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Review of NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise Applications Program Plan II General Findings and Recommendations The committee was impressed by NASA’s commitment to a strong applications program that will have a national impact. The Applications Plan contains many sections that serve as a good starting point for demonstrating that intent via a process that recognizes partnerships and shared applications of research results as critical contributions toward meeting NASA’s mission. A number of aspects of the Applications Plan are especially noteworthy. Notable examples of elements of the Applications Plan that the committee applauds include the following: The mission statement for the ESE Applications Program is a good broadbased statement. The process of interacting with other federal agencies to reach a diverse group of users is a viable and appropriate avenue to pursue. The management approach and prioritization of criteria for evaluating candidate applications areas are well reasoned. The itemization of action steps is valuable for the overall process and strategy. The science is linked with the decision-making process using decision support systems. While the Applications Plan does not have fundamental weaknesses, the committee makes a series of recommendations for its improvement. Some overarching themes have been drawn from committee discussions. They are listed here first either because they recurred throughout the document evaluation process, and/or because they stand as general guidance and feedback to NASA regarding ways to strengthen the overall NASA applications strategy. The ESE Applications Program needs a period of stability and consistency of at least 5 years so that managers, partners, and applications users can have time to implement the NASA applications strategy and bring proposed applications initiatives to fruition. Both NASA representatives and officials from outside the agency noted that earlier changes in emphasis had unintended consequences. The Applications Plan should strive to reinforce effective past practices and demonstrate linkages to successful data application strategies. The current draft of the Applications Plan lacks sufficient language regarding how the NASA applications strategy will build on past approaches and projects, even as the Applications Plan retains a forward-looking agenda that remains its primary focus. The Applications Plan should address NASA’s ongoing commitment to providing data, models, and infrastructure support for operational solutions needed to attain the 2010 goals.
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Review of NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise Applications Program Plan Overall, the Applications Plan needs a clearer sense of connectivity in several different directions. This could be achieved by showing the linkages of (a) past strategies to the current strategy (as noted above), (b) the ESE Applications Program to other ESE programs, (c) the NASA applications strategy’s links to implementation and budgeting processes, and (d) NASA roles and responsibilities with respect to those of partners (see below). The theme of partnerships has been invoked in the NASA applications strategy, but it has not been fully realized in definition, scope, or practice. For example, the Applications Plan would benefit from a description of how the needs of partner federal agencies will be identified and when in the process of transition from research to operations these processes will be initiated. The opening section of the Applications Plan should document efforts by NASA to involve partners in the development of the NASA applications strategy itself, not only to demonstrate credibility, but also to reinforce NASA’s commitment to sharing credit as well as information. The relationship between partnering and implementation of applications is underdeveloped. Without a clear statement regarding the role of partners in the implementation of the NASA applications strategy and the application of data, the partnering function will resemble a “hand-off rather than an inclusive, interactive, and collaborative process. Further, the establishment of a feedback mechanism should be an important concept within the partnerships that helps to define mutually agreed upon success/transition criteria or metrics. Such feedback should improve collaboration regarding next steps, suggest revisions for improving ineffective existing steps, and contribute to defining needs for future science research. The committee believes that the importance of end users and the private sector’s role as a performer or as a partner should also be prominently featured. Illustrative examples of past success would be useful. The Applications Plan’s references to eight large clusters of stakeholder groups may be an unwieldy way to reach potential partners, running the risk of over-generalization and promoting “sampling” as opposed to true partnering. The accomplishment of goals as outlined in Table 1 of the document will depend on other federal agency action as much as action by NASA; more details are needed regarding how partner participation is ensured, how it is measured, and how to create “buy-in.” Finally, while the Applications Plan cites partnerships that relate almost exclusively to federal partners, the committee could not determine whether NASA also contemplates primary partnerships with non-federal partners or whether those partnerships will be only or mainly derivative. The committee believes that NASA should recruit partners using open announcements in an effort to expand the pool of partners.
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Review of NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise Applications Program Plan The Applications Plan could benefit from more attention to its intended audience. The document does not clearly specify an intended audience, beyond all-inclusive references to the American people. More importantly, while the intended audience may be reasonably knowledgeable people within OMB and Congress, the Applications Plan will be read by a broader audience and therefore must provide greater context, perhaps at the expense of brevity, to facilitate better communication and avoid generating unintended consequences or misinterpretations. The Applications Plan needs to articulate a strategy for translating concepts into more tangible actions. A number of concepts could benefit from further development and explanation. Among the needed improvements are a stronger opening statement as to why the strategy is necessary and why this particular strategy is the best approach; an explanation of how the plan reflects consultation with non-NASA stakeholders; a more specific identification of who the program is for and how it is to be accomplished, including the role of Earth Science Information Partners Regional Earth Science Applications Centers, and others; a greater distinction between the general mission of ESE and the more specific mission of the ESE Applications Program; a specific rationale for conveying a 10-year commitment for the strategy; clarification as to whether the strategy employs a “push” or “pull” (or “driver vs. response”) approach with partners, whether partners are primarily federal agencies or others such as local governments are also included, and whether demonstration projects are still part of this strategy; responsibility of partners to co-fund; and clarification of the mechanism or strategy for the transfer of activity from NASA to its partners. Finally, it would be most helpful if examples were given to illustrate the successful functioning of the process. Options for illustrative examples include a series of graphic diagrams, or tracing one example throughout the Applications Plan to illustrate how the various processes would apply. On the whole, the recommendations of the committee are designed to increase understanding, eliminate confusion, and improve the acceptance of the NASA applications strategy by a wide audience of potential partners, users, and other interested parties. The committee endorses the efforts of NASA to explore new and improved approaches to its function of applying Earth sciences information in a useful and collaborative fashion.
Representative terms from entire chapter: