How to Improve Weather Services for End-Users
Interview with Patricia Nying'uro
Founding Member, Climate without Borders
Kenya Meteorological Department
Could you give us a background of your work with Climate without Borders and your role?
Climate without Borders was launched last year, in June. The founding members, who are all weather presenters, have been meeting at forums that were organised by the met office in France. The met office in France felt that it would be useful to bring together weather presenters once a year to discuss how best to communicate climate change to move the public to action. Every year they have a forum that lasts for 5 days in Europe. That’s how most of us met. The founder of Climate without Borders thought it would be good to start this organisation to get partnerships with governments, universities etc. to be able to communicate better. How I came into the picture was that a couple of years ago the WMO was holding training for weather presenters, and my boss put my name forward to participate in the training along with a few of my colleagues. Following that, I got invited to one of these forums for weather and climate, and that’s how I met everyone. From then, Climate without Borders was started.
How does your role at the Kenyan Meteorological Department fit in to your work with Climate without Borders?
At Climate without Borders, because we are a network of weather presenters from all around the world, everyone reports on significant weather events happening in their vicinity but also around the world. With my work at the Kenya Meteorological Department, I have access to the impacts of adverse weather. I shared this with all my colleagues and they shared it with their own media so if they need a better explanation of why a certain occurrence is extreme or if they think it is related to climate change then I can offer this background information that I have of the weather and climate in East Africa and Kenya in general.
We work a lot with meteorological services and a big issue they tend to come up against is how they can get the data that they collect to the end-user. How do you solve this challenge with the work that you do?
I would say that we are the bridge between the science and the people. As scientists, we have jargon that we use and a lot of the time it doesn’t matter what other people think of it. It’s helpful in our small circle but it’s not useful to the end-user. What we’ve had to do is learn how to communicate and tailor information so that it is useful. For example, a farmer and a policy developer would want the same information but it should be packaged differently. We’ve been trained on how to communicate, without watering down the message, so that it is useful to the whole spectrum of our users. Another thing is the media that we use. Initially, the KMD just had a website so we were just putting information on the website and then we would send out emails to a mailing list that we had. We realised that a lot of people would make decisions without incorporating that information and then blame us. We thought that if we had a better presence, we would have plausible deniability, so if we put it out there people should use it. That’s why we decided to use social media. We did try getting back on television but there is was lot of bureaucracy and politics so it didn’t work out. We’ve focused on social media and now we’re working on having a youtube page with regular weather presentations.
If a country is financially challenged, what would be your top recommendations to solve this challenge? What are the things they could implement that would have the most impact?
I think finding out who their biggest users are would be very important and again, social media is very strong in terms of its reach. It doesn’t have to be elaborate but just finding a way to get information out to the masses.
What social media channels would you recommend? You’ve said youtube is strong but what others do you think would be best to use?
Twitter for us has been the best. We have almost an immediate interaction with our users. We have a similar experience with Facebook but Twitter we’ve found to be almost real-time and people are very willing to interact with us. We also have an Instagram page but that is less interactive so Twitter and Facebook are the most interactive.
You’ve said that you are looking to work with governments and create partnerships. How would someone go about working with you?
For NHMS, the WMO is the perfect place to start. For example, we work with the WMO as Climate without Borders and the Kenya Meteorological Department. The WMO helps us to get our message out and to present our information better to the public. I think the WMO is mandated to help national met services.
In terms of the KMD, we work closely with the Red Cross because they have a very wide reach. We send them information on anticipated extreme weather events and they use it when responding to extreme weather. This allows them to communicate better.
We also work with university. For example, we work with the University of Nairobi to understand user-needs because they have the staff and capabilities to organise surveys. We then implement the findings they’ve collected. They are very useful as a partner to the met service.
How does the KMD keep its staff trained? For example, for the maintenance of new equipment.
We always take any opportunities for training that are presented to us. For example, every year a staff member goes to the US, they spend about 4 months there and then when they come back, they train their fellow meteorologists.
We also have a WMO training centre and every Thursday we hold a seminar where someone presents a report or a short training of staff. We sometimes have visiting scientists and all staff are welcome to attend a briefing. You can really come out with a lot from these trainings, especially if your particular area of work is being talked about.
You said that you often have visiting scientists. Do you have other types of visitors to help with training? Such as people from companies or neighbouring met services?
When it comes to training for instrumentation, sometimes if we have a visiting scientist from a neighbouring met service, like Uganda, and they have best practices in a certain discipline, then they would give a seminar on how they do it.
If there was a met service that wanted to create stronger partnerships with their surrounding countries, what would you say would be the best way to do that?
I think training initiatives would be best and I’ve seen it happen. The WMO training that we had on how to be better communicators was organised for southern African countries. They all came to Nairobi and we were training together. So I think everything is easier when countries collaborate on training because it also saves on the cost of training for everyone.
Another advantage we have in Kenya is that we house the IGAD Climate Prediction and Application Centre (ICPAC). They coordinate weather and climate activities for the Greater Horn of Africa and a lot of the time we have visiting scientists holding training from all those countries here in Nairobi and our meteorologists often take part.
You briefly alluded to how this kind of collaboration can save on costs. What other ways do you think financially challenged departments could improve their practices? For instance, would closer partnerships lead to better bargaining power with organisations like the World Bank and WMO?
Yes I believe so. Also, it is easier for people to invest if they also see the benefit they are getting. For example, if they were to approach big companies to support them with training, they must request it in such a way that these companies will also benefit. If they do it this way they will find it easier to get funding. One example is solar energy. Met services should show companies that provide solar energy the advantage of training meteorologists to sensitise people on the benefits of using solar technology. If they could package the information in such a way that it is mutually beneficial to the one providing the money and those receiving the training, I think that should go a long way to securing funding and implementing programs that will benefit them.
Do you have any final thoughts that you would like to share with our readership?
I know that some of your readership are directors and I want to say that it is very important for them to listen to their staff. I’ve seen initiatives work because directors were willing to listen to low level staff. There are a lot of novel ideas that can be gained from looking to your staff.
Also, I feel collaboration is the way forward in the future because there are some things that we do very well and there are things that others can do very well. Collaboration is very useful.
Communication is the big thing for me. We really need to put out what we’re doing because we just end up with really good research but it doesn’t benefit anyone. You publish a paper and you feel really accomplished in your small corner but it doesn’t impact on the general population. If met services could invest in communication and insemination of information, it would go a long way in improving how people view our output and how we can positively impact people.