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J. G. TIMMERMAN1 AND W. H. MULDER2
Information needs as the basis for
Routine monitoring provides the basic information for water management. Howevet; often there is a gap between the
information a monitoring network provides and the information water management needs. Next to this, increasing
knowledge of the complexity of processes in water systems has led to a growing demand for information. Nevertheless,
budgets for monitoring networks are limited. This causes the need to provide the right information at a low cost.
Therefore, in designing a monitoring network specifying the information needs is essential. What is needed is a method
to cope with all different and sometimes conflicting aspects, leading to specified information needs for the monitoring
To develop a suitable method for this purpose, some case-studies have been carried out. From these studies it was
concluded that the method should incorporate
.communication between information producers and information users,
.insight in the organisations involved in producing and using information and their responsibilities in the process and
.a structure defining what activities to perform at what stage.
These elements have been worked out in a method for specification of information needs. The method comprises five
1. Exploration, to mark out the project;
2. Tuning, to communicate and verify the starting points;
3. Elaboration, to come to detail;
4. Conclusion, to communicate and verify the results; and
5. Completion, to document the results and to plan following steps.
The method is described in this papel:
INTRODUCTION effective monitoring programme is 'tailor-made.' And as the
body of the "information need" grows fatter or loses weight,
the monitoring programme should regularly be tailored to
keep a perfect fit .
The monitoring cycle shows the different steps that must
be defined to be able to specify all requirements for a
(chemical) monitoring system. Information for one step is
used to develop and define information for the next step. By
theoretically going through the monitoring cycle both
clockwise and counter-clockwise, all requirements and
limitations may be made explicit .
Monitoring without specification of information needs
prior to the actual network design will be a waste of money
. In literature, the need for specification of information
needs is recognised [among others 2, 8 and 9] and attempts
For water management, proper information on the status
of water systems is indispensable [I]. Usually, routine
monitoring provides the larger part of the basic information.
An increasing knowledge of the complexity of processes in
water systems has led to a growing demand for information.
Next to this, the current wish for integrated water
management calls for interrelation of disciplines and the need
to integrate different types of monitoring. Nevertheless,
budgets for monitoring networks are limited. Often a gap
exists between the information a monitoring network
provides and the information (water) management needs .
Therefore, more attention should be given to monitoring
networks that provide the right information at a low cost.
Under the UN/ECE Convention on the Protection and
Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes
, among others, Guidelines on Water Quality Monitoring
and Assessment of Transboundary Rivers have been
developed . One of the basic principles of the guidelines is
the monitoring cycle, specifying steps in elaborating a
monitoring network. The monitoring cycle is shown in
Figure I. In this cycle, monitoring is regarded as a sequence
of related activities that ultimately lead to the management of
relevant information . The cycle represents the repeating
evaluation and adaptation of the monitoring network. An
Iln!ititutc filr Inland Watcr :\Ianagcmcnt and Wao;tc Watcr 'I'rcatmcnt
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Volume 2. Number 2. 1999
are made to offer starting points [among others 10, 11 and
12]. In this paper, a method is presented to specify
information needs. The method is based on literature,
experience and special studies. A number of pilot projects are
carried out to test and improve the method.
WHY SPECIFY INFORMATION NEEDS?
As stated above, the questions in water management
become increasingly complex. The complexity of the issues
calls for the reconciliation of disparate, often contradictory
information from many fields. However, unfortunately people
can handle only about three to seven (5 :t 2) different units of
information or thoughts at a time. This leads to the situation
where, as an estimate, 9()°/cJ of the effort in problem solving is
spent on 
.solving the wrong problem
.stating the problem so that it cannot be solved
.solving a solution
.stating problems too generally
.or trying to get agreement on the solution before
there is agreement on the problem.
Even if exaggerated, this suggests why water (quality)
monitoring suffers from a constant failure to establish
meaningful programme objectives  and it consequently
shows reasons for the existing of the "data-rich but
information-poor" syndrome .
The crux of problem-solving is problem definition. "The
problem definition ramifies throughout the problem-solving
process, reflecting values and assumptions, determining
strategies, and profoundly impacting upon the quality of
solutions" . Therefore, to design a monitoring network so
that it provides the right information, the problem should be
stated as "what is the right information"? In other words:
"What is the information needed?" What is needed to solve
this problem is a framework for the specification of
information needs. Such a framework will be discussed in this
.Co1/l1/luniclI.(ion: Information producers should take
more interest in the problems information users are
involved in, while information users should try to
specify better what exact information is useful to
them. This can be achieved only by bringing both
groups together. What may seem obvious to
experts of a specific group may be unknown to
experts of another group. Information producers often
do not 'speak the same language' as information users
. That is why it is so important that these groups
meet to make sure that all assumptions are made
.In.ftitutionlll 1I.fpect.f: What organisations are
involved in producing and using information and what
are their responsibilities in the process. These
organisations have to be involved in the process of
specification of information needs to specify their
requirements for distinct steps in the monitoring
process. This information is essential to under-
stand what information should be and can be
.Structure: By dividing a process in well-defined
pieces, this process may be better managed. All pieces
together provide an overall structure, while
elaboration of each piece supports progress of the
process. The process of specification of information
needs is complex and therefore needs a structure
defining what activities to perform at what stage.
Visualising techniques, like diagrams, are essential
elements in such a structure. In this way, structure
provides 'externalised memory' , to be able to keep
track of the process and handle all different aspects at
the right time.
These elements have been worked out in a method for
specification of information needs. This year a project has
started to specify the information needs for management of
the national waters, on the basis of the recently finalised
Dutch national policy document on water management,
using this method. The goal of this project and other, smaller,
pilot projects is to start the general application of this method
in Rijkswaterstaat. Findings from these projects will be used
to improve the method.
HOW TO SPECIFY INFORMATION NEEDS?
METHOD FOR SPECIFICATION OF
Defining information needs involves asking many
questions until the right questions come up. These questions
should be specified further against the background of the
overall water management objectives and should consider the
requirements that result from preceding and following steps
in the information cycle. Most questions will be related to
specific functions or uses of the water under consideration.
However, different functions and uses may have conflicting
requirements to fulfil. A method is needed to cope with all
different and sometimes conflicting aspects, leading to
specified information needs for the monitoring network.
"Monitoring Strategy 2000+" is a programme of the
Dutch Directorate General of Public Works and Water
Management (in Dutch: Rijkswaterstaat) to innovate the
measuring sector. This innovation is done by discussing the
design of the future organisation, investigating information
needs and by implementing new technologies like remote
sensing and models in operational practice. In this
programme, a methodology has been developed to specify
information needs. Three case-studies have been carried
out to develop the method. From these studies it was
concluded that the method should incorporate the next three
The method consists of a five-step plan, all steps being
interrelated. The connection between the steps is shown in
Figure 2. All steps should be filled in, starting from the left.
The Figure symbolises the initial diverging character of the
process that at a certain point should converge into a coherent
European Water Management
Step I: Exploration
In the first step a survey is carried out to mark out the
project. In this step, the focus is on 'institutional aspects'.
This first step covers three items:
.Starting point.f: What will be the subject of the study?
This may be for example policy aims. Next to this it
should be stated if the resulting information will be
used for instance for policy evaluation, for policy
preparation or maybe for operational purposes. In
connection with this, the time scale should be
determined, for instance long-term policy or short-
term operational management.
.I~fi)rnlatilln U.fer.f: Who will be using the information?
Information users should specify what information
they need and what the use of this information is.
There may be a wide variety of information users.
Therefore, the focus should be on those information
users that can determine what information should be
collected, usually because they provide funding.
.Prllce.f.f chain: What organisations/ departments/
people are involved in producing and using the
information? Next to knowing the information users,
knowing the producers of the information is
important. These are the people that can determine
whether all requirements for information production
can be met. By stating the organisations or people
involved in all steps of the monitoring cycle, the
process chain may be made explicit.
Step 2: Tuning
To verify the starting points as stated in step 1,
communication should take place with all involved, both
information users and information producers. Because all
involved should have a general idea of each other's problems,
this step should be carried out as a workshop. In this step,
'communication' is the keyword.
Step 3: Elaboration
In this step, emphasis is on 'structure.' The information
need should be specified. Keeping track of the problem is
important. Therefore, 'externalising memory' by visualising
the problem is useful . An important structure to visualise
information need is the 'information need hierarchy.' Going
from general to very detailed, a hierarchy in information need
is described. Starting with a general concern, through
specifying different aspects of this concern a more detailed
information need can be developed. Bernstein  describes
the following aspects:
I. Public concerns2.
3. Policy goals
4. Scientific and management monitoring objectives
5. Potential measurements
In his example he states the public concern: 'How safe is
it to swim in the bay?' This is translated into assessment
issues, like the health risks from swimming and surfing. The
policy goals are to protect the public from health risks. From
this, scientific and management monitoring objectives can be
stated, like using a suite of effective microbial indicators and
communicating the information rapidly to the public.
Potential measurements in this case may be beach warnings
In this paper a more generic method is suggested which
includes the following aspects:
I. State the functions or uses of the water systems as related
to the general concern (for example the policy aim as
stated in step I: exploration);
2. For each function or use, state the issues at hand. This may
be summarised in a 'function and issue table' (Figure 3);
3. Define the problems related to the function -issue
4. List existing or potential measures for these problems;
5. Specify exactly what information is needed to deal with
the problems and measures and what this information will
be used for (for instance to indicate a trend or as input for
The result of this procedure is an information needs
hierarchy. An example of an information needs hierarchy is
shown in Figure 4.
The information need hierarchy is developed through a
stepwise refinement of the concerns at hand. It should be
further developed until the individual parameters of interest
are stated. From combining different concerns, duplication of
parameters may occur. Through the scheme it may be
obvious that parameters that become obsolete because of
disappearing of a concern may still be relevant through
By going upward in the hierarchy and choosing another
viewpoint, another set of parameters may be chosen, without
changing the initial concern. In this way for instance, a
parameter-oriented monitoring network can be altered into a
more effect-oriented network.
The information needs hierarchy also supports priority
setting. By prioritising issues on a high level, the priority
parameters can be determined. Prioritisation can be done on
each level in the hierarchy and even over different levels.
The information need and the type of information they
use should be assigned to information users, together with an
indication of the desired accuracy of the information that is
An overview of the existing information network will be
the basis for evaluating what part of the new information need
is covered by the network and what changes will be necessary.
Also prerequisites, like available finances and capacity, and
also legal obligations have to be inventoried.
Based on this information, the desired information
Figure 3. Function and issue table. V = function that is conflicting with specific pressures linked with an issue; VV = more strongly conflicting
Volume 2, Number 2, 1999 43
Public concern: How safe is it to swim in the bay?
Health risks from swimming and surfing
Protect the public from health risks
Ensure that public health standards are met
L Bight-wide water quality measurements
Provide information on sv..;mming conditions
L Beach warnings and closings
~ Reduce pollutant inputs
L Eliminate illegal discharges
L Measurements on sewage spills
Figure 4. Information needs hierarchy (after )
network may be formulated. The information need now sets
the path for the design of the information strategy. development of the information needs hierarchy is the key-
factor in specification of information needs.
The method appears to be a genuine tool to improve the
specification of information needs and as a result lead to a
better fit of monitoring networks. An essential factor is that
the method provides a framework for communication.
Step 4: C.onclusion
In this step, emphasis is again on 'communication.' The
"concept information network" should now be agreed upon
by all involved. To do this, the people of the first workshop
should be brought together to discuss and adapt results. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Step 5: Completion
Finally, results of the process and agreements of this
workshop have to be documented. The result is a 'blueprint'
for the new information network. Also, the result of the
process is needed to evaluate if the information needs as
specified are produced.
Many thanks to Dr ]anneke Ottens and the unknown
referee for their valuable comments to the manuscript.
Special thanks to the members of the WAT-group of
Monitoring Strategy 2000+ for their contributions in the
development of the method.
The method comprises five sequential steps. However,
these steps provide a structure and not all elements will be
completed sequentially. Sometimes returning to previous
steps will be inevitable. Nevertheless, three elements in this
method are essential: structure as a mean to keep track of the
activities, providing the right information at the right time,
communication as a way to ensure the right decisions are
made and to assure commitment of those involved, and
institutional aspects as a way to ensure the involvement of the
right people and with that, proper communication.
First results from application of the method in the pilot
projects indicate that the structured approach leads to
orientation on the process cycle and consequently on process
innovation. Since the method focuses on needs and demands,
a better link of information to policy in a more integrated
manner, thus better covering policy items, becomes possible.
The information needs hierarchy provides a tool to
maintain a good perception of the way the information need
has been developed. It provides an overview of the choices
made, it supports changes in information needs and is a basis
for prioritising monitoring effort. In this way the
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Volume 2, Number 2, 1999