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User Focus

Many aspects of the development and evolution of National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) have been driven primarily by user demand for services, and the use by NMHSs of advances in meteorological science and scientific technology for product design and service delivery. It is essential therefore, that public weather services programmes be clearly seen as being dedicated to the service of the public, and based on a complete understanding of, and response to user requirements if they are to retain validity, credibility and public and political support.

It is therefore important to consider that any development of NMHSs through their public weather services, should be undertaken in response to the real and stated needs of the user community, and not as an end in itself. To ascertain the requirements of users is an on-going task requiring continuous communication and consultation, since these requirements change over time.

The NMHSs commitment to serve users

User focus should begin with consideration of the end-use application of any product that is being developed. This is an external focus that provides an understanding and insights on user needs and how those needs are changing. In turn, this understanding informs and directs the internal focus on programmes, activities and resources needed to meet those needs.

Service to users represents the main purpose for the existence of public weather services. Delivery of effective services needs an organisation-wide commitment involving the NMS leadership, technical systems and research, management and those directly involved in service delivery.

The difference between products and services

The pursuit of effective public weather services must start with a clear differentiation between products and services. A product originating from the NMHS could be current weather, short-range forecasts, medium-range forecasts, monthly or seasonal forecasts, climate information and environmental information. The packaging, adding-value and delivery of this product through the media, mail, telephone, fax, computer services or the Internet constitute services. From these simple definitions it can be seen that improving a product does not automatically lead to service improvement. Also, improved services may not be of much use if they are not based on the most accurate and complete products available.

The importance of User Focus

The NMHS management and staff need to be aware of the full range of benefits to be derived from a user-focused approach. The following are some of the reasons why user focus is so important:

  • It fulfils the NMHS mission to provide warnings, forecasts and information for the benefit of the national community;
  • It is tangible payback to the national community who, as taxpayers, should expect to benefit from government investment in the NMHS;
  • It brings an understanding of community needs which the NMHS should try to meet and even exceed;
  • It provides the opportunity to analyse prevailing perceptions of the NMHS performance and to use the results of the analysis to improve products and services thereby engendering positive user perceptions;
  • It influences the NMHS to focus on financial and human resources, operational procedures and priorities, and appropriate systems and technology to meet user requirements;
  • It eliminates the tendency for ad hoc and sometimes unfocused handling of a central obligation of the NMHS, and installs a planned programme of meaningful and effective service provision.

Public weather services user groups

Users of public weather services span a broad spectrum from emergency management agencies, to the person who follows the weather forecast to decide on whether to take along an umbrella on the way to work. The NMHS must seek to know the users of its information. Generally, they may be divided into four main groups as follows:

  • The hazards community - the mission (shared with the NMHS) of these organisations is to ensure safety of life and protection of property. The NMHS should consult and coordinate closely with them, know their specific requirements and give them high priority;
  • Government authorities - these will often seek various services from the NMHS. It is important to ascertain the requirements of this group and to maintain formal communication with them;
  • Weather-sensitive economic sectors - these include among others, agriculture, transport, energy production, construction, sport and outdoor entertainment. Their needs can be very specific, involving weather and climate information and forecasts for projects and operations, or for outdoor events;
  • The public - they must be warned about severe weather so as to take prompt action to preserve life and secure property. Their routine needs relate to travel, leisure and general convenience. Many times their requirements are vague and have to be better ascertained by means of comprehensive, fact-finding surveys.

Liaison with the user

The acceptance of the NMHS products by the public and other users depends almost exclusively on the quality of its services. Effective, quality service will contribute to welcome improvements in public image and profile, as well as improved status and enhanced visibility of the NMHS. The criteria to check service quality are composed of three strongly related parts:

  • User requirements - do the products fully meet the needs of users?
  • User satisfaction - are the users satisfied with the format of the products, the means of dissemination, etc.?
  • User perception - does the user understand the content of the products? Does the user have trust in the products of the NMHS and see them as credible?

How to assess user requirements, satisfaction and perception

The starting point should be the evaluation of the current services. Further evaluations may be conducted as the need arises and depending on which assessment approach is utilized. The following lists a number of techniques that can be applied:

  • Surveys, questionnaires, interviews and in-depth case studies to identify in a broad overview the users' needs and expectations; outside expertise might be required;
  • Fora and workshops with users' participation in order to learn their requirements and to apprise them of the capabilities of the NMHS;
  • Pilot projects in concert with users to develop products and services on a longer term to meet the stated requirements;
  • Monitoring feedback of user response through press clippings, letters, phone-calls, fax, suggestion boxes or the Internet;
  • Interaction with users during Open Days, World Meteorological Day and activities of the NMHS outreach programme;
  • Regular meetings with government agencies and emergency managers to ascertain their information needs.

Types of services

Once user requirements are known, the technical department of the NMHS will deal with what is required to produce the new products and services, within the limits of the NMHS resources and capabilities. The staff responsible for public weather services activities will decide on the type, timing, frequency, means of dissemination and presentation format of the services to be offered, and coordinate with the technical departments concerned, to ensure that the proposed services can be realistically delivered with the available resources.

 
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