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Community Connections: METplus Community Contributes Valuable Feedback For Improving Online Documentation

Contributed by John Opatz and Tara Jenson
Spring 2024

In response to feedback from the DTC’s Science Advisory Board, a METplus focus group was formed from respondents to an email request to METplus community members. They were tasked with increasing the accessibility of METplus across its user base, with a special focus on first-time users and those who may be discovering METplus through academic avenues. Input was gathered from focus-group members via questionnaires, surveys, group discussions, and practice exercises using real-world atmospheric data. These results were then used to assess where best to enhance and improve METplus’ documentation and runtime messages.

Focus-group activities were divided into two phases. The first phase, which began on April 3rd 2023 and ran for six weeks, asked focus-group members to provide feedback based on weekly activities designed to explore one or more specific areas of METplus documentation. The results from this phase were synthesized and collated into 20 action items. These items targeted the METplus user guides for each component of the software system, as well as the METplus online tutorial and training videos. The work entailed for each action item varied, from the restructuring of the METplus online tutorial, to an informational shift from general applications to more technical aspects accompanied by better graphics, to a new MET User’s Guide top-level organizational approach for expediting how quickly users find the information they are looking for.  The METplus team worked on 10 of the 20 action items before proceeding to the second phase of the focus group. These 10 action items were chosen based on how strongly they were supported in the questionnaire responses, as well as their feasibility given the timeframe between phases.

Given the user-defined priority list, the METplus team was able to focus on action items ranked higher on the list, thus optimizing the enhancement time.

The second phase, which began on September 6th 2023, convened a subset of the same focus-group members who reviewed the improvements and updates made to address the 10 selected action items.  This approach enabled the feedback to be more targeted and gathered over a shorter time period.  Phase two results led to two significant findings.  The first was a priority list for the 20 action items created by asking each focus member to identify top priorities and combining these individual rankings into an overall combined ranking.  Given the user-defined priority list, the METplus team was able to focus initial work on those action items ranked higher on the list, thus optimizing the enhancement time.  The second finding was the significance of a focus group in which the users could participate.  Questionnaire responses indicated that users felt the development of METplus documentation through the targeted focus group was highly beneficial and would be well received by the METplus community in the future.

Ultimately, several of the documentation improvements guided by the focus group input will be available in the MET User’s Guide version 12.0.0, which is expected to be released this summer.  These improvements include the simplified, rewritten self-installation instructions for using the script (MET’s current recommended installation method) and new additions of a Docker and Apptainer (formerly called Singularity) installation method. Improvements stemming from the valuable focus group input also extend to the current METplus online tutorial, where a new Statistics 101 tutorial and a session on preparing your programming environment have been added.