ABSTRACT

Decision support systems—collections of related information located in a central place to be used for decision-making—can be used as platforms from which climate information can be shared with decision-makers. Unfortunately, these tools are not often evaluated, meaning developers do not know how useful or usable their products are. In this study, a web-based climate decision support system (DSS) for foresters in the southeastern United States was evaluated by using eye-tracking technology. The initial study design was exploratory and focused on assessing usability concerns within the website. Results showed differences between male and female forestry experts in their eye-tracking behavior and in their success with completing tasks and answering questions related to the climate information presented in the DSS. A follow-up study, using undergraduate students from a large university in the southeastern United States, aimed to determine whether similar gender differences existed and could be detected and, if so, whether the cause(s) could be determined. The second evaluation, similar to the first, showed that males and females focused their attention on different aspects of the website; males focused more on the maps depicting climate information while females focused more on other aspects of the website (e.g., text, search bars, and color bars). DSS developers should consider the possibility of gender differences when designing a web-based DSS and include website features that draw user attention to important DSS elements to effectively support various populations of users.

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