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So Why Does The Drought Map Look Like That? Unpacking The Linkages Between The Transparency Of Drought Monitoring Processes And Usability Of Drought Communication Products
  • Kirsten Lackstrom,
  • Rebecca Ward,
  • Corey Davis
Kirsten Lackstrom
University of South Carolina Columbia

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Rebecca Ward
North Carolina State University Raleigh
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Corey Davis
North Carolina State University Raleigh
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During recent droughts in North Carolina, various audiences have articulated needs for information that explains current or anticipated impacts, droughts’ geographic extent and timing, and how the State monitors drought. This is despite there being a regular process in place to evaluate statewide conditions and seemingly abundant information available through federal, state, and local agency websites; media outlets; and other channels. This presentation provides findings from a research project designed to improve the availability, understandability, and usability of drought communications products for North Carolina audiences, focusing on the US Drought Monitor map of North Carolina as an example. The North Carolina Drought Management Advisory Council (DMAC) technical committee has met weekly to assess drought conditions since the 1990s and has recommended the state’s drought designations to the US Drought Monitor since 2000. The DMAC recommendations typically align with the weekly USDM map. Through surveys, focus groups, usability studies, and other engagement methods, we collected information from groups such as extension agents and water utility staff about 1) their communications preferences - resources that are concise, easily readable, and readily shareable through email, listservs, and social media - and 2) infographic prototypes created to address those preferences. User feedback on the prototypes informed iterative refinements to their content and design and provided information about their potential use for communications and management decisions. Ultimately, understanding the monitoring process and how drought designations are made was a key factor affecting the extent to which extension and other communication professionals apply, share, and value the information produced by monitoring groups and scientific agencies. This research suggests that addressing transparency questions can support efforts to communicate complex problems, such as drought.