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When did climate science research become about what the user wants? When did climate science start having an interested “user”? A quick google of the definition of “research”: the systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions. Nowhere in that definition does it mention that research needs to be relevant to society’s needs so why are we so pre-occupied with what the user wants when it comes to climate science?

Well the answer is fairly straight-forward, climate science holds a rather unique place in the scientific world today. Climate change has become a high priority political football over the last few decades and, in order to support the ongoing political negotiations, there is a constant call for more information to inform decision-making. Not many other scientific disciplines have to contend with this kind of demand for information so are more at liberty to do “blue skies” research without feeling the need to justify its value. However, the constant reminder for user-relevance doesn’t sit well with many climate science academics and one needs to ask the question: Does it need to?

My personal slant has always been to focus on the needs of the users because of the unique position occupied by the climate science field today. However, I do not discount the need for blue skies research either – without it there may not be new frontiers encountered or crossed leading to advancements in the field. However, my argument is the need to acknowledge the importance of user-relevance while also recognising when research is being undertaken that is explicitly not intended to be disseminated to users. Pseudo user-relevant research annoys me. Either one invests in making sure the entire research activity is of relevance or one doesn’t pretend that it is going to be user-relevant.

User-relevance is not a term that should be bandied about lightly

In that vein, user-relevance is not a term that should be bandied about lightly. In order to ensure user-relevance there is a significant amount of effort that needs to go into understanding what makes research useful for implementation. One can’t do the research and then try and adapt it to what it is thought the user might want. There needs to be a thorough engagement and understanding of the needs of the target audience from the very beginning – preferably in directing the actual topic of the research. It is about relationship building between the scientist and the user and an acknowledgement that each side holds equal authority and expertise, there should be no power relationship involved. It is about fully understanding each-others needs and limitations in what can be delivered. It is about expectation management and effective communication. It is about real investment and passion for informing practice, not a nominal tag-on to a research project. Understandably this isn’t something that all climate science researchers want to do and no one is forcing them to do it. In fact, I think it would be damaging to try and enforce this, damaging both for the researcher and the receiving end-user. But I ask for honesty in what is being done – and please don’t try to over-sell it. If it is important science, it should not have to be justified in terms of user-relevance, it can just “be”.

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