The key for determining progress toward successful outcomes is to have explicit models for the NNI that link desired goals and specific long-term outcomes to investment (funding and resources), implementation plans, actions throughout the NNI, outputs, and short-term outcomes that can be measured and evaluated. The purpose of measurement and evaluation can be thought of as threefold: to determine whether the plans are being followed, to determine whether the investments and plans should be changed on the basis of outputs and short-term outcomes, and to determine whether the plans are producing the desired outcomes.
The methods, techniques, and potential of nanotechnology pervade the programs of the participating agencies. In many cases—such as the Department of Energy (DOE) Nanoscale Science Research Centers (NSRCs), the National Science Foundation (NSF) Nanotechnology Undergraduate Education (NUE) program and similar programs, and the multiple agency investments in the environmental, health, safety, and societal effects of nanotechnology—the mapping of investments to specific NNI goals is clear and direct. In other cases, however, such mapping is substantially less straightforward. Most often, the nanotechnology funding accounted for under the NNI is not defined by explicit nano-directed programs but is ascribed to nano-related projects in the broad portfolio of existing agency programs (the Type 1 funding described in Chapter 2). That makes it difficult to assess the true effect of NNI investment on outcomes of agency research or to distinguish when nanotechnology has been the driver in the outputs of the agency programs from when it has played a supporting, yet enabling, role. The committee believes that improving how individual agencies determine their share of NNI funding and making this publicly known would substantially enhance the ability to relate NNI-derived funding of projects directly to the overall output and outcomes of the agency research portfolios.
Finding: Data appear to exist that would permit evaluation of the effectiveness and efficiency of each agency’s individual NNI investment. However, at present the kinds and formats of data collected by the participating agencies are neither mutually compatible nor readily shared among the agencies.
Finding: The NSET Subcommittee and the NNCO could gather and aggregate such already existing information across agencies and bring the data and associated metrics to bear to assess progress toward NNI goals.