishermen stressed that simplicity and intuitive ease-of-use be balanced with richness of information. For example, fishermen expressed a preference for distance to be expressed in nautical miles rather than in the kilometers that are currently the default NVS setting. While they praised NVS for providing them with access to information on a wide variety of ocean conditions, the multiplicity of models available on NVS and the manner in which they were arranged could sometimes be confusing. Fishermen mentioned that they often use tools like NVS at sea, where the dynamic nature of the environment (i.e., on boat in constant motion) raises interface issues generally not present ashore. There was also concern about connectivity for an internet-based tool at sea, distant from internet or cellular connections. This research uncovered important details about the cooperative design process. Fishermen, in particular, expressed mixed feelings about cooperation with the scientific community, especially with respect to the perceived role scientists play in fisheries regulation. Fishermen also stated that the scientific community failed to value fishermen's knowledge. However, given the non-regulatory nature of this project, fishermen expressed cautious optimism. This research also uncovered practical considerations for cooperation between fishermen and scientists. For example, the best time for meetings and interviews with fishermen was October, November, and early December, during a lull in fishing activity that generally precedes the opening of the winter crab season. Early in the crab season, as well as late spring, were particularly bad times as the fishermen were generally busy. Fishermen's schedules may be irregular, dependent on fisheries regulations and on ocean conditions that may be highly uncertain. Scientists, by contrast, may have highly inflexible schedules, with numerous commitments booked months into the future. As a result, coordination between these two groups may prove challenging, and require creative thinking to maneuver around. Scientists expressed enthusiasm for using their ocean models to benefit the fishing community, as this demonstrated the applicability of their research to areas outside of academia. In the words of one participating scientist, "You want people to use the research that you’re doing." The idea of cooperation also met with a favorable response, but the value of middlemen who could intermediate between the communities was stressed. Lack of time was cited as a barrier to direct interaction, as was the perception that end-user interaction was a more appropriate job for social scientists, rather than oceanographers. The student software engineers who formed the tool's product development team also appreciated having a go-between to research the needs of the fishermen, "digest" the field data, and contribute findings to the design process. This freed the product development team to focus on its own strength (writing code), with the intermediary arranging occasional interactions with fishermen or scientists as necessary. However, the design team members did stress that as the new tool developed, direct interaction with fishermen would become more necessary. It may be that as the cooperative product development process continues the role of the intermediary may change. Those who study this in the future may find themselves facilitating and observing direct communication between participating fishermen, scientists, and development team members, rather than acting as the main channel of communication as has thus far been the case. This research has laid the groundwork for continuing development of a useful tool for Oregon's fishermen. It has also contributed to a mutually beneficial channel of communication between the fishing and scientific communities. Lessons learned about fishermen, scientists, and product designers can inform future iterations of the cooperative design process, as well as provide a basis for cooperation in other areas of research. However, these lessons and new channels of communication are only as valuable as the willingness to follow through with the cooperative development process. If the new tool never gets beyond the proof-of-concept stage, it may actually serve to worsen relations between the fishing and academic communities. According to one scientist, "If the project stops here, the fishermen will chalk this up to one more academic 'teaser' or failure." Fishermen, scientists, and development team members have all invested time, energy, and goodwill into this project. All three groups stand to realize that investment if the project succeeds, and to loose it if the project fails. True success in this project arguably means that the cooperative development process will be alive and benefiting the participants when this thesis is gathering dust on a shelf.
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