Data and Systems Perspective on Constituent Body Reform

Data, together with the systems and regulated processes by which they are measured, collected, compared, shared, processed and applied, are fundamental to WMO. In that sense, data has shaped the evolution of the Organization and the operations of its Member States and Territories since its origin. The World Weather Watch (WWW), for example, acknowledged as one of the crowning achievements of WMO, was triggered by the emerging global data-gathering potential of meteorological satellites and set a standard for international cooperation between countries and institutions that remains unequalled today.  

Evolution and even revolution in data and technology have been embraced to varying degrees through successive developments of WMO systems. The structure of the WWW and alliances among groups of Members, such as the satellite and numerical modelling communities, have evolved to reflect these changes, and are implemented for the shared benefit of the whole community. The WWW is now on a journey towards modernization to a WWW 2.0. Its original core systems, the Global Observing System (GOS), Global Telecommunications System (GTS) and Global Data Processing and Forecasting System (GDPFS), are evolving into the WMO Integrated Global Observing System (WIGOS), the WMO Information System (WIS) and soon WIS 2.0, and the Seamless GDPFS. 

Over the last decade, the signature of the data and technology revolution has changed, both in terms of the players and the pace of innovative and disruptive new technologies. A greater diversity of players across all public, private and academic sectors are now active in developing, supplying and applying data and technology and in delivering services to users. At the same time, the users themselves have responded to the revolution. They have become increasingly aware of the benefits of applying meteorological, climatological and hydrological data in their decision-making and more adept at integrating them with their own data in decision-support systems. 

Once there was a somewhat linear data value chain, where users specified their needs and providers designed solutions (data, systems, processes, services, products) to meet them. Now there is a much more interactive data value chain that more closely involves the user and other players in articulating the problem and designing, developing, operating and delivering the solutions, as well as to some extent the data itself. (See illustration on page 8.)

The governance and programmatic structures of WMO were developed, in accordance with its Convention, to meet the needs of its global membership. Priorities were set around evolving, sustaining and monitoring the data, systems and processes needed to support its Members across a range of service delivery and application areas. These were supported by a focus on world-leading science, strategic alliances and capacity and policy development to ensure continued relevance, uptake and growth. This rationale remains important, but the structures have not kept pace with changes outlined above. There is a need for greater agility in responding to social and technological change, and the increasingly cross-cutting nature of systems and solutions across the services and applications landscape.   

The consequences of the evolving threads outlined above are many, but we will focus here on three:

  •  There is considerably more data to choose from now 
  •  The speed of disruption seems faster than ever before 
  •  The constituent body ( the current constituent bodies of the WMO are the Congress, Executive Council, six regional associations and eight technical commissions) and programmatic structures of WMO need to be both fit-for-purpose and fit for the future.
The once rather linear data value chain has evolved into a highly interactive process in which users are much more involved in contributing data and sharing in the development and implementation of the solutions.

Data – more to choose from than ever before

The pre-WWW days of data drought were followed by an increasing downpour of data as meteorological satellites filled many (though still not all) of the gaps in global networks. In parallel, advancements in computing technologies and scientific understanding led to steady progress in numerical modelling, converging both southern and northern hemisphere forecast skill towards the same high level (Simmons and Hollingsworth, Q. J. R. Meteorol. Soc. (2002), 128, pp. 647–677). This readiness of the meteorological satellite community to respond to the emerging needs of WMO, and the ongoing collaborative supply-apply relationship, has been a major contributor to the accomplishments of WMO. As a result, the national meteorological and hydrological services (NMHS) of its Members are successfully shaping services that improve the safety, security, well-being and prosperity of people, communities, infrastructure and environments. 

Arguably, the term “data tsunami” might now better describe the space WMO works in, with not just considerably more data to choose from, but also a greater diversity of data, available more rapidly and with greater accessibility. The quality, and relevance of the data to Members’ needs, is equally diverse. Substantial gaps still exist, especially in less developed and more isolated countries, but solutions exist to fill many of those gaps, albeit often at substantial cost to acquire and sustain.  

The challenge is to turn the tsunami into a more orderly stream. To do so, Members have to be empowered to make strategic choices about what data and products they need for what purpose.  They need guidance on how to plan and design observing networks in a balanced way. WMO assistance is required to help Members gauge where value would be highest when investing public funds in sustained observations and the complementary value of building effective partnerships with others both nationally and across the global weather enterprise. 

Ongoing WMO leadership is critical to maintain and build on the success of the WWW through its evolution to WWW 2.0 and to ensure it continues to serve the Members. WIGOS is proposed for operational implementation at the 18th World Meteorological Congress (CG-18) in June 2019. It provides a framework for making informed choices about data, networks and partnerships in support of users’ needs, from local through to global. WIGOS is much more than an evolution of the GOS; it is a new way of approaching observations and data for all WMO and partners’ service needs and applications areas. An example of how WIGOS is helping reshape the global observations needed by WMO is the development of the Global Basic Observing Network (refer box).

The fundamental WMO principle of free and unrestricted international exchange of meteorological and related data and products, as articulated through Resolutions 40, 25 and 60, is integral to its functioning as a global collective and the envy of many other international organizations. The data landscape has changed considerably since Resolution 40 was approved in 1995. Together with establishment of the Global Basic Observing Network (GBON), the review, updating and strengthening of these data policies to reinstate their relevance, scope and authority is critical to the ongoing operation and effectiveness of this global collective as part of the growing global weather enterprise.



The term “disruption” refers to radical changes in technology that can quickly render older applications, methods and processes obsolete. Such new and innovative technologies can seem threatening to those slow to adapt and adopt and can empower those that are more agile and better equipped to seize opportunities. Digital technologies, such as the Internet, fixed and mobile broadband and cloud services have already changed how Members and their meteorological and hydrological service providers gather and exchange data, extract insights and deliver services. They have also changed how users access, apply and respond to data and services. Emerging data technologies, such as the Internet of Things, big data analytics, machine learning and autonomous systems, will continue to cause disruption across all areas of the economy and industry sectors. 

In many practical ways, being prepared for disruption is less about the technology and systems themselves and more about understanding how users will respond to the challenges and opportunities they present. Arguably, the biggest impact of digital disruption for Members will be in the service environment. They will have to adjust to changes in user needs and capabilities and changes in how users incorporate and integrate data from multiple sources in their decision-making systems. 

Agility and efficiency in maintaining relationships with users and partners – and in delivering the best science to drive future service improvements – will be increasingly important both at the WMO and Member level. The focus is shifting from solutions that are “data and systems” driven to a ”science to services” paradigm. There is less focus on specialized solutions for individual applications and more benefits are expected from integrated and seamless approaches. Equally important to the integrity of services is complementing traditional scientific process and insight with innovative techniques for extracting information from data. The draft WMO Strategic Plan 2020-2023 reflects this change in approach as does the proposed changes in the constituent body structure.


Global Basic Observing Network (GBON)

Since the early days of the World Weather Watch, weather forecasting has transformed into a highly quantitative business. Today, it is driven by large computer models fed with millions of measurements provided by a plethora of instruments flying in space, in the air, based on land, or in the ocean. All modern quantitative weather forecast and climate analysis products, down to the finest local space and time scales, ultimately rest on Global Numerical Weather Prediction (Global NWP). It is the backbone for everything that a modern weather and climate service does. 

Continued access to observational data from the entire globe is critical to the quality of the output from GNWP systems. Satellites provide global coverage of both atmosphere and surface parameters and make very substantial contributions to Global NWP skill. However, Global NWP systems still rely on surface-based observations for key parameters that cannot currently be reliably measured from space. These include data on atmospheric surface pressure, the vertical distribution of winds and subsurface ocean parameters. Surface-based observations are essential over oceans, over snow and ice surfaces, and they continue to play important roles for calibration and validation of the space-based data. 

Any lack of observations over one area of the globe negatively impacts the quality of the forecast and analysis products across the entire globe. Missing or non-reporting stations, glitches in telecommunication or excessively restrictive national data policies all amount to lost opportunities for national weather services to deliver the best possible warning and monitoring information to their constituencies. In order to address such challenges and the problems of sub-optimal observing network density and under-reporting stations, WMO decided in June 2018 (EC70) to proceed with the design of a Global Basic Observing Network (GBON) and development of associated GBON regulatory material. 

The GBON provisions are based on up-to-date observational requirements for Global NWP assembled by WMO technical experts. Drawing on early results of the WIGOS Data Quality Monitoring System (WDQMS) and 20 years of NWP observational data impact studies coordinated by WMO, the provisions specify in clear, quantitative terms the obligations of the WMO Members to acquire and exchange these critically needed observations. It specifies which parameters to measure, how often, at what horizontal and vertical resolution and which measurement techniques are appropriate to use. The initial GBON design and regulatory material will be presented to Members for approval at the 18th World Meteorological Congress in 2019, with the opportunity to extend it over time to embrace a full range of applications and requirements.


Fit-for-purpose and future-fit

The current constituent body structures of WMO have served Members well. However, they are no longer fit-for-purpose to support Members through the changing environment in which they now deliver meteorological and hydrological services. They do not help them navigate and make choices in the increasingly crowded landscape of data and systems and amongst the growing diversity of players. It is timely to focus more on an integrated and seamless approach aligned with a core new element of the WMO Strategy – an Earth system approach. Consequently, it is time to better connect WMO data, systems, science, services, processes and experts with the wider stakeholder – suppliers, partners, users and potential competitors – community. 

The development of WIGOS, from its initial concept to implementation, has demonstrated the need for a new approach to data across all WMO services and applications areas. More integration is essential, not just in the sense of integrating data sets but in the assessment of requirements and in looking along and across the data value and supply chains. The need to form a special Inter-commission Coordination Group to lead the development of the WIGOS concept was an indicator that the current constituent body structure needed modernizing. It was necessary to harness the combined forces of the somewhat siloed technical commission and programmatic structure at WMO to ensure the development of an integrated concept. It was also necessary to build a closer working relationship with regional associations, from system design to practical implementation, with more efficient engagement of their experts in both areas. 

Most of the focus in the constituent body discussions has been on the technical commissions and on streamlining the operation of Executive Council, but successful implementation demands changes to regional association practices and the programmatic support structures. The streamlining of regional association working bodies and improved coordination with the new technical commissions is essential. It will ensure close alignment through the engagement of regional experts in technical commission activities and the engagement, in turn, of the technical commissions in supporting implementation of systems and regulations at regional and national levels. The implementation of the new constituent body structure – especially the consolidation of the current eight subject-based technical commissions into two new commissions and a research board – is not going to be an easy transition. It will be significantly smoother and more effective, if the support systems of the Secretariat and the WMO programmatic structures are also realigned promptly in accordance with the constituent body changes and the new strategic plan. 



The proposed changes to the constituent body structures will better position WMO for a data-rich and disruption-ready future, driven by a science-to-service mindset. The leadership and convening power of WMO within the global weather enterprise will be strengthened through the new structure, which better enables engagement with users and with partner organizations that intersect with WMO domains of responsibility.  These changes also recognize the importance of the interactive and increasingly integrated data value chain in a world that is increasingly aware of the importance of understanding and protecting our Earth System while serving the needs of all its citizens. 

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