Whose ground truth is it? Harvesting lessons from Missouri’s 2018 bumper crop of drought observations

View More View Less
  • 1 National Drought Mitigation Center, School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • 2 Conservation and Survey Division, School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • 3 School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • 4 University of Missouri Extension
  • 5 School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • 6 National Drought Mitigation Center, School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • 7 National Drought Mitigation Center, School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • 8 National Drought Mitigation Center, School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
© Get Permissions
Restricted access

Abstract

Drought-related decision making and policy should go beyond numeric hydro-meteorological data, incorporating information on how drought affects people, livelihoods and ecosystems. But the effects of drought are nested within environmental and human systems, and relevant data may not exist in readily accessible form. For example, drought may reduce forage growth, compounded by both late-season freezes and management decisions. An effort to gather crowdsourced drought observations in Missouri in 2018 yielded a much higher number of observations than previous related efforts. Here we examine 1) the interests, circumstances, history and recruitment messaging that coincided to produce a high number of reports in a short time; 2) whether and how information from volunteer observers was useful to state decision-makers and to U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) authors; and 3) potential for complementary use of stakeholder and citizen science reports in assessing trustworthiness of volunteer-provided information. State officials and the Cattlemen’s Association made requests for reports, clearly linked to improving the accuracy of the USDM and the related financial benefit. Well-timed requests provided a focus for people’s energy and a reason to invest their time. State officials made use of the dense spatial coverage that observers provided. USDM authors were very cautious about a surge of reports coinciding closely with financial incentives linked to the Livestock Forage Disaster program. An after-the-fact comparison between stakeholder reports and parallel citizen science reports suggests that the two could be complementary, with potential for use protocols developed to facilitate real-time use.

Corresponding author: Kelly Helm Smith, ksmith2@unl.edu

Abstract

Drought-related decision making and policy should go beyond numeric hydro-meteorological data, incorporating information on how drought affects people, livelihoods and ecosystems. But the effects of drought are nested within environmental and human systems, and relevant data may not exist in readily accessible form. For example, drought may reduce forage growth, compounded by both late-season freezes and management decisions. An effort to gather crowdsourced drought observations in Missouri in 2018 yielded a much higher number of observations than previous related efforts. Here we examine 1) the interests, circumstances, history and recruitment messaging that coincided to produce a high number of reports in a short time; 2) whether and how information from volunteer observers was useful to state decision-makers and to U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) authors; and 3) potential for complementary use of stakeholder and citizen science reports in assessing trustworthiness of volunteer-provided information. State officials and the Cattlemen’s Association made requests for reports, clearly linked to improving the accuracy of the USDM and the related financial benefit. Well-timed requests provided a focus for people’s energy and a reason to invest their time. State officials made use of the dense spatial coverage that observers provided. USDM authors were very cautious about a surge of reports coinciding closely with financial incentives linked to the Livestock Forage Disaster program. An after-the-fact comparison between stakeholder reports and parallel citizen science reports suggests that the two could be complementary, with potential for use protocols developed to facilitate real-time use.

Corresponding author: Kelly Helm Smith, ksmith2@unl.edu
Save