recommendations in this regard (especially in the context of this very quick review process), but we do suggest that this matter be given explicit consideration by an independent expert group.
Setting priorities. The Plan states commitments to many important new research directions – for instance, to improve understanding of how natural and social conditions interact to affect resilience and vulnerability; to develop methods for valuing ecosystem goods and services; to improve characterization of uncertainty in ways that enable decision makers to evaluate options. In fact, the Plan states directly that the USGCRP will pursue some important endeavor at least 177 times, not counting numerous additional commitments for action stated in textboxes throughout the document. Yet the Plan gives no clear indication of an approach to prioritizing these numerous commitments in a manner that will move beyond business-as-usual.
The Plan needs to identify what criteria and management structure will enable the Program to prioritize across existing and new research. The three criteria listed at L.3547 -3551 are too general to provide enough guidance to prioritize. (For instance, would such criteria help in choosing between an existing project on aerosol-cloud interactions versus a new activity that integrates social and natural science to support improved management of air quality and its linkages to global change?)
More specific criteria for prioritization, such as those discussed in ACC Advancing the Science report (NRC, 2010a; P.156-158) would be a step in the right direction. We particularly note that report’s emphasis on criteria related to the value of science for informing decision making. Consideration of decision makers’ needs might lead the Program to consider thematic approaches to defining research goals (i.e., science to address choices about providing clean water, sustaining marine ecosystems, providing better public health warnings, etc.).
Evaluation and updating. The Plan appropriately notes the value of using an adaptive management approach to evaluate progress and update the Plan based on input from those using research to inform decisions. However, it needs to be clearer about the specific questions the Program will address and expected outcomes and milestones against which it could be evaluated in the near-term (3-5 years). It should include specific mechanisms for periodic review and updating of the Plan in light of changes in international circumstances, technological developments, and budget appropriations, and in light of what is learned about what has and has not worked well within the Program’s operations. The Plan would also be strengthened by identifying steps to make the Program more resilient to the expected funding turbulence ahead. Ideally, there should also be consideration of plans for assessing the USGCRP itself – not of the science the Program produces, but of what has and has not worked well within the Program’s operations (including consideration of the governance questions mentioned above). This sort of assessment, which has not been done in the Program’s 20 year history, could help the USGCRP to establish priorities and implementation strategies.