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3. Users and the GCDIS

Several different types of users will require data and information contained in or pointed to by the GCDIS. Each will need different means of information identification, access, and documentation, and each will need different information products to suit its applications. User requirements will fall into three broad categories. The first major category of users will be the general research community, which will primarily need access to raw and lightly processed data for basic studies. This group will include discipline-oriented researchers, graduate students, and educators requiring data and information for advanced college courses. This group will require sophisticated browse capabilities, and will have access to the more sophisticated computers, interfaces, and networks. The data volume for this group will be the largest of the three general user communities, but the information content per datum will also be the lowest.

The second major user group comprises those needing summary or multidisciplinary integrated data sets that have been assembled by researchers or data centers to address a particular global change problem. These higher-level integrated data sets are assembled from primary discipline-oriented data. Examples of such products include long-term climate records (carefully quality assured) used to estimate historic climate changes and integrated geologic, geographic, oceanographic, ecological, and meteorological data sets used to predict the effects of potential sea level rising. Access to such data sets will require less browse capabilities and will be used by researchers and others with less data-handling capability. These data products will also be used by those investigators pursuing integrated assessment activities or teaching environmental courses.

The third group of users will be those interested in high-level information products that directly address global change issues in ways helpful in decision-making processes for anticipating and adapting to environmental changes. These products will be rich in information and might include, for example, summaries of expected changes of agricultural crop ranges due to temperature and moisture changes. Such products have the highest information density and could also be used by those in private enterprise and government concerned with planning for changes in the projected economic basis for a region's industry. That such products are directly linked to recognizable environmental conditions may make them the most useful data products for the general public and primary or secondary school use. Access to these products may be through more traditional means, such as responding to paper announcements or phoning data centers directly. Their actual production media may often be paper based.

Users in the second and third categories will need specially tailored GCDIS directory capabilities for locating the data and information applicable to their initial needs without being confronted by the confusing (to them) amounts of data and information available through the GCDIS system.

Diversity of the Users

The complexity of global change issues is reflected in the diversity of the potential users of the GCDIS. Since the GCDIS will be responsive to users of the system, it is important that there be a systematic approach to characterizing users in order to understand their needs better. The design and implementation of a system like the GCDIS depend on the nature of the functions the users are performing in their interaction with the system. The access components of the system will depend on the sophistication of the users or their intermediaries, and the contents will be driven primarily by the types of questions the users need to answer within their own particular problem domains.

For example, the following user scenario (and Figure 3) illustrates that an individual researcher doing a scientific assessment can take advantage of the internal connectivity provided by the GCDIS.

International negotiators of the United Nations require the answers to many policy-relevant questions on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, including, for example, the importance of global, regional, and national biomass burning to the emissions of GHGs. In this scenario, the CENR SGCR assigns the science assessment of the importance of biomass burning to EPA, which designates a manager and forms an interagency, international team that defines the scope of the investigation to answer two questions (see the bottom of Figure 3) on the current status of emissions and their sensitivities to natural and managed changes, and future emissions for various managed scenarios.

The science assessors agree to attack the questions by producing a science assessment report that will be produced in sequence (moving from right to left in the diagram) from global or regional modeling products, data products, archives, observations, measurements, and process studies. The science assessors specify the accuracy, precision, representibility, and comparability characteristics of the modeling and data products to permit the integration of the products as the basis of the science assessment.

The data and modeling products may be either pure data bases from the archives, transformed data bases, or data bases synthesized by a combination of various observed data, process results, and modeling results. In this example, several archives are combined to form synthesized data products (e.g., Landsat data and National Fire Statistics to give an accuracy assessment or calibration of combined Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) and Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) burn area estimates).

The role of the GCDIS is critical in forming data products. The archives shown must be part of GCDIS for ready access, comparability problems must be solved to allow merging of data bases, and data and modeling products must be placed in accessible archives.

The Problem Domain of the Users

At the highest level, the problems addressed by the GCDIS user community can be organized in parallel with the four working groups associated with the USGCRP: observations and data management, process research, integrative modeling and prediction, and assessments. The USGCRP, through the four working groups, defines the problem domain for the GCDIS. The process for implementing this problem definition is outlined in Chapter 4 of this plan.

As a problem domain example, there are special needs that come from considering the problem domain of a user interested in process research. A wide variety of processes exist, ranging from basic meteorological processes through ecological processes to social and economic processes. Further, the problem domains in process research interact strongly with data access as well as data content issues.

One aspect of meteorological research aimed at understanding climate-related processes is the deployment of field programs. There are two aspects of the GCDIS user community involved in field programs. On one hand this community relies on the GCDIS to preserve and distribute its data and information, and on the other it also requires data and information from the GCDIS to support both the operation of the experiment and interpretation of its results. In general, the needs of this community for data and information preservation and analysis support are well known. The support of field programs, however, can generate a requirement for the timeliness of data delivery that can have an effect on the GCDIS considerably different from an archive-oriented user strategy. In particular, the nature of quality control procedures may change, and the necessity for standard data exchange protocols becomes even more important.

The Uses of the Data and Information by the User

Approaching the user community according to the way the user will use the information is important. The use of the data and information may depend on the skills or the sophistication of the user, recognizing two important factors: the level of expertise of the user in locating and accessing data and information, and the user's level of understanding of their use.

There are three levels of individual interaction with respect to data use: interacting directly, which leads to personal use of data or information; acting as an agent for someone requiring data or information held within the GCDIS; and acting as an intermediary who not only accesses the data or information, but also performs a value-added function upon the data for a user who does not choose to, or who cannot either interact directly with the system or perform the analysis.

By addressing the sophistication of the user, those implementing the GCDIS will make it possible to decide explicitly whether a user group should be served as though it were going to interact directly with the GCDIS or whether it would be more appropriate for the user group to interact through agents or intermediaries. In this fashion, design criteria will be developed for software to ease user interaction with the system.

Although there will be activities within the GCDIS that provide value-added products, a substantial portion of the products of the GCDIS will be generated by entities external to the GCDIS. These entities, acting as intermediaries, will range from international scientific assessment groups to policy analysts at the State and Federal level, to authors of monographs and textbooks, and to the press. These intermediaries are the trained analysts, educators, and information specialists who have the expertise necessary to convert data into information for the myriad of users that have a need for global change information, but not necessarily raw data.

These external intermediaries include the four major working groups of the USGCRP. In this context, it should be noted that the GCDIS not only supports the working groups as their activities generate products for external users not in immediate contact with the GCDIS, but it also facilitates the interchange of data, information, and analytic results among the working groups. A major implementation goal of the program will be to facilitate this interaction and to promote the achievement of the goals of the USGCRP.

The use of an intermediary by a high-level decision maker is illustrated in the following example.

To help formulate a position on a bill before Congress, a Representative from Louisiana needs the best possible information about this question:

Will sea level rise caused by global warming inundate parts of my congressional district in coastal Louisiana? If so, how can the adverse effects on my constituents be alleviated?

The Representative asks a staff member to provide this information before the vote on the bill. The vote is scheduled to occur in a few days.

Members of the staff have been made aware of the capabilities of the GCDIS by IWGDMGC-coordinated outreach efforts. If staff members have access to the Internet, they will electronically access the GCDIS directly and find the required information. If they need an intermediary to obtain GCDIS access, they will call a group such as the Congressional Research Service for help.

Since the GCDIS has experts and agency systems linked by interagency cooperation and networks, the staff quickly obtains a comprehensive view of the data and information available about the Representative's question. The staff finds the required information and reports the next day that some global change model predictions do in fact predict a large enough sea level rise to inundate certain parts of low-lying coastal areas (such as Louisiana) that contain substantial population, potentially serious environmental pollution problems (such as abandoned hazardous waste sites), and so forth. The staff also reports that continuing efforts are being made to evaluate the accuracy of the sea level rise predictions, assess their multiple effects, and explore possible mitigation measures and their costs.

From this example several points can be made. First is the importance of a problem statement. The staff member or the information specialist in the Congressional Research Service needed to have a clearly articulated question to interact with the system - the question provided by the Representative. Next, the Representative did not actually interact with GCDIS. An intermediary was used to interact with the system and obtain data for someone else. It is important that how the system was used did not depend on the fact that a Representative asked the question. Anyone acting through the intermediary could have gotten the same answer. The Representative may have been able to investigate the matter, but, as in the case of many information-related activities, there exists an existing information infrastructure that is ready to use the GCDIS to meet its function of providing information.

Organizational and Group Affiliation of Users

While it could be argued that the immediate user of GCDIS is always ultimately an individual, individuals acting in groups or as part of organizations can take on very specialized roles. These roles can affect the range of activities that need to be supported by the GCDIS, and the group or organization may place requirements on the system that might not normally be part of an individual's approach to the GCDIS. Group or organization requirements can be particularly important when delivering data to the GCDIS.

The organization of the user group is important because the nature of the GCDIS implementation can be very different if the user is an individual, part of a user group, or a member of a large team of researchers involved in a major field program. Table 2 illustrates the different kinds of users that will interact with the GCDIS. The column labeled single user identifies individuals who might interact with the GCDIS and what they might try to accomplish with that interaction. The columns referring to aggregations of individuals give examples of real organizations that are likely to be represented in their interaction by an agent (usually the case of small groups) or that may be acting as an intermediary with the GCDIS.

Libraries and Information Centers as Intermediaries and Facilitators

Libraries and information centers are major gateways to data and information resources. Librarians and information specialists are experienced in organizing, categorizing, conceptualizing, retrieving, and disseminating information. These skills and knowledge are critical to many GCDIS users who need to navigate the vast amounts of printed and electronic GCDIS data and information.

As the USGCRP evolves, there will be increasingly more printed and electronic material about global change issues and research. Much of this information will appear in books, reports, and journal articles scattered throughout the world's literature and in data bases accessible over electronic highways. Some research information will describe the state of understanding of global change and some will suggest further observations needed to test proposed models. Policymakers, students, and the informed public will find such interpretative information necessary. Integrated data and information, at various levels of detail, will be most useful for such users. In addition to integrated data and information, research users may need digital and analog data directly. Common to all types of users is the potential value of the librarian or information specialist - not only to help users navigate the GCDIS, but also to synthesize the available data and information into the particular products and knowledge needed by users.

In a number of the participating GCDIS agencies, management of data is handled by major data centers or other organizations. Similarly, the management of much of the agencies' published information is handled through centralized Scientific and Technical Information (STI) programs. These STI programs comprehensively aid in collecting literature produced by their agencies, their contractors, and through their agencies' cooperative international and other research and development efforts. This literature is compiled into bibliographic data bases for searching and retrieving. The central agency STI programs also maintain systems that provide archiving and full text retrieving of such material. The USGCRP will take full advantage of these STI services in the Federal agencies.

The GCDIS will encourage efforts by libraries and information centers - of all sizes and types - to collect and make available the needed global change research data and information. To help such institutions in their roles as intermediaries and facilitators, special library and information center capabilities will be developed when necessary, and the GCDIS will take a proactive approach in soliciting their continuing feedback, comments, and recommendations.

User Scenario

An example of a library user of the GCDIS is a graduate student working with interbasin water transfer. By using the capabilities of the university's library system, the researcher accesses the GCDIS to obtain both data and information on rainfall, water supply, water demand projections, and details from documented proposals for alleviation of the regional water shortages. The researcher browses various water deficit scenarios depicted on regional contour maps. The sensitivity factors, such as rainfall, are accessible for browsing or manipulation. Water management plans are searched for interbasin proposals that were implemented in areas having comparable population sizes. The researcher scans the management plans for text concerning project cost and environmental impacts, and then uses the results of the search not only to determine both the data and information available on this subject, but also to guide the future of the research. Throughout this process, the librarian or the information specialist is available as the human interface, or intermediary, easing the task of data system navigation.

Implications of the User Attributes on the GCDIS

A critical step in implementing the GCDIS is the systematic examination of users by the Content and Access Subgroups to establish priorities for the content and access implementation strategies. In doing this it is very likely that several things will happen.

With respect to content, interaction with users about addressing their problems will lead to the identification of particular data sets outside the USGCRP. For example, the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory estimates that more than half of the data in its data center are not of U.S. origin. Also, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has indicated that a substantial fraction of its data is generated by and held by the States. These examples show that the satisfaction of user demands will lead to an expanding network of data and information that will necessitate strong and reciprocal interaction with both international partners and State agencies. This implies that an evolutionary growth of the GCDIS will continue for the life of the program, and that many of the holdings will be the result of interactions with users beyond the USGCRP.

With respect to user access, the data and information must be delivered to users in a fashion consistent with their use of the data and information. Issues of connectivity of results, quality of metadata, and the timeliness of delivery of the data and information as indicated in the scenarios will be critical to successful implementation. As the use of GCDIS data changes, access and content also will change. This requires an active user feedback mechanism that will be implemented at each user contact.

Finally, additional complexity for GCDIS implementation is derived from GCDIS development originating from a collection of individual agency systems - each with its own existing user community. This is especially true for data sets from outside the USGCRP focused programs. The GCDIS users are effectively superimposed on the existing user community, whose composition, attributes, and needs have driven fundamental data base design, composition, and access decisions that may or may not be appropriate for GCDIS use. Individual agency implementation plans will move toward reconciling these differences by adopting common standards and guidelines.

User Support

The GCDIS will identify a point of contact for user questions about each data and information source. For example, the GCDIS will identify a user support source for each directory or data source to which the GCDIS provides a pointer and also for each data set and information collection in the Global Change Master Directory (GCMD) itself. The minimal requirements for the GCDIS to provide pointers to particular data sets will be the continuing availability and the identification of a continuing source of user support for that data set.

The GCDIS will provide support to the users through a variety of mechanisms at whatever level the users interact with the system - as an individual for personal use, as an agent, or as an intermediary. In most cases, this support will be provided by the agency or other entity that is the repository of the data or information in question. Service will be provided with the distributed support of libraries, information centers, data centers, and individual sources. To provide for the diversity of users, the service providers will employ a wide range of information technology, service, and search tools and mechanisms, ranging from manual, print-based resource guides to the most sophisticated computer-based expert systems. The specific types of user support services for the GCDIS will be developed in stages based on both actual user needs and on what is technologically feasible and affordable.

A bulletin board system will provide centralized support to users, such as the latest information about the GCDIS. It will be a means for users to share experiences in using the GCDIS as well as a mechanism for users to provide input on problems and suggestions for change - including requests for special interagency products and services. Agencies participating in the IWGDMGC will evaluate user inputs received through the GCDIS bulletin board in their more formal agency reports on customer satisfaction consistent with Executive Order 12862, Setting Customer Service Standards. A major portion of the bulletin board will be operated by the Global Change Research Information Office (GCRIO).

The USGCRP established the GCRIO in 1993 within the Consortium for International Earth Science Network (CIESIN). The purpose of the GCRIO is to disseminate to foreign and U.S. individuals and organizations scientific research information available in the United States that would be useful in preventing, mitigating, or adapting to the effects of global change. Worldwide sources of data and information are available to the GCRIO to satisfy requests about global change topics. These sources are being documented and made available over the Internet for use by GCRIO staff and researchers worldwide. Most are available at no charge to the GCRIO user. The GCRIO uses information services that already exist. A primary source of information is the GCDIS. Users are pointed to the GCDIS as one of the sources of information available from the GCRIO. Documents and online information about the USGCRP are also referenced. The GCRIO functions as a major access facility for worldwide users to the data and information available from the USGCRP.

Gerald S. Barton, Director, GCRIO	Phone: 202-775-6607
1747 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 200	Fax: 202-775-6622
Washington, DC 20006			email:

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