Introduction: The Sectoral Applications Research Program
Increasing scientific understanding of climate variability and change is improving the ability to anticipate some major environmental events at seasonal and longer time scales. Among those events are intense coastal storms (both tropical and nontropical), extended drought conditions in the interior regions, and changes in sea levels. The improved understanding of climate variability and change makes climate science increasingly relevant to local and state governments, natural resource managers, and other decision makers whose responsibility includes the welfare of human populations and ecological systems.
THE NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION AND THE SECTORAL APPLICATIONS RESEARCH PROGRAM
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has initiated several programs designed to make science-based climate information available in more accessible and useful forms to users. A new program, the Sectoral Applications Research Program (SARP), focuses on the needs for climate-related information to inform decisions in particular “sectors,” defined by resources (such as coastal or water resources, forests, or agricultural lands) or by decision domains (such as emergency management or urban planning). The sectors of focus in the first phase of the program are coastal and water resource management, which are among the sectors most likely to be affected by climate variability and change.
Decision makers in those sectors should therefore be among the major beneficiaries of accurate and timely climate information and predictions.
As stated in the November 2006 program proposal (Vaughan and Beller-Simms, 2006:1), NOAA established SARP in 2005 to provide a focused pathway to generate new research-based insights and applications for climate information in support of decision making in high-priority, climate-sensitive socioeconomic sectors. Research supported by SARP’s three predecessor programs—Climate Variability and Human Health; Environment, Science, and Development (initially, the Research Applications Program); and Human Dimensions of Global Change Research—as well as other ongoing NOAA-sponsored efforts, such as the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) and the Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessment (RISA) Program, has demonstrated the significant impacts and potential value of climate information. Climate information may be useful “in a number of diverse sectors, regions, and streams of economic activities, including those associated with human health, water resources, agriculture, disaster mitigation and management, and coastal and marine resource management, among others.”
As the program proposal also notes, “NOAA’s first decade of focused applications research provides insight into the role of climate and climate information in societal decision making; in addition, this experience also offers valuable lessons regarding effective programmatic approaches for building bridges” between climate-related science and decision making. This process of making science decision relevant (see, e.g., National Research Council, 1996b, 1999) has been variously described by scholars in terms of developing knowledge-action systems or networks (e.g., Cash et al., 2003), crossing boundaries between science and policy (e.g., Jasanoff, 1987; Gieryn, 1995), coproduction of science and policy (e.g., Lemos and Morehouse, 2005), and reconciling the supply of climate science with the demand for it (McNie, 2007; Sarewitz and Pielke, 2007). As noted in these sources and discussed in more detail below, decision-relevant climate information comes from both the natural sciences and the social sciences, and “building bridges” is best accomplished through processes that engage both the producers and consumers of information.
A review of social science in NOAA completed in 2003 noted the importance for NOAA’s mission of an adequate investment in social science, as well as the absence of such investment (Anderson et al., 2003). The review noted the absence within NOAA of widespread understanding of what social science is and can contribute. It also noted the need for collecting and archiving mission-relevant social science data, investing in social science staffing (including at senior levels of administration), and incorporating social science research objectives in the strategic planning of NOAA line offices. The review recommended an increase in funding
of $100 million per year (to NOAA’s $3.3 billion budget) to improve the competency and contribution of social science to achieving NOAA’s mission objectives; that recommended funding has not yet been forthcoming. The review also emphasized the need for NOAA officials at the assistant administrator level “to better define and understand their constituents and communicate with them” (p. 4).
In developing the new sector-based program, NOAA sought to integrate the most successful attributes of the three programs in which it has its roots; to complement the approaches taken by other programs; and to provide a new programmatic framework for articulating and achieving the connectivity, relevance, and impact related to climate and decision making in key socioeconomic sectors:
From the Climate Variability and Human Health Program, NOAA gained appreciation for the importance of creating sector-based programs that are crafted in partnership with stakeholders (including decision makers, scientists, and other government entities) with a shared interest in resolving a particular suite of research questions and management challenges.
From the Environment, Science, and Development Program, NOAA developed an understanding of how to conduct problem-defined and applications-oriented research, training, and outreach in partnership with various scientific, operational, and management agencies.
From the Human Dimensions of Global Change Research Program, NOAA developed insight about climate’s complex socioeconomic impacts and the potential returns from the integration of the social and physical sciences in support of decision making.
From RISA, NOAA adopted regional, longer term funding.
From IRI, NOAA adapted an international, applications focus.
From the recently established Transition of Research to Applications for Climate Services (TRACS) Program, NOAA is using a focus on transition and partnerships with operational entities.
RISA is probably the closest cousin of SARP. Where SARP activities are organized by resource sectors, such as water and coastal management, or decision domains, such as emergency management, RISA activities are organized geographically. Thus, according to its program description, RISA “supports integrated, place-based research across a range of social, natural, and physical science disciplines to expand decision-makers’ options in the face of climate change and variability at the regional level.”1 TRACS
From the RISA fiscal 2007 information sheet. Available: http://www.climate.noaa.gov/index.jsp?pg=/opportunities/opp_index.jsp&opp=info_risa.jsp [accessed April 2, 2007].
is also a close relative of SARP. According to its program description, TRACS is intended “to transition experimentally mature climate tools, methods, and processes from research mode into settings where they may be applied in an operational and sustained manner” and “to learn from doing how better to accomplish technology transition processes for public goods applications and improved risk management.”2 All three programs are aimed at getting climate information used by decision makers in the United States (unlike IRI, which has an international focus), and all three are at least partly devoted to research. It is the sectoral focus that makes SARP distinctive and complementary to the other programs. However, the division of labor among these programs may be a less important point than their very small size, both separately and together (see below).
SARP Mission and Goals
The goal of the NOAA Climate Program is to “understand and describe climate variability and change to enhance society’s ability to plan and respond.”3 SARP is responsible for pursuing this objective “by developing the knowledge base, decision support tools, capacities, and partnerships in sectors affected by climate in a substantial and increasingly visible way” (Vaughan and Beller-Simms, 2006:2). SARP is designed to catalyze and support interdisciplinary research, outreach, and education activities that enhance the ability of individuals and organizations in key socioeconomic sectors to plan for and respond to climate variability and change.
The “overarching goals” of SARP include:4
the provision of new and/or synthesized science-based knowledge that results in the identification and reduction of vulnerability to climate variability and change in key socioeconomic sectors;
the enhanced and increasingly sophisticated use of climate information, including forecasts, in decision making; and
the development of a research and operations agenda that increasingly meets the needs of the nation and NOAA through an understanding by scientists and science managers of stakeholder requirements.
From the TRACS fiscal 2007 information sheet. Available: http://www.climate.noaa.gov/index.jsp?pg=/opportunities/opp_index.jsp&opp=info_tracs.jsp [accessed April 2, 2007].
From the Climate Program Office statement. Available: http://www.climate.noaa.gov [accessed April 2, 2007].
From the SARP home page. Available: http://www.climate.noaa.gov/cpo_pa/sarp/ [accessed April 2, 2007].
SARP Approach and Structure
As noted above, in contrast to RISA’s emphasis on the needs of decision makers defined by geography, SARP’s emphasis is on the needs of decision makers in “sectors” defined by the types of resources they manage or the kinds of decisions they make. SARP is premised on the belief, in which we concur, that decision makers defined by resources or decision functions often have common needs for climate-related information that will not be met efficiently by a program that is organized geographically. It is worth noting that “sector,” when defined by function, can distinguish several distinct sets of decision makers within a single sector defined by resource. For example, the water resource management sector includes reservoir managers, irrigators, flood control engineers, and a variety of other functionally defined classes of decision makers whose information needs and decision support requirements may be quite different from each other. Thus, the water “sector” is heterogeneous in terms of decision makers and their decision support needs.
The sectoral framework provides a construct for defining the nature, requirements, and capabilities of relatively bounded suites of science users; the kinds of climate-related knowledge they need to support their decisions; the scientific communities to tap into (or stimulate) to address these needs; and the key partners needed to effectively create, disseminate, and apply climate information in a particular sector. The identification of sectors for emphasis in SARP depends on NOAA priorities, program budgets, and input from the federal, research, and decision-making communities. Each sector project currently includes two components: (1) competitively funded research and decision support development and (2) outreach and community building, including the creation of partnerships with sector-specific decision making and technical entities.
Each sector project can be viewed as an organizing system that serves as a platform to integrate many complex socioeconomic issues that are influenced by climate and for developing linkages with specific decision makers and partners. Although all SARP sector projects are alike in using competitive funding and in their focus on decision support resource development and stakeholder outreach, the exact nature of the research activities and partnerships developed varies across projects. Projects in one sector may or may not yield lessons that are transferable across sectors (Vaughn and Beller-Simms, 2006).
The Magnitude of the Program
SARP is a small program that is part of a national effort, the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP), which supports scientific under-
standing of climatic variability and change. CCSP justifies its more than $1 billion annual federal budget on the grounds that it provides knowledge, not otherwise available, that supports decisions that improve human well-being and environmental quality. The CCSP Strategic Plan (Climate Change Science Program and Subcommittee on Global Change Research, 2004:3) states: “CCSP’s guiding vision: A nation and the global community empowered with the science-based knowledge to manage the risks and opportunities of change in the climate and related environmental systems.”
However, CCSP has been criticized for its imbalance between climate science and other activities critical for achieving the program’s decision support objectives. In particular, a recent review of the CCSP Strategic Plan by the National Research Council (2004:2) concluded: “[T]he CCSP should accelerate efforts in previously underemphasized program elements, including ecosystems, the water cycle, human dimensions, economics, impacts, adaptation, and mitigation, by rapidly strengthening the science plans and institutional support for these areas.” Most of these areas—particularly human dimensions, impacts, and adaptation—are critical to improved decision making in response to climate information. CCSP expenditures for research in these areas are hard to determine precisely, but as of fall 2006, they were estimated to be about $25-30 million per year (National Research Council, 2007b), less than 3 percent of the program total. The amount includes basic research (e.g., on decision making under climate-related uncertainty, sponsored by the National Science Foundation), as well as the more applied activities usually associated with decision support objectives. The total indicates no increase in effort since the 2004 review; in fact, the effort in these underemphasized areas may have declined since that time.
With respect to NOAA, a 2003 review (Anderson et al., 2003:1) concluded “the position of social science within NOAA is weak” in terms of budgets for research, education, and staffing and in terms of the position of these fields in the organization. The review found a lack of understanding of what social science is and what its contributions can be, “leading to an organizational culture that is not conducive to social science research,” and an underrepresentation and underutilization of social science in both research and staffing that diminishes NOAA’s capacity to meet its mandates and mission (p. 2). The review also noted (p. 4) that “neither Headquarters nor the line offices have functional representation of social science,” such as dedicated social scientist positions. It stated that “NOAA could easily justify over the next 5 years an increase of $100 million over the current $3.3 billion budget to improve the competency and contribution of social science to achieving mission objectives” (p. 35).
SARP, with a fiscal 2006 budget of $2.6 million, represents an impor-
tant part of this underemphasized area of the CCSP. The entire collection of NOAA decision support research activities, including RISA, TRACS, and SARP, with a combined budget of about $7 million in fiscal 2006, represents a sizable proportion of the overall federal investment in research to make climate science useful for decision making. Yet this level of support is very small in comparison with the ambitious objectives of the program and of NOAA’s larger climate science mission. We return to this point in the following chapters, because any strategic advice to SARP must take into account the disparity between objectives and available funds.
SCOPE OF THIS STUDY
As SARP was taking shape, NOAA approached the Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Change of the National Research Council (NRC) with a request for 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?
The NRC was asked to establish a panel that would identify appropriate ways NOAA could address these questions as it develops SARP, recognizing the need for the program to adapt to changing circumstances. The study was to focus on the two sectors of SARP’s initial research—water and coastal resource management—but it is understood that SARP will support research in other sectors in the future. The Panel on Design Issues for the NOAA Sector Applications Research Program was organized to provide expertise in climate science, social sciences, coastal resource management, water resource management, and public policy.
As noted above, the central purpose of SARP is to make climate information useful for decision making. We interpret “climate information” broadly to include information about climate variability and change at various temporal and spatial scales and information necessary to consider the potential effects of such change on things that people value. Thus, it includes information from seasonal climate forecasts, which describe past climate variability and its relationship with major modes of atmospheric variability, such as El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and Arctic Oscillation (AO); projections of climate change on longer timescales; and in
some cases, paleoclimate descriptions. It also includes information relevant to the possible effects of climate variation and change—both information on physical effects (e.g., on storm intensity and frequency, drought severity) and on socioeconomic phenomena that combine with physical effects (e.g., estimates of future land use conversion, water demand, the condition of emergency response institutions, and citizens’ understandings or misunderstandings of climate information). Thus, decision-relevant climate information involves applications of both natural science and social science.
To provide the strategic advice requested by NOAA, we began by developing and convening a SARP Design Workshop, which was held in Washington, D.C., on November 13, 2006. The event included climate scientists, various individuals and representatives of organizations involved with making science useful for decisions (including the RISAs), decision-making users of climate information, and evaluation experts, as well as representatives from NOAA and SARP.
The workshop focused on the purpose, needs, and structural features of SARP, as well as on the information provided by those experienced with other networks and programs that could prove valuable for the design of SARP. We were especially interested in participants’ efforts in making scientific findings valuable to users, including decision support activities. Participants were also asked how their programs obtained feedback from their target audiences and how they measured success in reaching their audiences. Box 1-1 shows the questions we asked participants to discuss in the morning session. In the afternoon, workshop participants presented and discussed with us models and approaches for making science useful for decisions. Box 1-2 shows the framing questions we used for that session. The workshop concluded by soliciting participants’ ideas on what NOAA and SARP can learn from past experience with decision support and on evaluation issues: What are reasonable expectations for the effects of SARP given its resources and the needs, and what process should be used to evaluate the program?
The workshop identified a set of social-scientific issues that could serve as substantive foci for SARP as well as various modes of delivery of support and criteria for the selection and evaluation of projects. The panel met after the workshop and again in March 2007 to analyze and review the basic design questions and to develop our recommendations. This report presents our analysis of the needs for decision support in SARP and our recommendations regarding the most appropriate design for the program. Our recommendations and other strategic advice represent the consensus judgment of the panel.
The next chapter presents two critical concepts underlying this study: the idea of climate information as innovation and the concept of decision
New Opportunities: Questions for Workshop Participants
For Climate Scientists:
Are there any emerging or “breaking” new issues in the research realm that are going to need transfer to be applied on the ground? What does climate science have now to offer to decision makers in the coastal and water sectors that not all of them are using? In what forms and from what sources is this information available?
For Decision Makers:
What would you like to know from climate science to help with your decisions? In what time frame do you need this information? Where would you normally look to find this kind of information?
For All Participants:
Why do decision makers in the sector you know best use, or fail to use, potentially relevant information about climate? What conditions make it more likely that the information will be used?
Models for Making Science Useful for Decisions: Questions for Workshop Participants
What features of the design and operation of well-established programs for making science useful are responsible for their success?
How do the programs solicit research that keeps the programs strong?
How are networks among researchers, information transfer organizations, and users constructed and maintained?
How do the programs get feedback from their clients that they are providing what is wanted?
How do the programs make changes to research and practice when needed?
support. Chapter 3 presents our major conclusions about the need for use-inspired science and communication, the logic undergirding our recommendations regarding the substantive priorities for SARP for the next several years, and the recommendations themselves. Chapter 4 identifies a set of principles that provide the rationale for our setting of priorities and that can be used to select from among what is likely to be a surfeit of worthwhile activities within the priority areas. Chapter 5 deals with the issue of how to evaluate SARP.