Podcast & Show Notes - Dr. Renee Edwards

Show Notes

Wed, 7/13 3:30PM • 13:09

SUMMARY KEYWORDS meteorologists, communication, project, tools, extreme weather events, emergency managers, interviews, information, climate, talked, Louisiana State University, managers, communicate, broadcast, climatologists, general public, South Louisiana, coastal, Edwards, surveys

[00:00:03] Drew Hawkins: This podcast is a production of a research project at Louisiana State University funded by the Louisiana Sea Grant called Communicating Climate Tools to Coastal Stakeholders, or CCTCS. Researchers from the Department of Communication Studies the Manship School of Mass Communication, and the Department of Geography and Anthropology examined communication challenges during extreme weather events.

[00:00:34] Drew Hawkins: It’s one thing for scientists like meteorologists and climatologists to analyze data and formulate an understanding of the potential effects of an extreme weather event. But it’s another thing entirely to effectively communicate that information. This project aims to explore what tools and strategies scientists and emergency managers use to do exactly that, to convey the risk of extreme weather to the general public. Spearheading this research is Dr. Renee Edwards, a professor of Communication Studies at LSU. Dr. Edwards specializes in interpersonal communication with a particular focus on how people understand messages. So, she’s perfectly suited for the role. And for more about how and why she decided to pursue the research. We sat down with Dr. Edwards to hear it all in her own words.

[00:01:36] Drew Hawkins: All right, we are here with Renee Edwards. Hi, Renee. How are you today?

[00:01:40] Dr. Renee Edwards: I’m fine, thanks. How are you, Drew?

[00:01:40] Drew Hawkins: I’m doing great, thanks. So, can you maybe tell us a little bit about yourself: who you are, your title, and what your connection is to this project?

[00:01:51] Dr. Renee Edwards: Yes, absolutely. All right. I’m Renee Edwards. I’m a Professor of Communication Studies at Louisiana State University. My area of expertise is interpersonal communication with a particular focus on how people understand messages. When two different people hear the same thing, they read different meanings into it. And that’s led to some additional research on misunderstanding, and how it happens both in face-to-face communication and also online in text messages.

[00:02:27] Drew Hawkins: So, would you say that’s the purpose of this project is to understand that communication, how to improve it?

[00:02:34] Dr. Renee Edwards: I think we always in our communication research, we always have an interest or a goal of identifying factors and theories that explain communication, so that eventually we can improve it. We want to help people do better in what they do. And I should add that misunderstanding and message interpretation are kind of my primary theoretical areas. But I’m also very interested in risk communication, and specifically, weather and climate related communication. And my work with grants has been with how people communicate about extreme weather events, and both the general public respond to them, and also help people in how decision makers, emergency managers, meteorologists, water managers, how they make decisions based on the information they receive.

[00:03:35] Drew Hawkins: Would you maybe describe to us what your general understanding of weather and climate information is?

[00:03:43] Dr. Renee Edwards: I approach it very broadly. So, I would say it’s anything that people communicate about regarding weather and climate, but with a focus on extreme events. So, hurricanes, flood, heavy precipitation, but also drought and freezing weather, which can create problems even here in South Louisiana.

[00:04:14] Drew Hawkins: What are some of the more common misunderstandings and communication challenges that you’re seeing? Or hoping to address as well?

[00:04:24] Dr. Renee Edwards: Based upon the literature, there are a couple of different topics that emerge. One is that the public has a real difficulty understanding probabilities. And since what we hear in weather forecasts is all based on probabilities, that makes it a difficult communication challenge. And a second interesting thing that emerges from the literature is that, of course meteorologists get their information from the National Weather Service and other scientific providers, but they also have to go through an interpretation process and then communicate their understanding to the general public. So, there are opportunities for communication breakdowns all along that pathway.

[00:05:22] Drew Hawkins: If you maybe flip that on its head or flip the other side of that coin, and, you know, what is your general understanding or perspective, from your perspective with the public’s understanding of weather and climate information, in general, is?

[00:05:37] Dr. Renee Edwards: I know that in this project, we interviewed a lot of emergency managers and broadcast meteorologists. And they seem to be of two minds, and they deal with the public directly, so they have more access to information than I do. One perspective is that in South Louisiana, we deal with a lot of extreme weather events. And as a result, the population is pretty savvy about hurricanes and flood and things that we deal with. On the other hand, there is a perspective that, many people really don't understand weather climate probabilities, what it all means, and are easily influenced by what they read in social media or get from–I won't say non legitimate sources, because some of those sources are qualified, but not all of them are, at least according to the people that we've talked to.

[00:06:46] Drew Hawkins: You mentioned that, you know, this project, I've talked to a lot of different people, can you maybe expand on some of the work that has gone into this project, things like surveys and background research, and things like that?

[00:06:58] Dr. Renee Edwards: Yes. So, this project was an investigation of communicating climate tools to coastal stakeholders. And so, we began with the idea of weather and climate tools, and how they are used by two groups of people. And the two groups that we were interested in were emergency managers, and broadcast meteorologists. And those two groups function to get information about extreme events out to the general public. And so, in this project, we first conducted surveys of emergency managers and broadcast meteorologists. We sent a survey to those who are in the coastal parishes of Louisiana. So, it was something like 29 parishes. There, we focused on the emergency managers who work for each parish. So that meant there were just 29 of those.

[00:08:12] And there are 4 television markets in that area. So, we identified broadcast meteorologists at each of those TV stations. And that was probably 30 or 40 broadcast meteorologists. So, we sent the surveys to them and asked about their communication challenges. But we also asked them about the tools that they use, and how they evaluate those tools. So, based upon those surveys, we identified some of the most commonly used tools. And we then conducted interviews with about 10 to 12 emergency managers, and 10 to 12 broadcast meteorologists, again from coastal Louisiana. And since then, we have gone through those interviews, we've analyzed them to identify the communication challenges and factors, you know, other themes or other topics that came up.

[00:09:22] Drew Hawkins: Were there any findings or discoveries that were especially surprising to you, or things that stand out?

[00:09:29] Dr. Renee Edwards: I think all of us when we read through the interviews, really noticed the role that social media plays. It came up, even though we didn't have any questions in our interview schedule about social media. Virtually every interview addressed the notion of social media, and both the good and the bad advantages and disadvantages of it. And the extent to which our interviewees use it or in some cases don't use it, and the difficulties of trying to use it. So that was an important thing.

[00:10:14] Drew Hawkins: I know you touched on this briefly, but would you maybe kind of broadly talking about what inspired you? Or what was the inspiration behind this study and what generally it hopes to accomplish?

[00:10:27] Dr. Renee Edwards: Yeah, the inspiration was that I'm a member of another grant team called the Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program, and it's a NOAA funded project. And there are climatologists on the project as well as social scientists. And they spend a lot of time talking about tools and developing tools. And I also saw various grant requests for proposals. And a lot of them talked about tools. And so that just led me to the question, I'm not a climate scientist, led me to the question of what is a tool? What is a climate tool? How do they work? How do you develop them? Who uses them? And so that was kind of the background of my interest in tools. And then I did some reading and some work, there are probably hundreds of tools available for coastal managers in the United States. And there's actually one project going on to investigate to help managers find and choose appropriate tools for their needs. And so that was what led me to this interest in tools and use of climate tools.

[00:11:53] Drew Hawkins: Right, and just to kind of wrap things up, is there anything that we didn't talk about or something that you especially want people to know about this project? And about the research that went into it?

[00:12:03] Dr. Renee Edwards: I think it's important to know that what came out of the project is really coming directly from people who work in the field, the emergency managers and broadcast meteorologists. So, we didn't go into the project, expecting to find particular things or looking for them. We really talked to them to find out what they do and what they face, and so what we are concluding, really comes from, the users, from the coastal managers.

[00:12:49] Drew Hawkins: Right. Well, thank you, Renee so much for sitting down and talking with us. Enjoy the rest of your day.

[00:12:53] Dr. Renee Edwards: Thanks. You too, Drew.




Dr. Renee Edwards