4
Principles for Selecting Activities and Modes of Support

Because the needs for research and nonresearch activities to support sectoral decisions far exceed the current resources of the Sectoral Applications Research Program (SARP), it is necessary to select among worthwhile activities so as to use SARP’s very limited resources efficiently. This is why we recommend that certain areas of research and network-building activities have priority for near-term support.

The first section of this chapter identifies a set of principles that we adopted for recommending areas of research and that we believe SARP can use in selecting from among what is likely to be a surfeit of worthwhile activities. There is some potential for conflict among some of these principles, an issue we address below. The second section discusses the modes of support that are appropriate for the selected activities.

PRINCIPLES FOR SELECTING ACTIVITIES

Links to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Mission and SARP Objectives

The principal criterion for setting priorities for activities to be supported is the congruency between the proposed activity and the objectives of SARP, namely, to foster the appropriate use of climate information in key socioeconomic sectors, defined by resources or decision arenas. Central to the NOAA human dimensions mission are the goals of identifying and reducing “vulnerability to climate variability and change in key socioeconomic sectors” and promoting “the enhanced and increasingly sophis-



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Research and Networks for Decision Support: In the NOAA Sectoral Applications Research Program 4 Principles for Selecting Activities and Modes of Support Because the needs for research and nonresearch activities to support sectoral decisions far exceed the current resources of the Sectoral Applications Research Program (SARP), it is necessary to select among worthwhile activities so as to use SARP’s very limited resources efficiently. This is why we recommend that certain areas of research and network-building activities have priority for near-term support. The first section of this chapter identifies a set of principles that we adopted for recommending areas of research and that we believe SARP can use in selecting from among what is likely to be a surfeit of worthwhile activities. There is some potential for conflict among some of these principles, an issue we address below. The second section discusses the modes of support that are appropriate for the selected activities. PRINCIPLES FOR SELECTING ACTIVITIES Links to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Mission and SARP Objectives The principal criterion for setting priorities for activities to be supported is the congruency between the proposed activity and the objectives of SARP, namely, to foster the appropriate use of climate information in key socioeconomic sectors, defined by resources or decision arenas. Central to the NOAA human dimensions mission are the goals of identifying and reducing “vulnerability to climate variability and change in key socioeconomic sectors” and promoting “the enhanced and increasingly sophis-

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Research and Networks for Decision Support: In the NOAA Sectoral Applications Research Program ticated use of climate information, including forecasts, in decision making” (see http://www.climate.noaa.gov/cpo_pa/sarp/ [accessed April 5, 2007]). Thus, SARP should support research and network-building activities that link climate information with its ultimate users and that assess users’ needs for climate-related information and promote, facilitate, and assess the adoption, use, and effectiveness of climate-related information by relevant decision makers and other users. This criterion encompasses a far greater range of worthwhile activities than SARP can support. All the activities we recommend for near-term support, as well as the other research activities we have highlighted, meet this criterion. Promotion of Social Innovation in Using Climate Science We emphasize throughout this report that getting decision-relevant climate information used requires innovation within and sometimes among potential user groups and the creation of new communication networks and organizational functions. The evidence from social science shows that simply creating and providing useful information does not usually create use. Without better understanding of the sources of innovations and knowledge-based efforts to promote their adoption, the potential societal benefits of NOAA’s major efforts to improve climate forecasts may not be realized. Thus, we recommend that SARP’s near-term investments in research emphasize understanding the conditions that favor change in information-gathering, communication, and decision-making routines and the emergence and maintenance of networks and knowledge systems that can better inform decisions in sectors affected by climate variability and change. One useful initial approach would be careful studies of apparently successful models for network building. Our recommended communication-related priorities are also focused on meeting this criterion. We reemphasize, however, that there are important mission-related social science research activities that do not focus on innovation in decision and communication processes. Although we do not think support of these activities can be justified within SARP’s current and likely future budgets, they nevertheless deserve support as part of NOAA’s human dimensions research effort. High-Impact Decisions SARP should preferentially support research to understand and improve the integration of climate information into large-scale, long-lived, and large-sector decisions because of the potential for long-term practical effects. Thus, other things being equal, it should give priority to activities

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Research and Networks for Decision Support: In the NOAA Sectoral Applications Research Program that can improve decisions that affect large geographic areas (e.g., comprehensive growth planning for large estuaries) or large environmental sectors (e.g., coastal erosion). It should give priority to activities that can better inform decisions with long-term implications through appropriate use of climate science, such as infrastructure-related decisions that can reduce the vulnerability of specific coastal areas to disasters related to expected climate variability and change. Other examples include floodplain mapping and relicensing of dams by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. SARP should also preferentially support activities that are timely in terms of critical junctures in climate-affected decisions, such as re-signing international water treaties on the Columbia River. Leveraging Investments Through Partnerships SARP and the recipients of its funds should seek partners in funding and in operations, including state and federal agencies, private-sector firms and associations, and other nongovernmental organizations whose constituents would benefit from the dissemination of decision-relevant climate information and its integration in particular issue areas. Such partners might be willing to help subsidize the process financially or to take on some of the functions in a knowledge-action system, such as communication with constituencies or customizing climate information for them. Thus, a criterion for project priority could be participation, resource allocation, or matching funds from non-NOAA organizations. Partnerships between agencies with knowledge-development responsibilities and agencies with outreach and extension capacity may be especially fruitful. Fertile Ground SARP should preferentially support research and network building in sectors or with types of decision makers who are especially likely to use climate science or who can benefit greatly from it. One way to do this is to give priority to activities focused on the types of decision makers who have demonstrated interest in incorporating climate science into their decisions and practices. This is a strategy to invest in activities for which a positive return is most likely. Another promising opportunity lies in linking findings from research on climate and its effects to salient climate-affected problems that must be addressed by an identifiable class of decision makers who have not yet demonstrated interest in climate information. For example, many state and federal agencies are charged with managing environmental pollution. Climate change is likely to alter how regulated pollutants are emitted; how they interact in air, water, and soil media; and how pollution can be miti-

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Research and Networks for Decision Support: In the NOAA Sectoral Applications Research Program gated. The organizational routines for making such management decisions have not previously included the use of climate information, including seasonal forecasts, but there is an obvious potential benefit of including them. SARP should support work to understand whether and how climate science information begins to be used in such organizational decision processes. SARP should also support workshop activities with types of decision makers who rarely use climate-related information but for whom there is a clear potential for making better decisions by doing so. Increasing Resilience and Adaptability Climate variation and change are expected to increase the frequency, intensity, and stochastic uncertainty of climate-related extreme events. These effects will not occur uniformly across all geographic regions, resource sectors, and political decision-making units. Other things being equal, SARP should give priority to research and network-building activities that focus on highly vulnerable places, environmental sectors, and groups of people. SARP should also emphasize ways to increase resilience (the ability to recover, using available natural and human resources) and adaptability (the capacity to change quickly in response to anticipated or actual events and to learn new strategies for preparedness and coping). Equity For reasons well known in social science, some sets of actors are much better organized and have access to more resources than others (see, e.g., Truman, 1955). Such differences are likely to be as true in coping with the challenges of climate variability and change as in other areas of human activity. Thus, the results of use-inspired, climate-related research may improve decision making and provide benefits primarily for organizations and interests that are relatively well endowed while doing little for less-privileged but no less vulnerable actors (Lemos and Dilling, 2007). Thus, we propose the use of equity as a criterion in selecting among scientifically strong proposals—favoring projects that offer the prospect of improving decisions in key sectors for which disadvantaged actors are likely to benefit. We note that this criterion may sometimes favor just those projects that look weak on the criterion of fertile ground. Vulnerable and disadvantaged groups are often difficult to organize and to engage in communication with science, so that efforts to reach them may take more time and expense than efforts to reach organized groups. Project selection should take these differences into account. SARP should support a portfolio of activities that includes both investments for which returns are likely and more challenging activities aimed at unorganized or vulnerable groups.

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Research and Networks for Decision Support: In the NOAA Sectoral Applications Research Program Research of Interest to Social Science To meet NOAA’s social science mission and the objectives of SARP requires the highest quality social science research. The research questions we have formulated about decision-making routines and network creation and functioning have the potential to attract such research, as the behavioral and social science issues are fundamental as well as relevant to NOAA’s mission. Proposed research projects should be evaluated in terms of how well they are conceptualized both in relation to mission goals for improved use of climate information and in relation to basic underlying social and behavioral science questions. Keeping the interest of basic researchers in social and behavioral science is a good way to attract promising ideas and high-quality researchers from outside the climate science community and thus maintain the vitality SARP. MODES OF SUPPORT The principles described above should help SARP leverage resources and concentrate its limited funds to create a robust research agenda that advances knowledge of how climate information is disseminated and integrated into decisions and how networks of decision makers affect those actions. Various traditional approaches exist for funding research programs, each with its advantages, limitations, and cost considerations. Several of these are summarized in the SARP context in Box 4-1. The best mode of support depends on the need, and for the three near-term priorities we recommend, the appropriate modes of support are fairly straightforward to determine. Workshops Grants are the obvious mechanism for supporting the recommended workshops. They take advantage of the strengths of this mechanism for framing research questions, developing networks of researchers and of researchers and practitioners, and improving communication among groups that do not normally interact. However, to encourage submission of proposals that combine workshops with use-inspired research on networks, it is worth considering a competition, guided by a request for proposals that would allow for research proposals, workshop proposals, and combined workshop-research proposals. Research on Networks Openly competitive research grants can encourage the involvement of strong researchers, but they can lead to a lack of focus on mission goals

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Research and Networks for Decision Support: In the NOAA Sectoral Applications Research Program unless the research is guided by requests for proposals or the use of a contracting mechanism. Depending on the context, a contract can be preferable to a competitive grant or vice versa. For the targeted research areas we recommend supporting, SARP should offer research grants through request-for-proposal mechanisms. Contract research can also be appropriate for highly targeted research activities, such as research to evaluate workshops or to compare the results of different workshop activities. Pilot Projects The recommended pilot projects are intended to catalyze and provide initial support for knowledge-action networks. Such projects can appropriately be supported through research grants or contracts. Pilot projects involve relatively long-term commitments to help such networks become established on a solid scientific footing. However, SARP’s resources are insufficient to make many or very long commitments of this type unless long-term matching support can be found. Thus, SARP should support pilot projects that have developed partnerships with organizations that represent certain types of potential users of climate science and that can promise either shared support or the likelihood that shared support will be forthcoming after initial support from SARP. Other Activities and Modes of Support Centers of excellence can provide a predictable research budget for concerted efforts over time on topics that are likely to be critical to moving scientific understanding forward over several years. One such topic is that of social innovations that can integrate climate-related information into potential users’ information-gathering and decision-making routines. There is a good argument in principle for supporting such centers for this kind of effort; in practice, however, we do not advise creation of centers of excellence in SARP at this time because, given the size of the SARP budget, such an expensive, long-term commitment would foreclose too large a proportion of other research opportunities. In the future, the possibility of establishing SARP research centers should be reconsidered. Research support should be provided for the overall evaluation of SARP and of its research and communication-related activities, as recommended in Chapter 5. Considering that the metrics for evaluation are not yet well developed, research that includes an evaluation component should probably be supported through a grant mechanism, with a request for proposals that calls on applicants to develop metrics and monitoring approaches that can be repeatedly applied.

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Research and Networks for Decision Support: In the NOAA Sectoral Applications Research Program BOX 4-1 Modes of Research Support Workshop Grants Advantages Can bring together researchers and decision makers for collaborative development of a research agenda. Improve mutual understanding between researchers and decision makers. Improve realism in research designs. Increase investment by decision makers who see that their interests are seriously addressed. Help researchers link their findings to potential users’ concerns. Limitations Difficult to document products of workshop and new learning. Learning from “one-shot workshops” likely to disperse quickly unless reinforced by continued contact (e.g., listservs, regular reports, etc.). If not skillfully run, some participants may become alienated from research and become less willing to collaborate. Costs Minimal to moderately expensive, depending mostly on reinforcement activities; travel is main expense, which can be managed by locating workshops close to most participants or selecting low-cost locations for workshops. Competitive Research Grants Advantages Researchers quickly identify opportunities. Can leverage knowledge through other sources of funding (e.g., the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency). NOAA has built a cohort of social science researchers. Limitations Can generate excellent research that does not add to knowledge in a systematic way; request-for-proposal mechanisms can help overcome this limitation by requesting targeted research. Peer review process is demanding on academics’ time. Progress is difficult to monitor. Costs Expensive to administer, for agency and grantee, especially for very small programs. Funding of multiyear or multi-investigator projects reduces amount of new research possible each year.

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Research and Networks for Decision Support: In the NOAA Sectoral Applications Research Program Planning Grants Advantages Useful for bringing researchers together across disciplinary boundaries, leading to special issues of journals and long-lasting teams of collaborators. Can engage nongovernmental and governmental organizations in research efforts. Facilitate entrance of new researchers into a field, who may then tap other sources of funding. Limitations Productive researchers may not be attracted by such small grants. Limited resources may be invested in projects that never materialize. May lead to unreasonably high expectations for future funding. Costs Administrative costs not much less than for larger, competitive grants. Matching Grants Advantages Leverage matching funds from other sources. Guarantee institutional support for researcher. Create incentives to build partnerships. Limitations Finding matches can be difficult, especially for new researchers. Sources of matching funds may not be willing to take a chance on new ideas or unproved investigators. Finders may resist sharing credit with other partners. Managing shared sources of funds through a variety of contracts and subcontracts is often difficult. Costs Lower than for unmatched grants. Administrative costs the same as for competitive grants. Visiting Social Science Position in NOAA (sabbatical or fellowship visits from academic institutions, as done, for example, in the Water Resources Institute of the Army Corps of Engineers and by Resources for the Future) Advantages Innovation in agency. Improved skills of agency permanent staff. Increased understanding by academics of institutional barriers and organizational culture.

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Research and Networks for Decision Support: In the NOAA Sectoral Applications Research Program Limitations Some visitors have difficulty working productively in new settings. Time and energy needed to integrate a visiting scholar. Talents of visiting scholars may not match needs of agency. Costs Expense of salaries, benefits, housing for visiting scholars. Centers of Excellence (funds for centers focused on a particular topic in a single university or consortium) Advantages Can build a critical mass of researchers for pressing problems. Can allocate large amounts of money with relatively low costs for monitoring, peer review, budget oversight. Limitations Centers can create their own bureaucracies with all the attendant limitations of inertia and high cost. High risk because center grants are given for potential, not necessarily accomplishments. Potential for suspicion and jealousy from nonfunded organizations. Administrative burden on principal investigators. Difficulty fitting into universities’ disciplinary structures; poor cooperation. Competition among universities to entice original investigators, which can harm the research enterprise. Not a good strategy for network building. Costs Greatly reduces funding flexibility in a small research program. Closing out proposals from other organizations. Need for ongoing assessment of effectiveness, with additional costs and staff burden. Interagency Personnel Agreements (IPAs) Advantages Effective for networking by bringing together researchers from different agencies. Can create critical mass of researchers in a single agency. Increase capacity of both loaned personnel and receiving agency.

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Research and Networks for Decision Support: In the NOAA Sectoral Applications Research Program Limitations Require that needed researchers are in agencies that can make agreements. Agency reluctance to part with effective people. Concerns about diminished loyalty and commitment to institutional culture among reassigned employees. Conflicting demands on reassigned personnel who may sacrifice career opportunities at their own agencies. Costs Relatively inexpensive way to bring new knowledge and ideas into an agency. Easy to arrange: personnel departments are skilled at making these arrangements. Contracts Advantages Provide for specific services in a particular time frame; good for meeting clearly specified needs. Contractors can be held accountable for performance and deliverables. Can often be completed quickly. Good for convening and facilitating workshops, maintaining networks, and other research support activities. For some purposes private contractors can quickly put together interdisciplinary teams of experienced researchers and practitioners and can build and maintain networks over time. Limitations Not ideal for innovation because they require a very thorough statement of work. Costs Effort of developing statement of work and fashioning of legal language to make contractors accountable (can be minimized in organizations that extend contracts regularly. Usually more expensive than competitive grants because they must include full administrative costs.