The Sectoral Applications Research Program (SARP) is a new, small program in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It is devoted to research for making science-based climate information more accessible and useful to decision makers responsible for managing resources likely to be affected by climate variability or change in “sectors” defined by resources (such as water) or decision domains (such as emergency management). SARP’s responsibility includes consideration of the social, economic, health, and welfare effects of decisions for specified sectors.
NOAA requested this study to obtain strategic advice on three specific questions:
What role(s) should SARP play in improving understanding of the human dimensions of climate variability and change in ways that can improve decisions in key sectors?
What are the best approaches for organizing research support to meet program goals (e.g., grants, centers of excellence, series of workshops, etc)?
How should NOAA monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the program?
These questions reflect the role of SARP as part of the “decision support” efforts of NOAA and the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP). This term is given no precise definition in CCSP documents, but
two quite distinct implicit definitions are in use in the program. In one, it means translating the products of climate science into forms that are useful for decision makers; in the other, it centrally includes establishing communication between climate information producers and users that ensures that the information produced addresses users’ decision needs and gets to them in useful ways. Evidence from multiple fields demonstrates that potentially valuable scientific information often goes unused, largely because of inadequate prior communication between the producers and users of the information. Considering this evidence, we recommend that SARP and NOAA adopt a broad definition of “decision support” that emphasizes communication.
The first question above states a mission goal far too ambitious for any program as small as SARP ($2.6 million in fiscal 2006). That mission is too large even with the combined budgets of SARP and two related programs, Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessment (RISA) and Transition of Research to Applications for Climate Services (TRACS) (about $7 million in fiscal 2006). SARP must therefore focus its efforts to make the best use of the limited resources available.
With SARP’s very limited current and likely future budgets, we recommend that the program emphasize a few critical activities over the next several years. We recommend use-inspired science, workshops, and pilot programs, all directed to the basic need to make climate-related information more useful and to get it used appropriately.
We recommend that the Sectoral Applications Research Program support research to identify and foster the innovations needed to make information about climate variability and change more usable in specific sectors, including research on the processes that influence success or failure in the creation of knowledge-action networks for making climate information useful for decision making. This should be the major focus of the Sectoral Applications Research Program support over the next 3-5 years. Support should go to research that offers the largest potential benefit to decision making across sectors.
We recommend that the Sectoral Applications Research Program support several workshops each year for the next 3 years to identify, catalyze, and assess the potential of knowledge-action networks in sectors, defined by resource areas (e.g., water, coastal resources) or decision-making domains (e.g., emergency response, insurance,
planning, and zoning). The Sectoral Applications Research Program should also support selected follow-up activities.
We recommend that the Sectoral Applications Research Program, beginning no earlier than 1 year after funding the first workshop, support one or more pilot projects to create or enhance a knowledge-action network for supporting climate-related decisions in a sector (defined by resource or decision domain).
FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS
Our recommendations for a limited focus for SARP are based on several findings and conclusions about the field, as well as the program’s limited budget.
The recently developed ability to offer climate forecasts on a seasonal timescale and beyond is unprecedented in human history. Nevertheless, this ability is limited, and the degree of forecasting skill in relation to practical decisions remains generally unknown.
Integrating such fundamentally new kinds of information into real-world decisions requires social innovations that are not accomplished easily. Those who might benefit must modify their usual information-gathering and decision-making routines. Climate information producers will also need to make changes in order to meet users’ information needs. Increasing the skill of climate forecasts does not necessarily confer credibility with potential users. As important as the scientific validity of information is to the quality of the decisions based on it, other attributes of the information will be more influential in determining whether it is used.
Achieving the needed innovations will usually require establishing new lines of communication between the producers and users of climate science information, sometimes called knowledge-action networks, to ensure that scientific outputs meet users’ needs and that users can inquire about uncertainties and unknowns.
Achieving SARP’s objective of making climate science useful will require investments in improving several kinds of social-scientific and practical knowledge.
RECOMMENDED ACTIVITIES AND PRIORITIES
We recommend specific research, workshop, and pilot project activities as ways to carry out the recommended SARP program. We also recommend priorities for choosing the activities to support.
Use-inspired science is needed to understand how and why decision makers who could benefit from climate-related information use or do not use such information. It is important to understand: (1) factors internal to the decision making of individuals, groups, or organizations; (2) the influences of external forces and organizations on decision makers; (3) the ways climate information is used and transformed within multifactor decision systems; and (4) how networks that link the producers and consumers of climate information develop, evolve, and function to make climate information more useful to decision makers. Such research would include studies of possible strategies for overcoming barriers to innovation.
This research should include
studies to understand the conditions under which existing networks incorporate sources of knowledge about climate change and variability;
studies to understand how individuals or relatively unorganized constituencies can develop ways to become informed about how climate variability and change may affect them; and
studies to improve understanding of the roles that information from climate science can play in network construction and continuity.
SARP’s limited resources dictate this narrow research focus. We urge other sources in NOAA and other agencies that are part of the CCSP to support other important lines of research that we identify, relevant to the program’s decision support goals.
The recommended workshops would bring together individuals, organizations, or existing networks of potential climate science users to: (1) identify the climate-related issues important to a sector or domain, (2) characterize the kinds of climate-related information that would help inform decisions in the sector or domain, (3) determine whether existing climate science products can provide that information, and (4) identify climate or social science research needed to produce needed information that is not yet available. To accomplish these objectives, we believe that SARP would need to commit up to half of its budget during the first year, and a declining fraction thereafter, to workshops in order to identify sectors and domains that may benefit from targeted efforts.
The recommended pilot project(s) would create or enhance knowledge-action network(s) for supporting decisions in a climate-affected sector (defined by a resource or decision domain). SARP should not support long-term maintenance of networks created by pilot projects, and it may not even be able to offer continued support for the delivery of scientific information through them. Existing and emerging networks would need to seek such continuing support from other sources.
To use resources efficiently, we believe SARP would need to employ decision criteria that favor proposals from researchers who have commitments for partnership from some relevant organizations or who make a convincing argument that their start-up efforts are likely to become self-supporting, perhaps through the availability of matching funds.
Pilot projects should represent a significant fraction of the overall SARP budget beginning in year two or three, with funds coming from reallocations of support from the research program and workshops. The number of pilot projects undertaken should depend on what is learned from the workshops about the number of networks that are ripe for successful pilot projects and on the SARP budget. We envision one pilot project beginning in year two. Given that an effective pilot project might cost up to $500,000 per year for 3 years, we do not expect that SARP will be able to afford to initially support more than one. Possibly two other projects could begin between year three and year five, when the program should be reassessed in light of what we hope will be a more adequate budget for the kinds of research recommended here.
Eight principles provide the rationale for our setting of priorities and can be used to select from among what is likely to be a surfeit of worthwhile activities in the priority areas:
link to NOAA mission and SARP objectives
promotion of social innovation in using climate science
leveraging investments through partnerships
increasing resilience and adaptability
research of interest to social science
In response to the third question to the panel on evaluating SARP, the committee concludes that a standard “textbook” evaluation is not appropriate for SARP because of the small size of SARP; the expectation that desired outcomes will take a considerable period of sustained effort to achieve; the multiple types and levels of decisions that can be influenced by climate information; the variety of relevant decision makers; and the multiplicity of programmatic approaches to shape decision support systems.
Because standard evaluation approaches are not appropriate for the Sectoral Applications Research Program, we recommend that evaluation questions for the Sectoral Applications Research Program be addressed by a monitoring program.
Such a monitoring approach would aim at recording and analyzing trends in metrics that are appropriate for each type of SARP activity: pilot projects, workshops, and use-inspired research. It would employ multiple metrics, some of them recording processes in SARP and some tapping outputs and outcomes. Monitoring should rely wherever possible on data that can be reliably collected without substantial time and resources. Representatives from target audiences should contribute to decisions regarding the details of data collection and surveys that could be most useful for monitoring SARP performance.