'Social scientists can help reach weather info to masses in the last mile'

Vinson Kurian THIRUVANANTHAPURAM | Updated on September 19, 2019 Published on September 19, 2019

Kevin Petty, Director, Science, Forecast Operations and Public-Private Partnerships, The Weather Company, an IBM Business

Dissemination of weather forecasts can be best achieved with the help of a social scientist, says Kevin Petty, Director, Science, Forecast Operations and Public-Private Partnerships, The Weather Company, an IBM Business.

“I’m a physical scientist and I don’t understand people or their behaviour. I don’t now why they do what they choose to do. This is why I need a social scientist to work with me,” Petty told BusinessLine.


“In a larger sense, partnerships are a fundamental part of what we do as a company here,” he said in an exclusive interview at New Delhi recently. Working with the end-user is a priority for the US-based company.

It attaches a premium to partnerships. In India, it seeks to work not only with the public sector (the government), but also the private sector and the academia.

None of them can hope to address the enormous challenges of weather and climate on their own. "We will not be optimising our ability to move forward as a global community if we choose to go it alone," observed Petty.

“If I’m working with a university, I can request it to study the local population and help me understand how they make decisions so that I can integrate that into my work.”

In many companies around the world, this team-up is becoming a big play. People’s behaviour is so important in getting to know how they understand weather products and what they do with it.

For instance, the ability to forecast tornadoes is getting better in the US, with lead times getting generous at 30 to 45 minutes, against 5 to 10 earlier. But that doesn't mean parents can use the improved lead time to head to school to get kids home.


“Bringing social science into play with physical science will help us guide the people and help them make the right decisions during critical times,” Petty said.

This is not easy, especially in the countryside. You have to identify a person who can influence people locally, the type that he calls 'a village champion' who can bring about the desired change with his or her thinking.

“How do we improve not only science, but also its delivery to end-users and help them make the right decisions. These are things that we want to work on here.”

There is a need for social science research to improve the way risk is communicated. It requires integrating social and behavioural sciences in the larger weather enterprise.

Himanshu Goyal, India Sales and Alliances Leader, The Weather Company, said Petty is in India to share nuggets on “how deep we’re in the business and how end results are achieved.”

"We’ll have conversations with clients, start-ups and partners to essentially share the technology behind weather as data and how artificial intelligence is working behind the scenes to better the end result for our clients."

Published on September 19, 2019
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