Posts Tagged by FAQs
|April 28, 2011||Posted by karmadsen under blog, Drinking Water, Groundwater and Surface Water, Groundwater Education, Groundwater in the News, Groundwater Modeling, Groundwater Regulation|
Earlier this week, SiskiyouDaily.com‘s David Smith reported on a public workshop for the Scott Valley groundwater basin model. Based on the report, I thought this forum stood out as a particularly good example of how to communicate with the public about groundwater models. In contrast, I have read several cringe-worthy examples of experts delivering convoluted messages to constituents that obfuscate the process and minimize the uncertainty of modeling.
This post delineates steps I think groundwater modelers and policy makers can use to better communicate with stakeholders.
The audience you are speaking to may not be remotely familiar with groundwater modeling or hydrogeolgy. The public may be better positioned to make decisions based on a model once they have been educated on the basics of groundwater modeling.
On April 20, 2011, the California Regional Water Quality Control Board held a public workshop to share information regarding the development of the Scott Valley groundwater basin model.
At the workshop, Dr. Thomas Harter updated the public on the model’s developments, but he also presented an overview of groundwater modeling basics. He explained the concepts of hydraulic conductivity, geologic units, the bedrock basement, the model grid, the effect of cell size, and calibration.
What are the most important bits of information that public needs to understand the groundwater model? The USGS recently wrote a Frequently Asked Questions attachment for a groundwater modeling report. Here are some of the questions it tackled:
- How can the model be used?
- How was the model created?
- What are the model’s limitations?
- What training or expertise is needed to use the model?
- What is the study area?
- Why is groundwater important?
- Where can I get more information about the model?1
Be an effective communicator
Toastmasters International has written the 10 Commandments of Communication. Here are a few that I think are especially relevant to groundwater modelers:
- Listen generously. This is the number one commandment of communication. As experts in a narrow field, it’s easy to think that we have all the answers. But remember, the conclusions of the model will not be taken seriously if the community doesn’t believe in it.
- Align yourself with the audience. Learn and articulate the feelings and concerns of the audience.
- Speak to be understood. Avoid jargon and overly technical language. Most people can quickly grasp the basic theory of groundwater modeling if it is explained to them it a clear, concise way.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many words is a computer animation worth? Groundwater models lend themselves to animation and animation can quickly and clearly communicate certain concepts (such as the fate of a chemical plume through time) much better than a written report can.2
Stakeholders may want to examine the data sources that were used to construct the model.3 Be as transparent as possible and direct them to the appropriate sources. If certain model inputs are propriety, explain why.
Be prepared to describe the modeling software used and the educational and professional expertise of the engineers who developed the model. This information will not only establish the model’s credibility, it will also help to explain and justify the budget.4 After all, tax dollars often help pay for groundwater models.
Make it personal
Groundwater can seem remote and disconnected from our everyday lives. Show your audience how groundwater effects them personally. For example, initiatives that encourage people to safely dispose of chemicals can relate groundwater protection to safe drinking water. Draw the connection between groundwater, drinking water, and the health of rivers and lakes.
Make it memorable
The Wayland, MA Wellhead Protection Committee developed the following catchphrase: “what you pour on the ground can come out of your faucet.”5
Make it easy for your audience to retain the most important information long after they have left the public forum.
Publish a newsletter
The Kansas Department of Agriculture’s Division of Water Resources has published a number of newsletters to disseminate updates on groundwater modeling programs. Newsletters can increase participation by reaching residents who couldn’t have made a public forum. They can serve as a useful reference, providing phone numbers and websites for individuals who need more information.
*Note about the references
Several of the references are examples of meeting minutes in whichI felt experts did a good job communicating groundwater models with stakeholders.
1. Pool, D.R., Blasch, K.W., Callegary, J.B, Leake, S,A. and Graser, L.F. (2011). Regional Groundwater-Flow Model of the Redwall-Muav, Coconino, and Alluvial Basin Aquifer System of Nothern and Central Arizona: Frequently Asked Questions Attachment. Reston, Virginia: US Geological Survey. Scientific Investigations Report 2010-5180.
2. Installation Restoration Program: Massachusetts Military Reservation. (2004). Falmouth Information Public Meeting: April 7, 2004. Accessed April, 27, 2011. Available at: http://www.mmr.org/construction/swoupublicmeetingminutes.htm
3. San Antonio River Authority. (2002). Meeting Minutes for the Seventh Carrizo-Wilcox Groundwater Availability Model (GAM) Stakeholder Advisory Forum (SAF) Meeting. San Antonio, Texas. Accessed April, 27, 2011. Available at: http://www.twdb.state.tx.us/gam/czwx_s/SAF7_CW-s_qa_a.pdf
4. Seaside Groundwater Basin Watermaster. (2006). Regular Meeting Minutes: September 13, 2006. Accessed April, 27, 2011. Available at: http://www.seasidebasinwatermaster.org/Minutes.pdf/091306%20minutes.pdf
5. Wayland Wellhead Protection Committee. (2009). Meeting Minutes (#50). Accessed June, 21, 2011. Available at: http://www.wayland.ma.us/pages/WaylandMA_WellheadMin/2009%20Minutes/WPC50minutes5Nov09finalpdf.pdf
More information about the work of the Wayland Wellhead Protection Committee can be found in their Wellhead Protection Plan June 2011.