John Hirst, Met Office Chief Executive

From strength to strength

26 August 2014

Chief Executive John Hirst describes how weather and climate services have evolved through improved communication and collaboration.

This is the last time I will introduce Barometer as in September I pass the role of Met Office Chief Executive to Rob Varley, the current Met Office Operations and Services Director. I am delighted to be able to hand over to Rob who already works closely with our customers, helping them manage the risks and opportunities of our changing weather and climate.

Since being appointed Chief Executive in 2007, I have observed the way weather and climate services have changed. There has been a marked shift from simply forecasting the weather to more integrated services which advise on the actual impacts of weather and climate.

To my mind, communication and collaboration are essential ingredients of this evolution. The key to communicating successfully with people, whether it's customers or the general public, is to communicate in a way that is suitable for them. For instance, using social media and technology, when appropriate, hugely increases the reach of our forecasts and warnings.

In some ways however, we have been advising on the impacts and actions people should take for a very long time. Just think of the huge responsibility the Met Office had in 1944 and the decision of whether to cross the Channel for D-Day for example.

Fast forward 70 years and working ever more closely with partners and customers means the Met Office developed an even better understanding of the problems they face. Combined efforts have helped to solve many of these problems, and often save lives as a result.

These changes, a shift in mindset that has come about through combined working, have helped to shape how the meteorological community thinks. Many great advances and huge explosions in learning have come about through collaborative effort. In the past, scientists were polymaths - they were experts in a vast range of science areas. Now, scientists increasingly specialise in very specific fields, making collaboration essential to progress and translate advancements across scientific boundaries.

Dr Gavin Schmidt, a world-leading climatologist and climate modeller who visited the Met Office earlier this year, has a similar take on things. As Gavin says, climate change is so complex and involves so many different disciplines, it is impossible to study one part of it. It is telling that he sees an increasing focus on the fusion of multiple earth system processes as the key to informing science policy.

Across the world, meteorological services have an abundance of collaboration and communication qualities. Throughout Barometer there are examples of work that combines skills and aligns research with other organisations. For instance, many national and international collaborators contributed to the AVOID research programme which provides scientific advice to UK government analysts and policymakers, informing climate change discussions and policy.

Sharing and communicating around problem solving is the way ahead. The doors of the Met Office are always open. Along with this, customer service has become part of the Met Office DNA. We are also more self-confident and a much better partner.

Many people, me included, are amazed by the sheer breadth and scale of the work of the Met Office. One of the biggest challenges I've had as Chief Executive is making people aware of the capabilities of the Met Office and the benefits they bring. Improving communication and collaboration has been an essential part of addressing this challenge.

As I leave the Met Office, I'm confident of the Met Office's own experience, expertise, and strong science that provide firm foundations on which to build. I am certain though, that it is working in combination with others that will bring sustained and greater rewards for all, with existing and new ventures going from strength to strength.

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