ChangeS Webinar Series 2011-2012

Sept 19th , 2011
Reflections on Communicating Ensemble Forecasts: A case study from European flood prevention
Dr. Sébastien Nobert, King's College London


Drawing on interviews and ethnographic experiences with operational flood forecasters from across Europe, this presentation highlights a number of challenges to communicating and using predictive science in risk management. I show how operational flood forecasters understand the skill, operational limitations, and informational value of ensemble prediction systems (EPS) products in a variety of different and sometimes contradictory ways. Despite the efforts of forecasting agencies to design effective ways to communicate EPS forecasts to non-experts, operational flood forecasters were often sceptical about their ability to understand or use them appropriately, and thus, to act adequately in flood risk context

I argue that better training and closer contacts between operational flood forecasters and EPS system designers can help ensure the uncertainty represented by EPS forecasts is represented in ways that are most appropriate and meaningful for their intended consumers. But I also highlight some fundamental political and institutional challenges to using ensembles and predictions for risk management policies, such as differing attitudes to false alarms and to responsibility and blame in the event of blown or mistaken forecasts.

The scientific uncertainties about whether or not a flood will occur comprise only part of the wider 'decision' uncertainties faced by those charged with flood protection, who must also consider questions about how warnings they issue will subsequently be interpreted. By making those first order scientific uncertainties more explicit, ensemble forecasts can sometimes complicate, rather than clarify, the second order decision uncertainties they are supposed to inform. This microcosm helps us to link with wider the debate about climate change adaptation and mitigation and offers an interesting perspective on whether we need more science in current environmental risk management

Speaker: Sébastien Nobert is a geographer with a broad research expertise in environmental politics, social theory and science studies. His interest in understanding the significance of simulation modelling in generating different understandings of the biophysical world led him to work as an ESRC post-doctoral research associate working on the contested understandings of uncertainty, risk, science and responsibility involved in flood forecasting and governance in Europe. He is currently a research fellow at the Department of Geography at King’s College London, working on developing ways to communicate scientific uncertainties to non experts as part of a pan European project (KULTURisk). He is also a co-investigator on a recently awarded ESRC grant for a project looking at flood risk communication with the British public. He has published on the role exercised by scientific discourse and practices in debates about the management of the Canadian boreal forest as well as on the communication of science and uncertainties to non- scientists in the context of flood risk management.

Time: Sept, 19th 2011 11:00 am (Rome CET)
Duration: 1 hour. The presentation will be 45 minutes + 15 minutes Q&A

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- Presentation Slides (.pdf)