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Toward New Partnerships in Remote Sensing: Government, the Private Sector, and Earth Science Research 5 Findings and Recommendations Cooperation between the public and private sectors to provide remote sensing data for scientific research is expanding the data resources available to scientists. From the perspective of scientists, this cooperation has provided new, valuable sources of research data. From the perspectives of the government and the private sector, partnerships in remote sensing across the public and private sectors demonstrate that government science agencies, the U.S. scientific community, and commercial firms can work together usefully in producing scientific data. Because of continuing policy interest in the U.S. Congress in using commercial sources to obtain remote sensing data for scientific research, new approaches to developing public-private relationships are likely to arise in the future. The two major public-private sector partnerships that have operated for several years are instructive in assessing what has worked well, what requires further attention, and what in such partnerships can be improved. The steering committee found widespread support in the scientific community for maintaining and even expanding public-private partnerships to provide remote sensing data for scientific research. According to information provided to the steering committee, scientists welcome the involvement of the commercial remote sensing industry in research data, but they also see an essential, continuing role for the government in these activities. From the scientists’ perspective, the benefits of partnerships extend beyond the opportunity to use commercially produced data. The success of these partnerships is directly related to the ongoing role of government agencies in data preparation and management. Moreover, the steering committee found that these partnerships must involve scientists throughout the process.
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Toward New Partnerships in Remote Sensing: Government, the Private Sector, and Earth Science Research DIFFERENCES AMONG THE THREE SECTORS The steering committee also found that the different, characteristic modes of operating in the public, the private, and the scientific sectors can potentially create problems in public-private partnerships that must be resolved if these partnerships are to be an effective means of providing research data to scientists. With respect to the private sector, it must both recover investment costs and make a profit. The commercial remote sensing satellite industry is still becoming established and can only continue to participate in public-private sector partnerships for science data if these partnerships are financially rewarding. This requirement has implications for the commercial approach to intellectual property, the nature and extent of services provided to data users, and private sector firms’ response to the competing needs of scientists and nonscientific customers. In this respect, the validation and verification services provided by industry are limited because of the lack of demand for these services among commercial applications users, and are generally inadequate for scientific users of the data. The government has extensive experience in providing remote sensing data for scientific research, but it is constrained in what it can do. Government agencies that are involved in obtaining or disseminating remote sensing data for research must respond to the policy priorities of both the White House and the Congress and are dependent upon annual budget allocations that may constrain or reshape their programs. In addition, government agencies operate in an environment of complex regulations and public accountability that requires them to engage in what are often lengthy contract negotiations with private sector firms in order to establish a public-private partnership to provide data for scientific research. Members of the research community are target users of the remote sensing data obtained through the partnerships. Many researchers have not been required to purchase data in the past and consequently have limited research budgets for this purpose. They may lack the financial resources to purchase significant amounts of commercial remote sensing data on the open market. Yet scientists also have well-defined requirements for remote sensing data that are based on the ways the data are used in research. Scientists require a thorough understanding of the algorithms used in calibration, validation, and verification of data—information that may be considered proprietary by a commercial firm. Once data are obtained for research, scientists assume that the data will be available to other scientists for testing research results or conducting related research. Although these differences in the ways that public, private, and scientific sectors function might initially appear to constitute a barrier to effective cooperation, the steering committee finds that this barrier is not insurmountable. New public-private partnerships should draw on the strengths of each sector and on the experience gained in existing partnerships and should focus on the long-term needs of the scientific community.
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Toward New Partnerships in Remote Sensing: Government, the Private Sector, and Earth Science Research THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENT The steering committee concluded that government science agencies must play a strong and continuing role in public-private partnerships to provide remote sensing data for scientific research. The government plays a critical role in the development of new sensors and instruments for the collection of data. Government agencies also play a unique role in producing low- to medium-resolution, broad-swath data that may have little commercial applicability but do have significant scientific value, particularly in monitoring changes in the Earth system. The government also has provided calibration, validation, and verification for data obtained through public-private partnerships. These services are essential to the scientific use of remote sensing data and must be provided by one of the partners. (As discussed in Chapter 4, in the subsection “Intellectual Property and Access to Data,” third parties could also provide this service.) To calibrate the data, scientists need to know the sensors used to collect the data, sensor reference and light sources, and changes in the sensor and calibration sources, in addition to the software algorithms used to make adjustments to the data. The validation and verification role is equally important. In NASA’s Science Data Buy (SDB), the government ensures that the data sets provided to scientists are traceable to standards, assuring comparability and saving researchers valuable time and resources that they would otherwise have to expend. Finally, Congress and federal agencies and the administration play invaluable roles as brokers for the interests of science—for example, NASA by acquiring commercially derived data through public-private partnerships and the executive branch by providing the legislative means to encourage the use of new private sources of data for scientific research. In the SDB, NASA negotiated data acquisition schedules, the price for delivered products, intellectual property restrictions, and delivery schedules with the five firms selected to participate in the program. Because the government already maintains data centers and long-term archives for scientific data collected through government satellite programs, a logical extension of this role is for the government to provide similar services for data collected under public-private partnerships. This function would be valuable for research, particularly research involving long time periods, and it is unlikely to be done by the private sector under current funding programs.1 1 Because NASA was the only government agency involved in the public-private partnerships examined at the workshop, most of the comments about government involvement in public-private partnerships are related to NASA. In the future, however, other government agencies are likely to be involved in public-private partnerships as well, so the generic term “government” is used throughout this report.
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Toward New Partnerships in Remote Sensing: Government, the Private Sector, and Earth Science Research Licensing Finding. Full and open access2 to data used in research and the ability both to replicate research findings and to conduct further research using the same data are critical to the scientific process. However, commercial entities view their data as intellectual property, and consequently there may be intellectual property issues or additional costs involved in reusing data obtained through public-private partnerships. Because of the importance of this property to firms, each participant in the Science Data Buy negotiated a separate intellectual property agreement with the government. In this situation, the data requirements of the scientific community and the profit objectives of the private sector appear to be in conflict. U.S. Department of Commerce licensing procedures provide that all remote sensing data under a government license be offered to a government data repository before they can be destroyed. However, no timeframe during which this must occur is specified. Recommendation 1. The government partner in a public-private partnership should negotiate in its contract for open scientific distribution and reuse of data obtained under the partnership. Evaluation of Public-Private Partnerships for Science Data Finding. Public-private partnership programs for science data have been in operation for several years. The initial phases of the Science Data Buy have been completed. Formal program evaluation will help the government both evaluate existing operations and understand how best to structure future programs. Recommendation 2. A formal, independent review of the Science Data Buy and of the SeaWiFS program should be conducted to evaluate the scientific benefits and the efficacy and economic benefits of each partnership to the parties involved. Broadening Participation of Scientists in the Science Data Buy Finding. Participation in the SDB is limited to current NASA grantees, but other academic scientists could usefully participate in the program. If the SDB is intended to benefit scientists, there should be no restrictions on scientists’ eligibility to compete for access to data because of their current sources of research funding; all scientists at U.S. academic institutions should be able to compete for data from the SDB. 2 Several policy statements guarantee the full and open access of government and scientific data. See National Research Council, Resolving Conflicts Arising from the Privatization of Environmental Data, Washington, D.C., National Academy Press, 2001, p. 18.
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Toward New Partnerships in Remote Sensing: Government, the Private Sector, and Earth Science Research Recommendation 3. NASA should permit any academic scientist to compete for data under the Science Data Buy or successor programs. THE SCIENCE PERSPECTIVE From the perspective of scientists, public-private partnerships are valuable because of their potential to provide access to data that might otherwise not be available to them. This includes new types of data, such as have been made available through the SDB and the SeaWiFS programs. Data Continuity Finding. Continuity of remote sensing observations over long periods of time is essential for Earth system science and global change research, and it requires that scientists have access to repeated observations obtained over periods of many years. Problems may arise with the use of remote sensing data from sensors that have different capabilities and characteristics. The problem of data continuity existed when scientific data came solely from the government, but it is exacerbated when scientific data are obtained from a mixture of government and public-private sources. Data obtained through public-private partnerships could continue to be useful as historical or “heritage” data and should be archived for future use. Data management is a major responsibility of the public sector partner; it should be done in collaboration with the scientific community. Programs designed to ensure intercomparability of data and information derived from different sensors, exemplified by the Sensor Intercomparison and Merger for Biological and Interdisciplinary Oceanic Studies (SIMBIOS) project at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center,3 are essential to providing continuity of data series. Such efforts will make it possible to have seamless transitions among sensors that will allow advances in technology to be realized while maintaining a data stream on key properties over a period of years. 3 “The Sensor Intercomparison and Merger for Biological and Interdisciplinary Oceanic Studies (SIMBIOS) program at NASA‘s Goddard Space Flight Program arose following a NASA management review of the agency’s strategy for monitoring bio-optical properties of the global ocean. SIMBIOS addresses the need to achieve comparable measurements from successive ocean color remote sensing missions and generate time-series information spanning a period of years to decades. The program consists of a science team and a project office that combine research expertise of academia and technical capabilities of government. A central role of SIMBIOS is to consolidate data holdings on bio-optical properties in support of ocean color remote sensing, and to facilitate and support research that enables inter-comparisons. These efforts hinge on the creation of global bio-optical time series products.” Additional information on SIMBIOS can be found at <http://simbios.gsfc.nasa.gov>.
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Toward New Partnerships in Remote Sensing: Government, the Private Sector, and Earth Science Research Recommendation 4. Existing remote sensing data series—for example, the Landsat series—within current or anticipated public-private partnerships should be maintained to provide comparable data for scientific research over time. Support should also be made available for research in either the scientific community or the private sector or both on how to generate seamless transitions from one data source to another as new sensors replace past or current sensors. Archiving Finding. Scientific data obtained through public-private partnerships must be available for future use through data centers and permanent archives. The inclusion of data and relevant metadata that are amenable to reprocessing after algorithms have been improved will be an important function in permanent archives and data centers. Recommendation 5. Data produced by the private sector in a public-private partnership should be archived for subsequent redistribution to scientists and for creating long time series of data. The government partner should negotiate for permission to do this. Calibration, Validation, and Verification Finding. Scientists require instrument characterization and data calibration to physical units with quantified uncertainty. Access to calibrated data is an essential precondition for many scientific uses of remote sensing data, to ensure the quality of the data and to ensure that data sets differing in spatial, temporal, or spectral coverage, or acquired by different instruments are comparable. Because most of the customers of private sector remote sensing firms do not require highly calibrated data, commercial firms have not routinely provided calibration, validation, and verification services at the level required by the science community. In public-private partnerships, the government has often assumed responsibility for calibration, validation, and verification. The steering committee commends the government’s role in providing excellent calibration, validation, and verification of commercially obtained remote sensing data for scientific use. Recommendation 6. Public-private partnerships to acquire data for scientific research should ensure that the partnership agreement specifies who has responsibility for calibrating and validating the data, what the scope of the calibration and validation processes is, and what resources (financial, technical, and personnel) will be made available for these purposes.
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Toward New Partnerships in Remote Sensing: Government, the Private Sector, and Earth Science Research Standardization of Data Management Finding. Consistent approaches to documentation and preparation of data for long-term archiving are key to effective data stewardship in public-private partnerships. Recommendation 7. In the process of negotiating a public-private sector data partnership, the parties should agree to use commonly accepted standards for metadata, data formats, and data portability. THE PRIVATE SECTOR ROLE IN PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS The private sector has made laudable strides in forging new partnerships with the government. It has taken commercial and technical risks in these partnerships and has gained an appreciation of the requirements of scientific data users. Communication Finding. Communication among government data providers, commercial data providers, and scientists is vital to effective partnerships. More opportunities for formal and informal communication are needed. Communication between the private sector and the academic scientific community is particularly valuable. Planning for public-private partnerships to produce remote sensing data for research should include opportunities for direct communication among the partners and scientists who use the data. Recommendation 8. The government should facilitate direct communication between members of the scientific community and the private sector, including communication during the early stages of planning for public-private remote sensing programs. THE PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP The SDB and SeaWiFS were created to obtain commercially produced remotely sensed data for scientific research and to stimulate the U.S. remote sensing iindustry. Both programs have been operating long enough to provide guidance for the development of future public-private partnerships. Defined objectives and efficient and accurate feedback on the progress of these programs can contribute to meeting these goals. Public-private partnerships for obtaining new sources of data for scientific research are new entities that may share some characteristics of each partner but at the same time are independent of both founding partners.
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Toward New Partnerships in Remote Sensing: Government, the Private Sector, and Earth Science Research Performance Measures Finding. Public-private partnerships benefit from ongoing evaluation, not just from retrospective assessment. Performance measures help all parties (industry, government, and scientists) benchmark progress, identify problems, and communicate results to stakeholders (including taxpayers, university administrators, corporate stockholders, the U.S. Congress, federal agencies, and others). Such measures also guide partnership activities in defining and establishing incentives for future success. Performance measures should be tailored to the goals of the parties—that is, return on investment for industry, good science output for researchers, and cost-effective performance by government agencies. Although NASA is conducting an internal review of the SDB program, and other reports have analyzed public-private partnerships,4 no performance measures exist for assessing the quality of these public-private programs. Recommendation 9. Representatives of government agencies and commercial firms involved in public-private partnerships, together with scientists who use the data in these programs, should define performance measures at the time the public-private partnership is established. These performance measures should be taken into account in formal program evaluations. Realistic Cost Accounting Finding. The purchase of private sector data by the public sector for use in scientific research involves many more costs to both parties than the simple transaction cost. They include the costs of data dissemination and of verification and validation on the government side and the costs to both the government and the private sector if changes are made to a contract or if delays occur on the private sector side. These buried costs, if unacknowledged, can serve as a disincentive to the formation of further public-private relationships. If these costs are realistic and transparent, discussions about future partnerships could take into account alternative ways to provide the services at issue. Recommendation 10. Public-private relationships for producing scientific data should practice realistic cost accounting, making all the costs of the partnership transparent and open to negotiation. 4 Scott Pace, David Frelinger, Beth Lachman, Arthur Brooks, and Mark Gabriele, The Earth Below: Purchasing Science Data and the Role of Public-Private Partnerships, Santa Monica, Calif., RAND, 2000.
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