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Hong Kong Observatory's 5-year Strategic Plan (2017 - 2021)

I. Introduction

Since its founding in 1883, the Hong Kong Observatory has undergone waves of epochal changes, politico-economic transformation, and technological evolution. With a commitment to science, innovation and service dedication, we have built a tradition of service excellence and a brand reputation that inspires confidence among the general public and the international meteorological community. The achievement, by no means an overnight success, is attributable to the concerted efforts among the Observatory staff at all levels over the years.

Past achievement is no guarantee of future success. We must forge ahead, otherwise we will lag behind. Given the rapid changes on the politico-economic spheres, technologies and communications, environment and climate as well as competitors at the global, regional, national and local levels, we have to uphold our convictions while remaining flexible and adaptable. Great challenges often present great opportunities. The ambit of the Observatory is broad and deep with vastly different dimensions in space, time and service, ranging from a tiny nucleus to the boundless universe, from a fleeting moment to centuries-long periods, and from the general public to the professionals. The challenges encountered often vary from case to case. With limited human and financial resources, the Observatory needs to formulate a mid-to-long-term plan for future development in order to focus on key priorities and keep pace with the times.

The Strategic Plan outlines the overall objectives and priorities of the Observatory for the five-year period 2017 - 2021, aiming to highlight the general direction of the Observatory rather than the daily operations of individual divisions. This Strategic Plan is formulated based on the Observatory's Vision, Mission and Values as well as future challenges and opportunities.

II. Mission of the Observatory

The mission of the Observatory is to provide people-oriented quality services in meteorology and related fields, and to enhance the society's capability in natural disaster prevention and response, through science, innovation and partnership. Upholding this mission throughout, the Observatory continues to develop and enhance related technologies and services, gaining the recognition and trust of the community. Notwithstanding this, the Observatory's existing service model is facing major challenges brought about by a host of major external and internal drivers in recent years. There is a need to reform and develop people- (customer-) oriented, relevant and multi-channel weather, climate, aeronautical and marine meteorological services, maintaining and enhancing our reliability and credibility so as to justify the value of the existence of the Observatory in the new era.

III. Various Drivers

Several drivers that can affect the Observatory's work and the value of its existence for now and in the foreseeable future are outlined as follows.

External drivers mainly include:

1. Universe - Force majeure events caused by the natural or artificial changes on Earth and in outer space, especially the multi-level deep impacts (life, ecology, food, water resources, as well as politics, society, economy, etc) brought about by the normalization of climate change and extreme weather, and other hazards such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, solar storms, and nuclear incidents.
2. Earth - The development of and demand for infrastructure in Hong Kong and the neighbouring regions as well as the related vulnerability.
3. People - The change in demographic composition, education levels and perceptions, as well as concerns and expectations of the general public (including citizens, communities, social groups and special users).
4. Harmony - Multi-level collaboration and competition between relevant organizations (including international bodies, government departments, non-governmental organizations, private enterprises, academic institutions, community groups, mass media, website bloggers) at the international, regional, national and local levels.
5. Data - Advancements in numerical weather prediction and observations in spatial and temporal dimensions, as well as the free access to and popularization of relevant data and products.
6. Science - Scientific research and development of new technology in different disciplines, especially the leapfrog advancement in information and communications technology, observation technology and artificial intelligence.
7. Connectivity - The rise and application of Big Data and the Internet of Things as well as their profound influence along the development of the 4th Industrial Revolution and the Internet Plus concept.
8. Communication - Changing modes of communication (including people-to-people, people-to-machine and machine-to-machine), especially the speediness, ubiquity and profound impact of new media communications.

Internal drivers mainly include:

1. Universe - The recognition of and the value placed on the Observatory by the Government with the provision of corresponding resources, as well as the development direction and strategy led by the Observatory's management.
2. Earth - The development of and demand for infrastructural facilities of the department, including the rationalization of environment, resources management and organizational systems.
3. People - The change and relevance of staff's work, competence, age, development and aspiration. The education levels, qualifications and capabilities required of staff in the future, as well as the related management and passing on of knowledge.
4. Harmony - Seamless and closer cooperation and coordination between divisions and teams.
5. Data - The innovation, development and improvement of various prediction models, technologies and products.
6. Science - The full implementation of quality management, the ongoing commitment to scientific research, as well as the replacement and upgrading of measuring instruments and systems.
7. Connectivity - Understanding and opening up the application of Big Data and the Internet of Things to grasp their impact on the service models operated by the Observatory.
8. Communication - Understanding and using new media to communicate with the general public and clients.

IV. Challenges and Opportunities

As indicated by the drivers mentioned above, the Observatory is currently facing an unprecedented challenge. For instance, the forecast issue and public feedback on the prediction of the very cold spell at end January 2016 revealed a host of the above intricacies. As a single event had already made significant negative impact to the Observatory, it would not be difficult to imagine that our development and even presence could be threatened if more challenging situations emerge in the future. These speculations are not unfounded. We must have a clear perception of our current situation and grasp every opportunity to develop the Observatory together and pass it on to the future generation.

V. Outline of Work Priorities for 2017-2021

  1. Public weather services ― to provide impact and risk-based public weather services with the Multi-Hazard Early Warning System

    The primary mandate of the Observatory is to ensure public safety. As such, weather forecast and warning services have always been our top priority. With weather information now being freely available to the general public through multiple channels, there is a higher demand on both time and space dimensions (high resolution and long-range) in weather forecast. Weather warning service that is more pertinent to day-to-day lives and operations is also expected. To meet the future demands of the public, government sectors, public utilities and other stakeholder groups, the Observatory needs to develop impact-based and risk-based public weather services covering a variety of hazards as well as seamless weather forecasting services combining nowcast and forecasts in short-range, medium-range and long-range. Owing to the limitation of science, 100% accuracy in forecasts will never be achievable. As such, while improving the time and space dimensions of forecast (high resolution and long-range), we also need to provide relevant information on, among others, the uncertainty of forecasts.


    1. To develop and launch the Multi-Hazard Early Warning System as well as impact-based and risk-based public weather services;
    2. To launch seamless weather forecasting services combining nowcast and forecasts in short-range, medium-range and long-range;
    3. To provide relevant information on, among others, the uncertainty of forecasts.
  2. Aviation weather services ― to provide excellent aviation weather services at the regional and global levels

    In providing aviation weather services, official meteorological agencies around the world, especially in developing countries including the least developed countries and small island developing states, are facing unprecedented challenges and difficulties. Some of them are already living in fear of being replaced. Despite its resounding success in aviation weather services, the Observatory must continue to stay on the track of scientific research and innovation, in the face of competition from individual big countries and large aviation weather service providers as well as the new demands from the aviation industry in the future. Efforts should be devoted, for instance, to the development of real-time in-flight uplink and downlink of weather information, electronic flight bags, nowcast services for air traffic management, and finer monitoring techniques for windshear and turbulence. Besides, as aviation weather services are becoming increasingly regionalized and globalized, the Observatory is working with the China Meteorological Administration (CMA) and the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) to set up the Asian Aviation Meteorological Centre for improving our aviation weather services and further enhancing and consolidating the positions of Hong Kong and China in the aviation meteorological community.


    1. To launch electronic flight bag for providing global services for airlines;
    2. To set up the Asian Aviation Meteorological Centre positioned as one of the world's regional hubs or even a global centre;
    3. To provide more impact-based aviation weather services, monitoring of wake vortex of aircraft, etc.
  3. Diversified climate services ― to develop innovative climate services with the concept of "MET+" and support the climate change strategy of Adaptation, Resilience and Mitigation (ARM)

    Climate change is taking place, showing impacts that are increasingly visible and expected to worsen further in the future. As one of the top-level issues on the international agenda, climate change is affecting national policies and people's livelihoods. In this regard, the World Meteorological Organization is actively promoting the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS) to urge its members to develop climate services. The Observatory needs to further develop diversified climate services based on the "MET+" concept to support the SAR Government's related policy development as well as to launch and promote climate services, climate change research and related education campaigns with different parties. These initiatives aim to help realize the climate change objectives of "Adaptation, Resilience and Mitigation" across different sectors to ensure the future sustainability of infrastructure, resources and species in Hong Kong and the world. Initially, new services based on the "MET+" concept may cover hazard prevention and mitigation, transport, health, energy conservation, food safety and other areas.


    1. To further enhance climate services, provide more comprehensive data and products, and launch new "MET+" services;
    2. To collaborate with different parties to promote research and education on the climate change strategy of "Adaptation, Resilience and Mitigation";
    3. To proactively participate in the international arena on research and development of services related to climate change.
  4. Public education and communication ― to enhance public engagement through new media and channels

    Over the past few decades, Hong Kong has witnessed rapid social progress with an increasingly sophisticated infrastructure and higher education levels of the general public. These developments have led to gradual decrease of human casualties and losses of property caused by natural hazards. At the same time, the awareness of hazards among some members of the general public has also lowered as a result, as evidenced by the emergence of typhoon chasers and the cold spell event in January 2016. As extreme weather is set to become more frequent and the potential threat is looming of other hazards such as nuclear incidents, earthquakes or tsunamis, the Observatory needs to promote public education on an ongoing basis in schools and communities to raise awareness of hazard prevention and mitigation in society.

    Buoyed by the Internet's rapid growth, the rise and popularity of new media are simply irreversible. The channels adopted by the new generation and the general public for information access and communication are completely different from those as seen in the past. Although traditional media such as television and radio are still clinging onto some market share in the delivery of weather information, these one-way and relatively slow communication channels are expected to be surpassed by new media in the foreseeable future. The Observatory must therefore start to provide weather services through new media platforms for enhanced communication with the general public and monitoring of opinions, and even rumours, from the society.

    Moreover, the development of new services is gradually transcending the confines of traditional science (materials) with a growing people-oriented approach. Under the "people-oriented" service concept, the Observatory needs to understand and explore new areas of interest, especially from social science perspective, in order to provide timely and effective services, keeping up with the times and public needs. The ways in which new media are gaining popularity and the general public's inclinations and needs could change rapidly. So the Observatory must closely monitor the trend and development, and move with the times to respond to and address the needs and concerns of different community groups and individuals in the new era.


    1. To develop new teams for providing weather services and strengthening interactions with the general public through new media;
    2. To improve the Observatory website in provision of support to social media platforms;
    3. To understand and explore the use of social science to improve public services and engagement;
    4. To enhance the public image of the Observatory.
  5. Big Data ― to mainstream Big Data for service development

    The era of Big Data is here and now. The volumes of various types of data, irrespective of being acquired by professional or non-professional parties, being pertinent or not pertinent, being structured or unstructured, being quality assured or non-quality-assured, are increasing massively. The Observatory must seize the opportunities in the Big Data era to collaborate with various departments and institutions in developing innovative and diversified public and personalized weather services integrating weather-pertinent data, including transport, health, the Internet of Things, etc. Otherwise, the Observatory would degenerate into a mere data provider with less and less space for existence.


    1. To explore the applications of crowd-sourced data (including data that is acquired by non-professional parties, unconventional, unstructured, non-quality-assured, or derived from the Internet of Things) to obtain massive volume of weather-related information so as to enhance existing or develop new types of weather services;
    2. To collaborate with relevant departments and institutions in applying Big Data analytics and artificial intelligence to develop new public and personalized weather services;
    3. To further develop app for mobile (including wearable devices) and mobile websites in provision of personalized and even global weather services in order to raise the global ranking of the Observatory's website to the forefront.
  6. Research and development ― to continue research and innovation in a multitude of areas, including new instruments, high impact weather, service provision, and emergency response

    The foundation of the Observatory is rooted in science and a firm base has to be secured with solid research work and technologies. Numerical or digital weather forecasting is likely to completely replace traditional weather forecasting in the future. With limited resources, the Observatory needs to continue to improve numerical weather modelling and nowcasting on different dimensions, especially for high impact weather, extreme weather, ensemble forecasting and applications, satellite nowcasting, as well as refined and specific products. This is in addition to research on tropical cyclone forecasting, wake vortex turbulence, windshear and turbulence caused by terrains and buildings, and urban climate, with the objective of enhancing the Observatory's application, innovation capabilities and leadership in relevant areas. Moreover, to ensure the reliability of our weather forecasting and warning services, we need to implement full-scale quality management to increase public confidence in the Observatory and mitigate the damage caused by rumours. To maintain our authoritative position in weather observation amid a wide array of observation instruments with varying quality available on the market, we must seek to use advanced equipment, develop easily-accessible and user-friendly instruments, while performing quality management to enhance our credibility.

    Nuclear incidents as well as other major disasters caused by natural or artificial factors, irrespective of occurring in Hong Kong, the neighbouring regions, or even far-flung places, will bring significant attention to the general public and the mass media. Examples include the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011 and the tsunami and Fukushima nuclear accident that it triggered, as well as the explosion of a dangerous chemical goods depot in Tianjin in August 2015. These incidents called for the need of emergency responses and support at different levels from the Observatory. The Observatory needs to continuously enhance its emergency response capability and related techniques to ensure public safety and social stability through the provision of timely and effective information and support.


    1. To continue to improve and apply numerical weather prediction models, ensemble forecasting, nowcasting and other techniques on different scales;
    2. To develop and apply new technologies in the areas of meteorology, oceanography, geophysics and radiation monitoring, such as phased array radars, wave radars, ground-based remote-sensing instruments, drones, 3D printing, machinery, as well as popular and user-friendly instruments;
    3. To gradually implement full-scale quality management systems for all aspects of the Observatory's services and operations;
    4. To enhance the capacity of emergency responses and related techniques;
    5. To continue to publish scientific papers and file patent applications for new inventions.
  7. Resource management and training ― to strengthen resource management of the department and promote diversified training

    In view of the rather rapid and diverse changes of our future society and a retirement tide to hit all levels of staff that lies ahead in the coming years, the Observatory's existing organization structure and operation mechanism are set to face a big challenge, especially in terms of recruiting and nurturing talents. Within the framework of the government, the Observatory needs to explore new directions in departmental structure, resource management and utilization, and the intake and training of talents. We need to identify practicable means to strengthen our infrastructure, resource management, and the "recruitment, placement, cultivation and retention" of talents to create a learning culture in the Observatory.


    1. To review and strengthen departmental structures, administrative procedures, record and data management, and policy on information and communication technology, with the objective of enhancing work efficiency and supporting sustainable development;
    2. To review and update recruitment requirements and also to promote diversified training (especially in new information technology and public communications) and mentoring programmes, so as to ensure and drive future growth, guided by an understanding of human capital and knowledge as our valuable assets.

VI. Long-term Objectives

In the move towards globalized weather services and higher management quality, the sustainable development of our "Vision, Mission and Values" hinges on efforts to utilize resources more effectively, strengthen talent development, explore new spaces for work, pursue innovations, adopt new technologies, and develop smart operations. Our longer-term objectives include:

  1. providing full-scale digital weather forecasts;
  2. implementing global weather services, such as global city weather services and global early warning services;
  3. applying artificial intelligence on weather forecasting and warning services;
  4. achieving quality management for Observatory-wide operations;
  5. carrying out the construction of the Observatory's new building;
  6. developing an intellectual property bank for the Observatory;
  7. optimizing the staffing structure at all levels, enhancing capacity building, developing knowledge management, building succession plans to provide forces for driving future growth.

VII. Conclusion

The targets shown above are not meant to be exhaustive of the Observatory's activities. More in-depth and detailed planning of work is required based on the framework and actual circumstances. Moreover, as both the external and internal drivers that affect the Observatory could change rapidly, timely revisions to this Strategic Plan will be made in line with changing demands, evolving technologies, and updated international standards.