Development of the Ocean Research Priorities Plan
The committee would like to acknowledge and congratulate the individuals involved in the development of the draft ORPP, which represents the first coordinated national research planning effort involving all federal agencies that support ocean science. The committee cannot overstate the importance and need for these types of activities that open up lines of dialogue between and across government agencies, academia, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and industry. With respect to the current plan, the committee’s comments are meant to be constructive for the refinement of the plan and also to help guide future priority-setting efforts in ocean science.
Representatives of 25 agencies that populate the JSOST conceptualized and coordinated the development of the plan. Each section within the plan was delegated to subgroups of the JSOST, and the output of each subgroup was integrated into the draft plan. Prior to its release, the draft plan was approved by all members of the JSOST and the Interagency Committee on Ocean Science and Resource Management Integration (ICOSRMI). During the development phase of the plan, the JSOST sought input from academic, industry, government, and NGO constituencies in two ways: via a public workshop and through formal public comment. The workshop, convened in Denver, Colorado, was structured initially to obtain comments on the draft ORPP. Shortly before the workshop was convened, however, its goal was changed from commenting on the ORPP to actually providing suggestions for setting priorities.
Information about the Denver workshop was widely distributed throughout the ocean science community, including postings on the
JSOST website; e-mail notification of members of relevant federal committees, advisory groups, and professional societies and organizations; postings to discussion lists; and print and electronic advertising in the journal Science, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and EOS. However, the workshop was convened with a relatively short lead time; notification of the workshop began on February 26, less than two months before it was to convene on April 18. This may have contributed to the relatively low attendance (231 people, not including the NRC committee members and staff), which was less than the expected number of over 500.
Representation of various sectors at the workshop was uneven and tended to be skewed toward federal employees (Figure 2-1). For this analysis, participants were placed in one of four categories based on affiliation listed on registration: U.S. government agency, academic or other nongovernmental research institution, nongovernmental organization, and industry. The committee acknowledges that many of the participants could fall into more than one category and has attempted to categorize participants in a consistent manner. NRC committee members and staff and workshop staff were not included in this analysis.
Breakout session moderators met for an afternoon of training prior to the workshop. Despite this training, the session leaders had diverse interpretations of their charge. This resulted in considerable heterogeneity in the format of the breakout sessions and the outcomes. In some instances a moderator was also an author of the section of the document discussed in the breakout session. The dual role of author and moderator may have influenced the discussion and development of conclusions in those sessions.
At the conclusion of the breakout sessions, the session moderators convened in groups according to theme. Each group then synthesized and condensed the results of the breakout session discussion. Several common themes and points of consensus emerged during these discussions in each thematic area. There was no easy way to deal with orphan ideas in the summaries, but a special effort was made to ensure that all ideas articulated during the breakout sessions were captured and transcribed into the body of public comment. The moderators gave summary presentations in a closing plenary session that, although uneven in scope and approach, provided a valuable overview of the results of the many theme sessions. At the conclusion of the workshop there was a general expression of consensus and support among the participants for the progress made during the workshop, although there was also a sense of a lot of work ahead and many difficult issues to resolve in developing the draft plan.
The formal public comment period on the planning document was open from March 27 to May 15, 2006; extensive comments were submitted during this period. Comments were provided by 66 different organizations and individuals. The total length of the public comment document, made available on the JSOST website, was 183 pages. Several common themes were expressed in the public comments. One common refrain was the need to articulate grand challenges in ocean science. The planning document was not effective in capturing either the urgency or the excitement that provides the rationale for developing a national plan for ocean science research. However, many of the public comments noted that the keynote address at the Denver workshop, given by Admiral James D. Watkins, chair of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, provided a model for how to enliven the research plan. Additional common suggestions included improving connectivity and linkages between themes and disciplines, expanding the context to include international efforts, emphasizing the impacts of climate change and the role of humans in inducing climate change, and increasing focus on estuaries, coasts, and the Great Lakes as an integral part of U.S. oceans. There was a great deal of variation in the degree to which the JSOST succeeded in incorporating these comments into its revision. For example, many comments were made on the weakness of “science-to-policy” considerations in the planning document; with the addition of the section “Making a Difference” and its subsection “Information to Sup-port Decision Making,” the draft plan made substantial improvements in this area.
In the months after the workshop and public comment period, a draft of the plan was developed from the original planning document presented in Denver. The full draft plan was released by the JSOST in August 2006 and is the subject of Part I of this review. The August draft plan differed from the April planning document in three significant ways: (1) the organizational framework of the document was changed, (2) one thematic area was dropped and the others were revised, and (3) the section devoted to cross-cutting themes (basic understanding of the ocean, research support through ocean observation and infrastructure, and expanded ocean education) was eliminated and these themes were incorporated under different headings in the document.
ADDRESSING THE STATEMENT OF TASK
In its statement of task, the committee was asked to evaluate whether the format of the Denver workshop promoted the open exchange of ideas and suggestions for improvement (Task 8). The committee finds that while the format of the Denver workshop was designed to promote the open exchange of ideas and suggestions for improvement and did succeed to some extent in this regard, changes in the goals of the workshop shortly before it began; relatively low attendance at the workshop, particularly from nongovernmental groups, including industry; and heterogeneity in the formats of the breakout sessions diminished the level of inclusiveness and strategic planning evidenced at the workshop. Since the Denver workshop there has been a significant effort by the JSOST leadership to reach out to the ocean science community through meetings and formal public comment. The committee commends the JSOST leadership for this series of public outreach meetings.