With its mission, goals, and objectives articulated, the Program can begin moving from vision toward implementation. Under the guidance of the Advisory Group, the Program has developed a suite of initial activities, with details to be announced in fall 2014 and first funds awarded in 2015. These initial activities are expected to evolve and other, to-be-determined activities will be added over the first 5 years. Responsibility for continued development of larger- and longer-scale activities, oversight, evaluation, communications, and other Program functions will be the role of a new Advisory Board, to take charge in fall 2014.
The initial activities are primarily short term and foundational, to allow activity to begin while planning for larger and longer-term activities continues. The Program’s 30-year time frame and the unique role played by the National Academies hold special potential. What can this Program cause to happen that would not have happened otherwise? Can the Program offer opportunities that inspire innovative, integrated thinking about how to address the challenges faced by the people along the Gulf Coast?
Given that the Program’s funds are to be expended over 30 years, which will constrain annual expenditures, relevance to the Program’s mission and announced themes and the potential to add value will be important criteria when judging potential activities, in addition to scientific excellence and technical merit. Program areas of emphasis, research themes, and specific activities will evolve over time. In general, the Program is not expected to supplement existing, separately sponsored work. Nor will the Program support on-the-ground restoration activities, which are the purview of other significant programs. Proposals must address designated themes during designated cycles.
In fall 2014, the Program will issue its first calls for applications for three initial, short-term funding opportunities: exploratory grants, research fellowships, and science policy fellowships. These opportunities will be funded in 2015 and again in 2016. An opportunity to foster integration and synthesis of monitoring data will open in early 2015. To foster coordination and the sharing of current knowledge—for example, through conferences, workshops, and collaboration meetings—the Program may make available a small number of collaboration/coordination grants in 2015. In addition, expert consensus studies of value to the Gulf region, planning meetings to inform the Program’s future activities, and workshops and other mission-relevant activities are expected to be developed, engaging a wide range of stakeholders from the Gulf and elsewhere.
The initial suite of exploratory grants in 2015 and 2016 are intended to catalyze innovative thinking around selected issues identified during planning that support the Program’s goals and objectives. The exploratory grants are designed to provide seed money for research in its early conceptual phase or for activities that can accelerate the development of novel approaches or the transition from concepts to testing. This funding opportunity will allow innovators to test ideas, collect preliminary data, or change direction as a result of insights from exploratory projects. The grants also could support the use of novel approaches, application of new expertise, or engagement of nontraditional or interdisciplinary perspectives to break new ground on an old or new problem.
In fall 2014, the exploratory grant competition will seek requests for applications on two topics. The awards, to be made in 2015, will total about $2 million, with 15 to 20 awards expected at an average award size of about $100,000. The Program will welcome proposals from individuals or teams of investigators from eligible U.S. institutions. The 2015 topics will be:
Exploring Approaches for Effective Education and Training of Workers in the Offshore Oil and Gas Industry and Health Professions. The nation’s middle-skilled workforce includes workers in occupations that require considerable skill but not advanced degrees. In the Gulf of Mexico and outer continental shelf, these workers in the offshore oil and gas industry and health professions play key roles in maintaining the safety of people and the environment and in improving disaster preparedness and response. The focus of this opportunity is to explore new and innovative approaches for educating and training middle-skilled workers in the oil and gas industry and health professions (including individuals working as emergency responders and environmental specialists). Such approaches would specifically leverage the growing evidence base about how people learn to improve safety in job functions and operations and to improve disaster preparedness and response.
Linking Ecosystem Services Related to and Influenced by Oil and Gas Production to Human Health and Well-Being. The Gulf of Mexico delivers a broad suite of ecosystem services, including the provision of seafood, stabilization of coastal habitat, and recreational opportunities. The region also produces oil and gas, which benefit individuals with occupations as well as communities with energy, economic growth, and stability. Managing a diverse portfolio of ecosystem services to meet human needs is a central challenge because pursuing the benefits from one ecosystem service may result in diminishing the quantity or quality of other ecosystem services in the same region. An improved understanding of ecosystem services in relation to the production of oil and gas, their provision under dynamic conditions, and their interconnectedness to human communities would help optimize the multiple services provided by a system, manage trade-offs, and inform decisions in ecosystem restoration. The focus of this opportunity is to advance knowledge in ecosystem services related to or influenced by offshore and coastal energy production and their linkages to human well-being. The funded activities could expand and
accelerate the application of ecosystem services to the management and restoration of the Gulf of Mexico and other ecosystems in the outer continental shelf.
An exploratory grant competition also will be held in fall 2015, for funding in 2016. The extent of funding in award year 2016 will be determined on the basis of program budget and the number and quality of applications received in fall 2014. The topics in award year 2016 are expected to include
- Innovative approaches to developing scenario planning and decision-support systems to cope with crises;
- Connecting data about environmental conditions with individual and population health data to foster transdisciplinary research; and
- Building resilience in human and environmental systems of the Gulf of Mexico and other offshore energy-producing regions.
The Program is committed to the long-term task of capacity building in the Gulf, including the development of future generations of scientists, engineers, and health professionals prepared to work at the intersections of oil system safety, environmental resources, and human health in the Gulf region and to think holistically and at the community and ecosystem levels about the region’s challenges.
As a first step toward enhancing the breadth and leadership capacity of leading early-career science, engineering, and health professionals, the Program will initiate two new fellowship opportunities and participate in one ongoing NAS fellowship program. The fellowship programs will encompass participants from a broad range of disciplines, including the social and behavioral sciences, health and medicine, engineering, the earth and life sciences, and relevant interdisciplinary fields. The fellowships will be awarded to applicants whose research or work relates to the mission and objectives of the Program. Mentoring will be a critical component of both new fellowship programs. The three types of fellowships are:
Early-Career Research Fellowships will recognize professionals at the critical pretenure phase of their careers for exceptional leadership, past performance, and potential for future contributions to improving oil system safety, the environment, or human health. These 2-year fellowships will be awarded to tenure-track (pretenure) faculty (or the equivalent) at colleges, universities, and research institutions. Fellowship funds will be used primarily for research-related expenses and professional development.
Science Policy Fellowships will contribute to leadership development and capacity building by providing recipients with a valuable educational experience at the science–policy interface. Fellows will spend 1 year on the staff of a state legislature; state environmental, natural resources,
oil and gas, or public health agency; or regional offices of relevant federal agencies. Fellows will participate in and contribute to the state or federal policy making process. Depending on placement, duties are likely to include developing and analyzing policy, writing policy memos, and drafting legislation. The fellowships will be awarded to graduate and professional school students and those who have completed their graduate studies (M.A./M.S., Ph.D., Sc.D., M.P.H., M.D., D.V.M.) no more than 5 years before beginning the fellowship. Fellowship benefits will include a monthly stipend and support for professional development courses (e.g., science communication or project management) and professional travel.
The Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship Program. This existing National Academies fellowship program brings two dozen talented early-career professionals from a variety of disciplines to Washington, DC, each year for 12 weeks and provides a broad introduction to the role of science in the federal government.8 The fellow hosted by the Program will work directly with staff and Advisory Board members and have broad opportunities to learn about the role of science at the federal level and contribute directly to the Program’s work in the Gulf of Mexico.
Integration and Synthesis of Monitoring Data
In 2015, the Program anticipates announcing its first competition in the area of environmental monitoring. The opportunity will seek to demonstrate the untapped potential of existing long-term environmental observations and monitoring data. Applicants will be challenged to propose hypothesis-driven projects that identify and synthesize existing data related to either the deep Gulf or ecosystem services for restoration and management themes. Funded projects are expected to generate outputs that can lead toward better-informed decision making, translation into human benefits, or other actionable outcomes. Grants will be made to define data needed to address the research question; identify existing data, their location, and access to the data;
8For information about the Mirzayan Fellowship Program, including purpose, application procedures, and deadlines, please see http://sites.nationalacademies.org/pga/policyfellows.
identify parties necessary for collaboration; and demonstrate the feasibility of the project. Special consideration will be given to projects that integrate data from different disciplines. If a funded project shows exceptional promise, some awardees may receive additional (phase two) funding to process and integrate the data and potentially expand the project.
The Program will start small as it receives funds in its first few years, yet it will evolve relatively quickly to include a range of activities. The development of these activities will be informed by workshops, community interactions, and the guidance of the Advisory Board. Although the fellowships might evolve as the Program learns from the first year of experience, they are expected to be offered each year for at least 5 years until the first program evaluation in 2020. A cycle of regular research funding opportunities will be developed, with changes in focus and scale.
Program initiatives are expected to be informed by ongoing work. For example, the Program’s oil system safety portfolio will be informed by a recently initiated study on improving safety culture by the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies. Future directions will also be informed by three 2014 opportunity analysis workshops that will generate a range of ideas for the Program to consider. Topics under discussion at these workshops include the following:
Education and Training:
- Education and training pathways for the Gulf region’s middle-skilled workforce in the hydrocarbon and environmental restoration industries and the health professions; and
- Opportunities to develop capacity to meet future middle-skilled workforce needs in the Gulf region.
- Use of observations and monitoring to better understand the deep ocean and connectivity to the coast; and
- Use of observations and monitoring to support ecosystem services modeling to inform restoration activities.
Community Resilience and Health:
- Strengthening community resilience, health, and well-being; and
- Improving detection, assessment, and communication about environmental health threats.
The 2014 workshops are intended to be in-depth discussions where participants can explore what activities are currently being done, what plans exist, and which specific opportunities should be pursued by the Program. The workshops are expected to lead to the development of additional
Program activities and opportunities for the research community. Interaction between Gulf-focused experts and those working on other U.S. outer continental shelf regions is a possible topic for a future workshop.
During 2015–2020, other research themes and initiatives will be designed and implemented, including activities such as support for larger, consortia-driven research projects; development of “method tool boxes” that allow researchers, especially health researchers, to quickly establish reference measurements after future events; student competitions; or implementation of educational programs. Over time, the areas of focus are expected to evolve with changing priorities.
Use of Traditional National Academies’ Modes of Operation
During 2015–2020, the Program will begin to take advantage of some of the traditional modes of operation for the National Academies as a neutral convening body to bring together top experts in science, engineering, and health. This can take the form of consensus studies with recommendations, workshops designed to explore topics or gather divergent views, and other activities that bring together targeted groups of professionals for in-depth discussion. The Program intends to take advantage of this core institutional strength and, over time, will focus the traditional committee and workshop functions on issues of wide interest to the Gulf and other offshore energy-producing regions. For example, given the significant restoration efforts under way and being planned for the Gulf region, the Program anticipates a project to identify best practices for monitoring and evaluating restoration projects.
The Program recognizes the need to demonstrate its intent by announcing initial funding opportunities, but the Program’s greatest impact likely will come from larger and more far-reaching activities that will take longer to plan and implement. During its meetings to gather input, the Advisory Group heard suggestions of many large and longer-term initiatives that the Program could pursue, from specific activities to visionary undertakings. One of the first challenges for the new Advisory Board will be to explore these possible activities and engage in the necessary, detailed planning.
As it develops, the Program hopes to inspire transformative changes that can improve oil system safety, human health, and the environment in the Gulf. Identifying and developing larger, more far-reaching ideas will require further exploration and planning. One example is the idea of supporting the design and development of an interdisciplinary or cross-boundary center to specifically address oil system safety, human health, and environmental resources in a holistic
manner. Many models of interdisciplinary centers and centers of excellence exist, some of which have a defined life span while others are established to last indefinitely. Similarly, the area of environmental monitoring is ideal for the Program’s 30-year duration, in particular, the opportunities for integration and synthesis of data. Another example is what role the Program might play in advancing the use of “big data,” especially from environmental monitoring, to tease out useful information.
To encourage cross-boundary innovation and collaboration, the Program will continue to conduct additional planning, program development, and community engagement. The Ideas Lab administered by the National Science Foundation or the Keck Futures Initiative administered by the National Academies are examples of opportunities that bring together experts from a range of disciplines to develop bold and innovative approaches to address critical societal challenges. Similarly, a number of centers in the United States support synthesis research that brings together interdisciplinary teams of investigators to distill existing data, methodologies, theories, and ideas from different sources and research fields to increase the applicability of research results, address issues on a broad scale, and generate new knowledge.
Any large investment requires careful consideration of purposes, conceptualization, planning, implementation, and sustainability over the long term. In 2015, the Program will identify a few, select grand challenge ideas and will hold exploratory discussions that lead to planning this next level of activity. The incoming Advisory Board will work to identify future potential activities that align with the program’s mission and objectives, play to the strengths of the National Academies, and increase the Program’s impact.