Click for next page ( 2

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement

Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 1
Summary The National Science Foundation's (NSF) Office of Polar Programs (OPP) is charged with enhancing our understanding of the Arctic and Antarctic their harsh environments, systems, resources, and roles in global processes. Within OPP, the Arctic Section is responsible for a variety of programs that seek to better understand the biological, geological, chemical, and sociocultural processes op- erating in the Arctic, as well as the interactions of ocean, land, atmosphere, biological, and human systems. One of these programs is the multidisciplinary Arctic Natural Sciences program (ANS), which was established in 1995 and began distributing research funds in 1996. With annual funding of about $10 million, ANS provides grants to support state-of-the-art research in the atmo- spheric sciences, biological sciences, earth sciences, glaciology, and oceanogra- phy. The program thus considers proposals in an exceptionally wide range of fields, and while this is scientifically stimulating it is challenging from a manage- ment point of view. Because the program is young and still evolving, OPP asked the National Research Council to examine the ANS program's management and research strategy and provide guidance on how to set research priorities given the diverse scientific issues that fall within its purview. This report is the response of a committee appointed to accomplish that task. The committee is unanimous in stressing that there is a significant need for a research program with the diverse focus of the Arctic Natural Sciences program, and despite some inherent overlap with other NSF programs the committee believes that the ANS program should be NSF's focal point for research in the

OCR for page 1
2 FUTURE DIRECTIONS FOR NSF'S ARCTIC NATURAL SCIENCES PROGRAM natural sciences in the Arctic. Individual as well as joint and cooperative propos- als should have equal access to funding. The ANS program is off to a good start, but this is an opportune time to identify areas for its improvement. This report explores the program's strengths and weaknesses, looking at its current budget, portfolio, and management struc- ture. This summary provides a brief overview of the committee' s main findings, but readers should see the full text for details. PROGRAM SCOPE AND STRUCTURE In the committee's view, the program's effectiveness can be increased by more clearly defining the ANS mission statement and scientific boundaries, while keeping in mind the ANS' role within the full context of programs within OPP and NSF as a whole. After studying the ANS program and the OPP context, the committee offers the following as a mission statement for the program: The mission of the Arctic Natural Sciences Program is to fund cutting-edge research dealing with any aspect of the Arctic's atmospheric, terrestrial, and marine systems. The program focuses on proposals that contribute to under- standing and predicting the unique elements and processes that are part of the arctic environment. The committee suggests that the ANS's broad scientific program be subdi- vided and managed in three spheres: atmospheric systems, terrestrial systems, and marine systems. These spheres should be seen as administrative aids; their boundaries should be flexible with regard to both subject matter and allocation of dollars. There will be instances of overlap and interaction among the spheres, and times when specific proposals will fail to fit neatly into a category. In these cases, staff should let good judgment rule and assign an appropriate, if not per- fect, home. The boundaries are flexible to accommodate varied circumstances and should not be allowed to inadvertently foster competitiveness among the groups; the effectiveness of the ANS program as a whole should always be the key objective. The first step in determining whether a proposal is suitable for ANS funding is to judge whether the idea falls within program boundaries. The committee proposes three levels of guidelines to help program staff select appropriate pro- posals. First, the research should focus on one of the following: The research addresses natural phenomena, problems, or processes associ- ated with arctic latitudes. The arctic environment serves as an irreplaceable natural laboratory or unique source of data or materials for the successful execution of the research. The research deals with glaciology including ice sheets, glaciers, snow, and permafrost anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere.

OCR for page 1
SUMMARY Second, the program should be open to: 3 research proposals with an arctic focus that are not part of existing targeted, focused programs elsewhere within NSF; . research proposals considered of higher risk or uncertainty, or perhaps un usually creative or speculative in nature; . research proposals that require extensive logistical support in the Arctic; and research proposals that gather data of use to the international arctic science community and that involve collaboration with international partners. Third, as a final level of guidance, the committee believes that ANS proposals, in general, can include: . . Arctic; research that examines processes along latitudinal gradients that include the research ideas from all scientists, whether or not they have had previous experience in the Arctic; . or . research that requires major synthesis of data and theories within the Arctic, research that investigates bipolar processes. MANAGEMENT STRATEGY AND RESEARCH PRIORITIES The fundamental strength of the ANS program is that it is a general program that covers a broad range of topics. It is not theme-focused, nor does this com- mittee believe it should be. The program's flexibility makes it a good opportu- nity for ideas that are innovative and perhaps even risky. It can be a starting point for scientists with limited experience in the Arctic. Although priority setting will always be a part of decisionmaking where budgets are limited, the selection of specific themes that dictate program direction and are solicited as such should not be the driver behind this program. We do not mean to imply that other NSF programs are not open to newcomers or do not support innovative research; rather, our point is that the ANS programs' breadth can be seen as a strength and used to facilitate such activities. Because it is hard for program managers to make judgments in fields outside their own, decisionmaking in such a diverse program can be difficult. This problem can be somewhat alleviated by careful selection of staff people with expertise and experience in a variety of the relevant disciplines; it will be further mitigated over time as staff knowledge increases. In addition, aspects of the decisionmaking process can be designed to enlarge the view brought by the program's managers. For example, setting priorities should involve input from at least three groups: NSF management, to be sure that the priorities selected support broader agency goals and strategic planning; the research communities

OCR for page 1
4 FUTURE DIRECTIONS FOR NSF'S ARCTIC NATURAL SCIENCES PROGRAM that will be requesting funds, to be sure that the priorities selected represent what they believe are the most important and cutting-edge issues; and representatives of related research programs and agencies, to be sure there is coordination of effort. This input can be gained through a one-time exercise like a workshop or special committee, but a more long-term approach would be to use existing activities to solicit ongoing input that is, use existing mail review and panel review processes to judge proposal quality and gain insight into the level of importance of the work. Other mechanisms to help in priority setting could include Committees of Visitors tailored to the task, subcommittees of the Office Advisory Committee, and town meetings. These processes, combined with input from NSF staff and from other agency staff, should be adequate to reflect the full range of views. It is then the job of ANS staff to synthesize the information and make final judgments about priorities. In general, the setting of priorities for the ANS program should not be a one-time event but a flexible and continuing process. INTERNATIONAL AND AGENCY COOPERATION Since many nations are actively involved in research in the Arctic, interna- tional cooperation is vital in optimizing opportunities and cost effectiveness; thus, international collaboration should be encouraged. Although a research proposal cannot be judged solely on whether it has an international dimension, appropriate collaborations across national boundaries should almost always be considered an advantage. Similarly, interagency cooperation is critical to the efficient use of limited resources. Some formal mechanisms exist to encourage communication and cooperation among agencies (e.g., the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee) but ANS staff should be encouraged to continue and increase informal interactions with staff in other agencies as well. LOGISTICS Any program charged to support research in the Arctic will inevitably have to deal with the issue of providing logistics support, and OPP needs to address how best to provide such support in the arctic context. This is not to say that arctic logistics support must be equal to the antarctic logistics support provided by the Polar Support Section, because the settings are very different and, in fact, many in the arctic research community appreciate the flexibility they have to arrange their own logistics. But there is community dissatisfaction with the current approach, where each program manager is expected to juggle some logis- tics issues.

OCR for page 1
SUMMARY s PROGRAM DATA AVAILABILITY As noted, the ANS program is relatively young and so has a limited record of performance. Still, in the course of this study it became apparent that basic information about the program was not readily available. Good recordkeeping is essential to good program management: accurate, basic data on the size and types of awards and other standard information should be kept in computer databases that are accessible to staff and easily interpreted. CONCLUSION In summary, the Arctic Natural Sciences Program is responsible for selecting and funding research in an exceptionally wide range of fields, and this does pose some special management challenges. Given the diversity of fields covered and the volume of proposals received, initial staffing levels were too small but recent changes may have relieved this situation. Regardless of the number of staff assigned to the program, special care will always be needed to ensure that the program fulfills its broad mission to be the main NSF program responsible for funding cutting-edge research dealing with the Arctic's atmospheric, terrestrial, and marine systems. While it may periodically be appropriate to highlight certain research areas as being of current high importance, the fundamental strength of the ANS program is its breadth, and it should not evolve into a program that is theme-driven. As a general program, ANS provides important opportunities for individual researchers, new ideas, and disciplinary approaches that do not fit into the focused themes that guide many of the other relevant programs.