Edited Version August 4, 1999 Transcript
EIIP Virtual Online Library Presentation

"Communication Between Researchers and Practitioners"

Adele Chiesa
Head of the Learning Resource Center
National Emergency Training Center
Emmitsburg, MD

Roger Pielke, Jr.
Environmental and Societal Impacts Group
National Center for Atmospheric Research
Boulder, Colorado

EIIP Moderator: Amy Sebring

The original unedited transcript of the August 4, 1999 online Virtual Library presentation is available in the EIIP Virtual Forum Archives (http://www.emforum.org). The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. Typos were corrected, date/time/names attributed by the software to each input were deleted but the content of questions and responses are as stated by each participant. Answers from the participants to questions by the audience are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning.


Amy Sebring: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Library!

• For the benefit of our first-timers, when you see a blue Web address, you can click on it and the referenced Web page should appear in a browser window.

• After the first one, the browser window may not automatically come to the top, so you may need to bring it forward by clicking on a button at the status bar at the bottom of your screen.

• Please do not send private messages to the moderator or our guest during the session as it makes it difficult for us to follow the discussion.

• Right before we begin the Q&A portion we will review how to submit questions/comments.

• For background info on today's session, please see <http://www.emforum.org/vlibrary/990804.htm>

A couple of weeks ago during a Round Table session, it was suggested we devote a session to the Communication (or lack thereof) Between Researchers and Practitioners, and we took our earliest opportunity to do so. A study on this very question has recently been conducted in connection with the Second Assessment, and it seems to confirm, at least the perceptions out there on this issue. I very much suspect that this question is not unique to the disaster business.


Today, we would like to start a dialogue on this topic, and we are pleased to have two knowledgeable individuals with us to help start the discussion.

First, Adele Chiesa is the head of the Learning Resource Center at the National Emergency Training Center in Emmitsburg, MD. She has been a Librarian with FEMA, the USFA, and the LRC for 23 years, and has had during that time many opportunities to assist practitioners with requests for information and resources. Welcome Adele.

Adele Chiesa: Thanks, Amy

Amy Sebring: We are also pleased to welcome back Roger Pielke, Jr., Scientist with the Environmental and Societal Impacts Group of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

Roger's research focuses on the relation of scientific information and public and private sector decision-making and I would say is particularly interested in communication issues. Good afternoon, Roger or should I say good morning.

Roger Pielke: Thanks for having me back! Still morning here.

Amy Sebring: I have prepared a list of discussion questions, and although both of these individuals are familiar with both sides of the coin, we have asked Adele to represent the practitioner point of view, and Roger the researcher.



Amy Sebring: First, Roger, how do researchers go about selecting a topic to study?

Roger Pielke: There are a number of factors. One is curiosity. People want to know why things are, how they work, etc. and set about to gain new knowledge. This was how research was typically conducted in the 19th century.

Another is societal needs. Researchers study cancer or disasters, not only because of curiosity, but also because society has expressed a need for solutions related to these issues. New knowledge is sought because it can make a difference.

In U.S. science policy since World War II, curiosity-driven research (usually called "basic" research) and research focused on societal needs (called "applied" research or development) are in theory connected via a reservoir/pipeline metaphor.

In other words, basic researchers fill the reservoir with knowledge, and applied researchers form part of the pipeline through which this knowledge flows to practitioners. Thus, to regulate the flow, all government has to do is to maintain the level of the reservoir and flow through the pipeline via funding decisions.

In reality, as opposed to theory, the reservoir/pipeline model does not always work so effectively. For instance, how do basic researchers, supposedly driven by curiosity, know what research will lead to useful knowledge without systematically getting information from practitioners? The bottom line is that in reality the situation is much more complex, and our national science policies have yet to recognize this complexity.

We can return to this in the Q&A if you'd like, but for more on this topic, see Pielke, Jr., R. A. And R. Byerly, Jr. 1998. "Beyond basic and applied," Physics Today 51(2):42-46. and Byerly, R., Jr. and R. A. Pielke Jr., 1995. "The Changing Ecology of United States Science," Science, 269:1531-1532.


Amy Sebring: Adele, what kinds of information do your users come looking for? Who are they, and do they generally find answers?

Adele Chiesa: Most simply ask a topical question - what have you got on xyz subject? Sometimes they'll ask for sample plans or SOPs. Our most important products though are the bibliographies that we supply on demand to anyone who asks.

First responders, by far, use the LRC the most and yes, I think we usually can provide what they need. And if we can't, we try to refer them to experts and other organizations that can.


Amy Sebring: Roger, once a study has been conducted, how can a user know that the findings are valid?

Roger Pielke: There are different kinds of findings. First, there are studies of trends, i.e., things that happened in the past. Second, there are studies of cause and effect, i.e., why things happen the way that they do. And third, there are predictive studies, i.e., what will happen in the future.

Assessing the validity of each can be difficult. For example, we can easily assess weather predictions because we have so much experience with them. The NWS issues about 10 million a year!! Predictions of earthquakes provides much less experience on which to assess their validity, hence responses have focused much less on prediction. For things like climate change we will never have the relevant experience (or at least not for a long long time).

For studies of the past and of cause/effect we are much better able to assess their validity, because we can apply various methods and trials (e.g., via an experiment in a lab). So if you want to know what sorts of structures can withstand an earthquake, researchers can tell you this with high reliability.


Amy Sebring: Adele, do you find users have difficulty knowing what information can be relied on?

Adele Chiesa: Not really. The majority of the information we provide is usually from published sources that have gone through some kind of a review before publication. Users themselves have to decide about those of a more dubious nature. In this category I would put sample EOPs, SOPs, and other local publications that are simply provided to users as examples of what's out there already. The LRC doesn't, nor should it, label these as good, bad or reliable.


Amy Sebring: Roger, what are the traditional ways that research is published or made known?

Roger Pielke: The short answer is that research is generally published in specialized journals that is not too accessible to researchers outside one's own field, much less practitioners. Too rarely is the question "So what?" asked or answered of research findings.


Amy Sebring: Adele and Roger, in your experience are practitioners apt to go to these sources? What other sources do they use? Adele first please.

Adele Chiesa: As I've said already, research usually ends up in scholarly journals and books or technical reports. I don't believe that practitioners are apt to go to these sources.

This is where libraries and information centers like the LRC can really make a difference. Since practitioners are our bread and butter, we can point them in directions that they would not normally have gone. BUT, if the material isn't readable and accessible to the practitioner, ultimately they won't use the information and all of us fail.


Amy Sebring: Roger, do you have an additional comment?

Roger Pielke: There is often a "middle ground" between research journals and useable knowledge that is found in newsletters, popular publications, and importantly, the media. A great challenge for everyone is to distill complex and specialized knowledge into information that has practical relevance. I don't think that researchers spend enough time understanding and expressing the significance of their work.


Amy Sebring: Adele and Roger, are some of the newer opportunities like the Web being utilized by both sides?

Roger Pielke: Yes, I think that this Forum is a great example. At NCAR we have made a lot of contacts with practitioners through the WWW. But it is like anything else, if you just put up a reprint of your latest article in the Journal of You Can't Read My Specialized Jargon, it may be available, but probably of little use.


Amy Sebring: Adele?

Adele Chiesa: Absolutely. In spite of the bleak picture I've painted, I think the web is making a difference. Some people don't like to ask for help. What's better than finding things out for yourself in the privacy of your own office or home?

Since the LRC put its "card catalog" up on the Internet in May 1998, requests for bibliographies and searches have gone down fifty percent. Our Interlibrary loans have commensurately skyrocketed.

People are compiling their own bibliographies and consequently they want to look at the materials they've identified. The web sites accessing us most often are not from academia. Practitioners still dominate.


Amy Sebring: Roger, what role, if any, should practitioners have in determining research questions and how?

Roger Pielke: My view is that practitioners should be involved in the research process at all stages from the initial setting of priorities to the interpretation of the significance of results. One research program that I have been involved with, the U.S. Weather Research Program has adopted this philosophy and has a "User Advisory Group" that helps to guide implementation of the program.

The needs of practitioners will be more effectively met if they have a seat at the table. But this is contrary to how science has traditionally been done, where researchers do research.


Amy Sebring: Adele, what is the appropriate role of government in dissemination?

Adele Chiesa: The government has a clearly legislated role to disseminate its own publications and reports. It does this through vehicles like the National Technical Information Service, and other Federal agencies whose primary mission is dissemination.

For Federal libraries like the LRC, I believe it is more important to assist in identification rather than dissemination. We are bound by copyright restrictions just like everyone else.

The LRC indexes over 100 fire service, EMS, emergency management and disaster journals. In addition, we purchase articles from journals to which we do not subscribe and index them as well. In one location on the web - <www.lrc.fema.gov> - these journals and all our books and reports are searchable by title, author, freetext or subject. Over 100,000 bibliographic records. Please use them.


Amy Sebring: The study conducted for the second assessment mentions four factors affecting knowledge transfer. Can both of you comment on each of these following factors? Cultural differences between researchers and practitioners, particularly the language barrier. Adele?

Adele Chiesa: Perhaps both sides need to be more goal-oriented. What is the mission or goal of any research? Is it research for research's sake? Practitioners also have to embrace the professional goal of staying current in their field. The Second Assessment states that "some researchers did not feel that it was their responsibility to write in accessible language." Well, some do!.

I see the research on and the concepts of sustainable development and its relationship to the "hazardness of a place" in the planning literature. The scientific research that produced GPS and GIS are other areas that come to mind. The topics are hit and miss though. If the goal of research is at least in part to make it useful in the real world, researchers need to market the practical applications of their research.


Amy Sebring: You have already touched on this language question, Roger. Any further comment?

Roger Pielke: Jargon is a problem. But not only between researchers and practitioners, but between researchers and other researchers, and practitioners and other practitioners. I was surprised to learn that meteorologists and structural engineers measure wind differently (peak 1 min gust versus fastest mile), and that this sometimes causes confusion. Because specialized knowledge is necessary, it will always be a problem. It would seem that the best thing to do is be aware of it and work to communicate at every opportunity.


Amy Sebring: Institutional barriers such as the "publish or perish" climate at universities, and lack of resources or rewards for users to seek out information. Adele?

Adele Chiesa: Archaic ways of doing things always die a slow death and most people, let alone institutions, don't like change. The leaders in power must initiate the kind of change that's needed here. It has to start at the top.

Rewards for researchers that reach the practitioners and rewards for practitioners that embrace that research must be institutionalized. I would love to be able to say that I see this phenomenon occur often. But I don't.


Amy Sebring: Roger?

Roger Pielke: I would call them obstacles rather than barriers. There are a lot of instances where these obstacles have been overcome. A challenge that we face is to rework our science policies in a way that more effectively connects the results of research with the needs of decision makers.


Amy Sebring: I am combining the last two factors, lack of linkages and lack of interaction and opportunities together. Adele?

Adele Chiesa: I really think that this is a diminishing factor. The Internet has increased the linkages of everything to everything. Librarians marvel AND cringe at the Internet's scope. But practitioners have the easiest access ever to global resources in their field. I think they have to accept some responsibility for tapping the wealth of information that is at their disposal.

It doesn't matter where you are anymore as much as it is important that you have access to a computer, email, the Internet etc. There are major conferences that are not held in cities OR small towns but in cyberspace.


Amy Sebring: Roger, you also have pointed out some improvements in this area as well?

Roger Pielke: I am sure that a lack of money and time are also in there somewhere. I don't have the answer, but it is clear that improved linkages and interaction can facilitate the process. But as this Forum shows there are ample opportunities to create linkages and interactions, but as Adele said, the real challenge is to institutionalize them.

Amy Sebring: Thank you both. We would now like to open up this discussion to the audience, and use this opportunity to brainstorm some ideas about how we can enhance the dialogue between researchers and practitioners.

If you have a question or comment, please input a question mark (?) and wait for recognition from the moderator before sending it in. Please compose your remark and have it ready to submit but do not send it in until you are recognized, and if it is addressed to Roger or Adele in particular, please so indicate. We are ready to start now. First question, comment, idea?

[Audience Questions]


Mike Penner: One way perhaps is to make more of an organized effort to mix pure researchers with practitioners, such as at the Boulder Workshop.

Amy Sebring: Yes, in fact the organizers made it a point to request that more practitioners be invited next year. Comment on Mike's comment, Adele or Roger? Other events of this type available?

Mike Penner: Yes, for instance the national IAEM Conference.

Amy Sebring: The National Hurricane Conference also comes to mind.

Roger Pielke: There are a lot of what I would call "problem-focused events". For instance, the NWS often holds meetings with forecasters and users of forecasts.


Avagene Moore: Adele, do your statistics break down the categories or disciplines of practitioners accessing your resources? If so, who are the primary users?

Adele Chiesa: Our statistics focus on user groups - fire, law enforcement, local government. First responders use us the most.

Amy Sebring: Research findings hopefully find their way into training and course materials, but there seems to be a bit of lag time there. Do those who have responsibility for education have a special responsibility? Adele or Roger?


Roger Pielke: Well, my view is that any one who accepts public money for education OR research has a special responsibility. The public pays for such things with an expectation that useful information will result. That requires careful attention from everyone in the process. Adele, do teachers use your facilities?

Adele Chiesa: Trainers not academicians.

Mike Penner: To shorten that lag time between research findings and street application, Amy, this year at the KEMA conference we're having a first-ever roundtable called New Concepts in Emergency Management. Its goal is that direct translation of research to application; letting emergency managers know what has recently been discovered, such as the in-residence shelter concept, etc.

Amy Sebring: Thanks Mike, that sounds like a good idea and maybe will be emulated. K= Kansas?

Mike Penner: Yes, Kansas.


David Crews: Is the reason first responders use the studies most is that they are more tactical in nature than strategic (Long Range)?

Adele Chiesa: Let me clarify. First responders tend to go to first responder literature. Trade journals etc.


Cam King: Adele - does your library handle international research topics as well? ILC?

Adele Chiesa: Yes. But since we have no way of translating - only English language materials.


Avagene Moore: Roger, you mentioned time and money as a factor. Would you elaborate and perhaps we can discuss from different perspectives?

Roger Pielke: Let me illustrate with an example. Weather researchers have their hands full trying to conduct their research and write grants. Users of weather information, emergency managers for example, have their hands full as well. What if the funding agencies made as a requirement to obtain research support that researchers would have to spend some of their time and project funds working with practitioners to transfer research into practical knowledge? I am sure that many practitioners would welcome the chance and additional resources, and it would have a bottom line result on improving the interface. Business as usual means that people spend a lot of time in their own worlds.


Amy Sebring: For any of our IAEM Certification Committee members, is there any requirement along these lines for certification/re-certification? Requirement to show that the CEM keeps up with research?

Avagene Moore: Amy, I am a commissioner. No, not that I recall; however, the CEM portfolio gives credit for writing for publication as a contribution to the profession. Might be worth pushing to the CEM Commission.


Amy Sebring: One idea that was mentioned during our Round Table was some kind of digest. Would this be feasible/useful? A place for one stop shopping? Adele and/or Roger?

Roger Pielke: Such things are useful, e.g., we have a "WeatherZine" that seeks to do something similar but it is always important to remember that dissemination is not the same as communication, and I don't think there is any substitute for down and dirty human-to-human interaction!

Adele Chiesa: I agree with Roger. As a person who reads digests and newsletters for a living. I can guarantee that they are mostly about dissemination not communication. Nor are they instruments of change, which is what we are really talking about here.


Avagene Moore: Another perspective on time and money issue: the practitioners. This is the main reason we hear that people don't use the Internet, go to conferences, get more training, etc. I am not sure I buy that, particularly in using technology. Is it time and money or is it education and change of old habits or mindset? Adele?

Adele Chiesa: I think the latter. Practitioners do have a responsibility to get out of "we've always done it that way". I know there are practitioners out there who don't want to bother with NETC courses and training.

David Crews: Maybe a strategic planning interface of some sort could help translate research into operational capabilities.


Amy Sebring: I hear frequently of information overload in this age. It may be a question of how priorities are set. We seem to set them by what is most urgent at any given time. We are just about out of time. Adele, any final comments?

Adele Chiesa: Yes; first of all, thanks for having me. I think overall communications are improving between the groups. But there is a long way to go. I think EM leaders have to change the way things are done and set new priorities as we've discussed.

Final Question:

Amy Sebring: Roger, final thoughts?

Roger Pielke: Thanks again for having me. I think that the connection of research and its use will be one of the most important issues in US science policy as we go into the next century. We have spent so much time adding to the "body" of knowledge, that we don't know what that body looks like. There are a lot of cases where problems occurred, not because we didn't have the knowledge, but because we failed to use it appropriately. One case is the Red River floods. A paper is at <http://www.dir.ucar.edu/esig/redriver/>. So I think this conversation is an important one.

Amy Sebring: Many thanks to Roger and Adele and to our audience for a stimulating discussion. Please note that the links to the LRC and to WeatherZine are on the background page.

Audience, before you go, please take this opportunity to pledge your support by clicking on the pledge banner when it comes around. We are asking for a commitment to 1 or more sessions per month, not money! If you pledge today, then this session will count. If any pledges come in during the next few minutes, we will ring a bell for you!

Avagene Moore: Thanks, Amy. Adele and Roger, excellent discussion today! Thank you!

Adele Chiesa: You're welcome.

Amy Sebring: Avagene, coming events please?

Avagene Moore: The Round Table on Tuesday, August 10, 12 Noon EDT, is hosted by FEMA's Community & Family Preparedness Program. The session will be moderated by Kellye Junchaya with guest speaker from FireWise, Judith Leraas Cook.

On Wednesday, August 11, 12 Noon EDT, Jim McGinty, President of Protection Planning, will be with us in the Virtual Classroom to discuss Bomb Threat Management. Jim is a recognized speaker on Critical Incident Management and Bomb Threat Assessment. Don't miss this session.

As a reminder: We will celebrate the EIIP Virtual Forum's second anniversary/birthday on Wednesday August 18, 12 Noon EDT. We have special things planned for that occasion and can only accommodate 50 people. Make plans to attend and arrive fashionably early.

That's all for now, Amy.

Amy Sebring: Thank you, Avagene, and thank you all. This session is adjourned, but you are welcome to stay a few minutes longer for open discussion.