The 2012 10-year Strategic Plan sets forth ambitious objectives for the USGCRP to meet the Nation’s and global community’s need for science-based information to manage the risks of global environmental change (Appendix E lists the Goals and Objectives from the Strategic Plan). The challenge of delivering usable information to society is acknowledged as a major additional direction for the USGCRP, something requiring both a commitment to communication and interaction with potential users, but also to research into the process of decision support itself. The 2012 plan laid out a decadal agenda for research in both the natural and social sciences that will provide both fundamental scientific information and knowledge about how to support its proper application by society.
The Committee believes that the draft USP should provide a sense of what has been learned over the first three years of implementation. This includes insights related to specific scientific information needs, as well as how to meet the USGCRP’s commitment to inform society. Based on these insights and “lessons learned,” the USP should also describe an updated understanding of needs and challenges. This understanding should provide the foundation for refined priorities for the middle three years of implementation of the 10-year plan.
This chapter sets forth some of the Committee’s reactions and recommendations on how to improve the USP to tell the high-level story of progress in the Program’s evolution, starting with the recognition of the importance of better understanding and conducting interactions at the boundary of science and application. The Committee strongly endorses the Program’s commitment to moving in this direction but also notes the importance of balancing use-inspired and discovery-driven science. We are concerned that there have not been more interactions with the research community and more advantage taken of the insights from users through the National Climate Assessment. Below we recommend improvements to the process of interacting with user and research communities in steering the Program to achieve its objectives. While we acknowledge the importance of climate change as a key component of global change and applaud the draft USP’s focus on a subset of the issues described in the 10-year plan, we continue to believe that interactions between climate and other stressors will be central to understanding how climate change impacts evolve and how society can manage the risks and opportunities. Finally, we describe our concerns related to the continued vagueness in descriptions of research to better understand human contributions and responses to global change and recommend a more focused, problem-driven strategy that mirrors the approach of the wider research community.
Goals 2-4 identify an essential role for the Program: to assure that the boundaries are observed and spanned between the science community (itself guided by Goal 1) and a spectrum of audiences: decision makers (Goal 2), non-federal users (Goal 3), and the education and training community (Goal 4). It is sensible to treat Goals 2-4 in an integrated fashion. The boundary-spanning role is different in an important way from the research planning and coordination role required in Goal 1. While Goal 1 requires the Program to attempt to coordinate the research activities of the 13 agencies in terms of setting broad research directions and budgets in a way that advances scientific understanding of global change, the articulation of Goals 2-4 in 2012 marked a qualitative shift in how the USGCRP interpreted the mandate of the GCRA. Under the 2012 Strategic Plan, “advancing understanding” is to be carried out so as to inform decisions, to support an ongoing process of assessing climate change, and as a component of education and training. In all these arenas, the Program was not just the facilitator of conversations within the scientific community; it was also responsible for navigating the boundary between scientific knowledge and its users both in and beyond the federal government. In effect, the Program took on the responsibilities of a boundary organization.
As the term suggests, a boundary organization faces in two directions, toward both the research and the user communities: it is accountable for assuring that sound scientific knowledge is produced and that this knowledge is useful within its proper application (Cash et al., 2003; Guston, 2001). “[T]he boundary organization provides an institutionalized space in which long-term relationships can develop and evolve, two-way communication is fostered, tools for management (such as models) are developed and utilized, and the boundary of the issue itself is negotiated. As such, the boundary organization is dynamic and changing, responding to the changing interests of actors on either side of the boundary.” (Cash, 2001, p. 450) In practice, the task of the boundary organization is to assure that researchers and users develop a partnership that produces knowledge that is credible, salient, and legitimate for use in decision making, assessment, and education. Credible knowledge is technically adequate in its handling of evidence. Salient knowledge is relevant to the decision or other use to which it is applied. And legitimate knowledge is fair, unbiased, and respectful of all stakeholders (Clark et al., 2011).
It is important to keep in mind that these three dimensions of useful and valid knowledge are implemented differently in the science and user communities. For instance, knowledge that is adequate for decision making may or may not have been validated by the peer review that is used within the scientific community. It is central to the mission of the boundary organization that it respect both users’ and researchers’ ways of judging the value of knowledge, illuminating conflicts and resolving them where possible (Clark et al., 2006).
Boundary organizations have come to prominence as a critical instrument of use-inspired research (Stokes, 1997) because of the need in this approach for researchers to work with prospective users from the beginning of a research project to co-produce
knowledge. The two-way translation of what constitutes useful and scientifically valid knowledge is essential and frequently requires a boundary organization. This is a role played historically by extension agents and field research stations in agriculture, for example (Cash, 2001). This boundary organization framework could be usefully employed in describing the USGCRP’s activities; however, in many instances the discussion in the draft USP is of a one-way transfer of knowledge to end-users, rather than the two-way process envisioned in the 2012 strategic plan.
Goal 2, Informing Decisions, articulates the USGCRP role in use-inspired research, also called actionable or translational research. Decision support depends on credibility, salience, and legitimacy, all of which in turn require developing and providing information in the context of ongoing relationships between users and scientists. Intermediaries skilled in science communications can play an instrumental role in these relationships. Goal 3 sets out the Program’s role in assessments, including the National Climate Assessment, which report on the state of knowledge in a wide range of scientific subjects germane to a changing climate. An assessment is a boundary object, jointly produced by representatives of the research and user communities (Clark et al., 2011; Guston, 2001), a product fashioned collaboratively by representatives of the science community and communities of users. Again, maintaining ongoing relationships with user communities is a core challenge for the science programs of agencies that comprise the USGCRP as they transition the assessment process to something more than production of periodic reports (NCA Sustained Assessment Special Report). Education and training, described in Goal 4, similarly require interactions between the research and learning communities to assure that the knowledge transmitted is credible, salient to students, and forms part of a legitimate course of study. (Note that the Committee discusses the plans for the sustained assessment in more detail in Chapter 4, including a recommendation for how USGCRP could update the USP document.)
In sum, Goals 2, 3, and 4 all require boundary-spanning functions, and the USGCRP accordingly has a role in seeing that these functions are implemented by the relevant federal entities, or by the Program serving as a boundary organization itself. This can happen, in part, through knowledge networks (Frank et al., 2012) such as NCAnet.
The draft USP, however, needs to highlight co-production more strongly (for example on p. 32 ln 13-14) because, among other things, that would put USGCRP into a stronger role as boundary spanner between users and science communities. The formal study of boundary organizations is in a relatively early stage, and it appears that the USGCRP is still digesting the organizational implications of its boundary mission. Engagement with users strengthens understanding over time, as the questions being pursued under Goal 1 are informed by the co-production process. Without co-production society’s priorities are expressed through budgets only. With substantive communication between the science community and users, budget decisions should be based to a greater degree on a scientifically informed judgment of priorities. This, among other elements of the co-production of actionable research, is missed in the current draft (see for example p. 31 ln 40ff).
Boundary spanning is instrumental to a goal that is substantive as well as procedural: to coordinate from the disparate missions of 13 federal agencies a research
program that can advance the goals of the Strategic Plan. In the remainder of this report the Committee offers analyses and recommendations intended to assist the Program in forging a coherent set of priorities in light of resource constraints and a variety of tensions that need to be managed in order to advance understanding and to enable use of scientific knowledge in facing the practical problems posed by global change.
Recommendation 1: The USP should build upon insights derived from the interaction between researchers and users, to articulate a coherent program of research investments that will advance understanding and inform decision-making, as well as facilitate assessments salient to audiences beyond the federal government.
From its earliest days, USGCRP has undertaken research that is use-inspired and discovery-driven. The Program combines and integrates these outcomes in its support of fundamental research motivated by societal considerations (Stokes, 1997). Goal 1 of the plan is to advance science of the integrated natural and human components of the Earth system. Advancing the knowledge of the Earth system is an important foundation for decision support and much of that knowledge is generated through discovery-driven approaches.
Even with increasing emphasis on use-inspired science in the Strategic Plan, discovery-driven science remains critical because the Earth system is complex, with biophysical and biogeochemical interactions in and between the land, atmosphere, and ocean defining the behavior of the system. Global change is a science of surprise, where emergent features are seen in the system that may not be seen in the individual components of the system. In other words, the integrated whole is greater than the sum of the individual components, the history of the system matters, and cause and effect relationships are often quite complex. By necessity the understanding of the integrated components of the Earth system requires ongoing research and observations—research that is driven by the curiosity of how our planet functions. Coupling this natural system with the human component adds another dimension of complexity with its own surprises (see draft USP p. 14, lines 10-12). Discovery-driven research is the foundation for advancing our understanding of the Earth system and it helps inform use-inspired research.
There have been many examples over the history of the Program of discoveries that have advanced our understanding and enabled new capabilities for decision support. These include the discovery of atmospheric rivers and their role in better understanding of precipitation; the discovery of the integrated ocean circulation, ice, and atmosphere dynamics in the Arctic, leading to better process understanding of ice-melt so critical to quantifying sea level rise; the new discoveries of biological functioning that can aid in ecosystem restoration and management in a changing physical environment. The USP should articulate some of the USGCRP’s recent advances in fundamental science, as well
as the recent impacts of earlier discoveries.1 This is also an opportunity to begin to highlight what might be important for the next strategic plan. The structure of the USP could be improved to underscore separately not just the activities, but also the high-level accomplishments of the 2012-2015 period under each of the objectives of Goal 1.
In recent years, social science research has led to important new insights relevant to understanding and providing information to manage global change. Individual decision making is now understood as sometimes being based on rational optimization but often on the use of cognitive shortcuts and heuristics, and often involves not just individual utility maximization but also altruism and conformity to norms (Dietz, 2015; Kahneman, 2011; Schultz et al., 2007). The behavior of organizations and policy systems as well as of individuals is strongly influenced by network ties, and networks can provide a useful mechanism for transmitting information about mitigation of and adaptation to climate change (Frank et al., 2012; Henry, 2009; Henry and Vollan, 2014). The forces that drive human stress on the environment have been substantially examined, with sophisticated literatures examining the forces that influence both land use change and greenhouse gas emissions (Blanco et al., 2014; Levy and Morel, 2012). That literature in turn has identified influences that can constitute leverage points for change. The understanding of commons management has become very sophisticated and can contribute to the design of institutions at every level from the local to the global (Dietz et al., 2003; Ostrom, 2007). In parallel, processes for linking scientific analysis to public deliberation have been extensively studied, improving the ability to diagnose particular contexts and to apply design principles in developing processes for environmental assessment and decision making (NRC, 2008).
This Committee reiterates the importance of discovery-based research and the importance of an Earth-system approach. The value of this research to society is only going to grow as we continue to be surprised by our changing planet. Rigorous comparison of the value of discovery-driven versus use-inspired research remains a challenge. The evaluation of use-inspired research should be partly practical: whether useful knowledge leads to better solutions to problems. This is harder to assess than one might think because the utility of knowledge often does not emerge until long after research is completed, and it can then be embodied in ways that are hard to trace back to the original research. Another criterion for evaluation involves realizing the potential for rapid or fundamental advance when there is a confluence of new data, methods, and other research capacity. Without good methods to estimate the likely returns to either discovery-driven or use-inspired research, the question of how to balance the Nation’s investment in these two avenues of global change science remains. Even though asking users is an imperfect measure, the Program could consider ways for federal agencies that are users of global change research to participate in evaluation of the Program’s fundamental science (Goal 1) as well as research in pursuit of Goals 2-4. This Committee is planning studies of metrics for the Program that are intended to advance our
understanding of ways to estimate the value of use-inspired and discovery-driven research.
Recommendation 2: The USP should articulate more clearly the USGCRP’s recent research accomplishments, as well as the impacts of earlier discoveries, in addition to describing its activities. Balancing discussion of accomplishments across research areas including interdisciplinary and social science research would be useful in establishing the value of the Strategic Plan’s arguments in support of each of these lines of research.
The USP provides an important opportunity for the Program to understand better the needs and views of both the research and user communities. Unlike the deliberations that lead up to Our Changing Planet each year, the writing of the draft USP is a process that can be opened up to the wider public. Indeed, the public comment process to which this report contributes is one method of engagement with users and the scientific community. Moreover, Chapter 1 of the draft USP includes the statement that a key aspect of the program “involves sustaining collaborations within and beyond the USGCRP that are committed to managing and maintaining robust observing, monitoring, modeling, prediction, and decision-support programs and systems” (p. 8). Other sections of the draft USP include similar statements.
It is thus surprising to the Committee that interaction with participating research communities to develop the draft USP has not been transparent, and moreover that interactions through mechanisms such as the NCA do not appear to have been systematically mined in setting priorities and developing a strategy. The main locus of USGCRP interaction with stakeholders in the 2012-2015 period has been preparation and release of the NCA3. This report effectively described the state of science as it pertains to understanding impacts and planning and implementing adaptation and mitigation responses. Feedback from the needs identified in the NCA to the near-term priorities described in the draft USP is not described in specific terms and reflected in clear priorities.
In making this observation about engagement, the Committee draws upon the perspective that in strategic planning, especially for public agencies, process is as important as the final plan itself (Bryson, 1995). The USP planning and drafting process appeared to involve limited interaction with users and scientists. Some Town Hall meetings at professional associations are mentioned, but a more focused set of engagements that provided an opportunity to interact with USGCRP leaders and members of the Interagency Working Groups responsible for the different areas of the program does not seem to have been attempted. Such opportunities were included in the preparation of previous Strategic Plans and would provide an opportunity for program managers, users,
and the research community to provide comments on initial ideas for the Update. This could also include reflections on how USGCRP science is being used, what approaches are more or less effective in framing science for decisions, identification of specific information needs and opportunities for co-production of knowledge, and similar issues. An open process of engagement is needed to ensure that priorities reflect user needs and that the research community shapes these priorities to reflect its understanding of scientific potential for progress and opportunity for discovery. The regional centers described later in Box 4.1 would also be useful venues for interaction between the producers and users of scientific knowledge.
The Committee urges the USGCRP to improve approaches for ensuring both user and science community input into its strategic planning process. If program needs and schedule allow, the USGCRP could convene an open workshop to discuss specific priorities and plans described in the Update and consider this community input in refining the USP. If this is not possible, we strongly recommend that the Program incorporate specific plans for such workshops on a periodic basis to help guide the evolution and implementation of the USGCRP. In addition, we suggest that the USGCRP transparently incorporate input from the NCA sustained assessment process in discussing decision making needs. One approach to this could be to periodically engage NCANet members and NCA advisory processes in distilling lessons and needs identified in the assessment process.
Recommendation 3: The USP should describe and incorporate a higher level of interaction with the research community in the process for planning and updating the Strategic Plan.
Societal needs play an increasingly important role in helping USGCRP program managers to set priorities for research. Ideally, these needs should inform the priorities for investments in observations, process research, and modeling needed to advance understanding and thus improve information for applications. The needs cited in the Introduction to the 2012 Plan (pp. 1-2) and subsequently throughout the document are extremely broad and appropriately cover the range of topics described in the Program’s enabling legislation. In a real sense, looking at the situation in 2015 and for the coming three to five years, the need for information is likely to increase, as global environmental change is experienced in more and more sectors and systems across regions of the United States and as an increasing number and diversity of decision makers confront the need to consider global change in investments, community planning, and other routine decisions. The necessity of having the USP reflect on what is being learned about societal needs is driven by the fact that it is not possible for the Program to respond to all of these demands simultaneously. It is thus essential to formulate a strategy that can identify and meet information needs that are particularly urgent, and for which the scientific opportunities are greatest.
The draft USP fails to go beyond previous descriptions of need and scientific opportunity. The USP should present in a self-reflective way what the Program has learned about the needs of users over the last three years, and how these evolving needs are shaping implementation and prioritization of the long-term objectives described in the 2012 Strategic Plan. Integrated into this sense of evolving need should be a clearer statement of specific program accomplishments, both scientifically and in terms of provision of information for decision support. Such a cross-cutting discussion and synthesis of needs and highlights affords an opportunity for the Program to communicate its accomplishments and to place the evolving priorities into context (see also “Setting Priorities while Sustaining Long-Term Commitments” below).
Recommendation 4: The USP should include an analysis of what is being revealed about user needs through the activities used to interact with stakeholders; this includes the recently-completed Third National Climate Assessment (NCA3), related activities such as NCANet, and interactions of the Program with user and producer communities through the Interagency Working Groups or professional societies. This analysis of societal needs should inform prioritization of specific scientific initiatives, which is the essence of use-inspired science as specified in the USP’s current emphasis on “joint production of actionable science.”
The USP can be significantly strengthened to clarify the Program’s priorities and convey to the Nation what the benefits are of continued investment. The USGCRP’s judgments about priorities are no doubt driven by its understanding of shifting needs and circumstances since the Strategic Plan was completed in 2012. It is therefore important that the USP describe what is being learned as the Strategic Plan is implemented and circumstances change.
Another weakness of the draft USP lies in the articulation of priorities. This needs to be improved so that Program objectives over the next three to five years can be understood. A reader of the draft finds three sets of goals; these appear to overlap, but there is no clear relationship articulated among them:
- In its strategic overview, the draft USP “spotlights” three areas: (a) extremes, thresholds, and tipping points; (b) predictions; and (c) science to inform policy making and management. (p. 10).
- Chapter 3, Objective 1.1 (Earth system understanding) highlights: (a) tipping points and thresholds; (b) using long data records to understand Earth’s climate variability;
(c) the global warming hiatus; (d) rapid Arctic change; (e) carbon cycle and ecological modeling; (f) research for identifying gaps in the climate observing system; (g) cloud regime transitions and aerosol chemistry; (h) water cycle research (pp. 13-17).
- Chapter 3, Objective 1.2 (science for adaptation and mitigation) highlights: (a) models for decision making; (b) resilience and vulnerability research; (c) translational research to inform adaptation and mitigation; (d) carbon cycle research; (e) methane cycling (pp. 19-21).
Additional science-related objectives are articulated for observations, modeling, and information management. The draft is silent how these goals have evolved from those stated in the 2012 plan. What considerations influenced their selection now? How does the USGCRP see the goals evolving? Will any priorities adopted earlier be phased out? Are there issues that are not current priorities but are under consideration for emphasis in future updates?
The broader question is how readers should interpret these highlighted topics. One possibility is those “spotlighted” on p. 10 should appear as recurring themes throughout the USP. However, they are not featured as a set in the draft after this first mention. The “climate extremes and tipping points” topic is raised as a focused topic (see specific comments in Chapter 3, including a recommendation regarding the presentation of these topics in the USP), the topic of “predictions” is not named as such (although improving “projections” does arises a number of times), and the issue of “science to inform policy making” is so broad that it is difficult to see as an organized priority. A second interpretation is that all of these topics constitute Program priorities. But as a set of priorities, they do not give a sense of strategic direction that responds to either need or opportunity for discovery. The topics in Objective 1.1 conflate two groups of issues: Some that are integrative and respond to recent attention in the NCA or the media (e.g., the hiatus and rapid Arctic change); others follow a more traditional science-driven formulation (e.g., carbon cycle and ecological modeling, water cycle). Objective 1.2 highlights topics that are apparently judged to be particularly important for informing adaptation and mitigation, but these do not fit together as a strategy of investment. In particular, an integrated framing of questions that draw together the natural and social sciences is lacking, even though mitigation and adaptation present challenges that require an integrated body of knowledge.
For all three groups, it remains unclear what the specific information needs are for these topics and how the information will be used. In what sense do these topics represent opportunities for advancing knowledge? As stated, these topics do not form a strategy.
The draft USP says that “Since release of the Strategic Plan, the USGCRP has matured its priority-setting approach” (p. 13). There should accordingly be an increasingly explicit relationship between evolving societal needs or discovery opportunities to both Objectives 1.1 and 1.2. For example, the USP should link USGCRP priorities for research on the water or carbon cycles to specific adaptation or mitigation decision support needs, or to products from the Sustained Assessment process, or to near-term opportunities to advance fundamental understanding of interactions of atmospheric chemistry and the
water cycle.2 Another area where coordination needs to be improved is between the topics identified in Objective 1.2 and the objectives included in Goals 2 (Inform Decisions) and 3 (Conduct Sustained Assessments). The specific topics listed in Goal 2 include Decision-Scale Knowledge, Integration of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Supporting Agency Adaptation Planning, and Science Translation. How are these related to the topics listed in Objective 1.2?3 The failure to provide a logical set of priorities across the Program’s objectives is a major deficiency of the draft USP.
The Committee notes that the USGCRP as an entity does not have its own budgetary authority but rather relies on leveraging the resources allocated to the participating agencies and departments through Congressional appropriations. The Congressional authorization and appropriations process can sometimes result in very specific instructions or mandates and can affect the ability of agencies to align their programs with the priorities of the interagency effort as developed through USGCRP working groups and other coordination mechanisms, such as bi-lateral interagency agreements. The chapter on USGCRP’s “Implementation Strategy” describes the structure of the interagency process, and this Committee’s recent report (Enhancing Participation in the U.S. Global Research Program [National Academies of Sciences Engineering and Medicine, 2016]) provided options for increasing collaboration and engagement of mission-oriented agencies and offices. As drafted, the USP does not provide any basis for understanding the alignment of interagency Program objectives with the priorities of individual agencies. The Committee realizes that the detailed cross-walk between agency and USGCRP priorities occurs in Our Changing Planet, which is intended to assist Congress in evaluating program integration. The Committee feels, however, that valuable information would be added to the USP if it identified which agencies or departments (and preferably which programs within these agencies) were engaged in some of the specific priority activities described.
A final critical issue related to discussion of priorities throughout the document is that it is not possible to estimate, even roughly, how much funding would be needed to support each major set of goals. The Committee understands that portrayal of budgetary information is primarily the province of the Our Changing Planet report series, and moreover, that multi-year budget commitments are not feasible in many cases. But this and future Updates to the Strategic Plans would benefit by giving at least some sense of scientific and programmatic needs, level of effort, and relative priority; this information is necessary to evaluate whether the objectives are achievable in a near-term time frame and which objectives would be deferred if sufficient funding were not available.
2 One interpretation is that the Objective 1.1 goals represent discovery-driven science while those for Objective 1.2 are motivated by specific adaptation and mitigation uses. But this does not seem correct when several of the topics seem to be identical, and it is not explained how questions or expected deliverables differ across the different sets of objectives.
3 One could argue that Goal 2 is more focused on development of methods for decision support, but several of these topics (e.g., integration of social sciences, supporting agency adaptation planning) do not fit that categorization.
Recommendation 5: The USP should present a clear set of priorities that respond to both societal needs and scientific opportunity for discovery.
The social, biogeochemical, and biophysical drivers of global change unfold over a variety of time scales. The carbon dioxide emitted from fossil fuels alters the composition of both atmosphere and ocean. The energy balance of Earth would continue to shift for centuries, even if human-caused emissions were to cease completely. Those emissions are unlikely to cease in the near term, however, given the understandable desire of many to increase their access to inexpensive energy. Earth is a coupled human-natural system, manifesting complex behavior that needs to be studied over substantial spans of time and space (see Box 2.1).
A long-term program of scientific research, aimed at both discovery and problem-solving, has yielded large benefits over the past generation, and the USGCRP has played a central role in that learning. The positive reception of the NCA provides one benchmark of the returns to the Nation of the Program’s investments in knowledge. Sustaining that stream of investments will essential in the future. The Earth system continues to change, so that observations are critical. The processes at work in global change––from demographic transitions to the cycling of carbon through the Earth system––are increasingly well understood but continue to surprise us, in part because of the many non-linearities in their component systems and their complex interactions. And the models devised to describe these processes and to organize the observations of the Earth system have become indispensable in order that we may see what it is that we know.
Given that the funding requirements for research described in the Strategic Plan exceed available resources, the capacity to respond to new developments, both in the science and in the demand for knowledge, requires careful balancing of near-term and long-term objectives. Although the Committee does not find the efforts in the draft USP to spotlight research topics satisfactory, many of the highlighted areas are ones in which either the demand for knowledge or the opportunity for rapid advance of scientific understanding are apparent. In the Committee’s view, the USP needs to identify a focused set of priority information needs from among the larger set described in the 2012 Strategic Plan. These should be prioritized on the basis of near-term payoff and their ability to advance long-term research efforts already in progress. Ideally, the priorities articulated should then drive an integrated set of observational, process research, modeling, and decision support initiatives that will lead to products to meet these needs. The Committee understands that these would not be the only areas the USGCRP will work on in this next phase of implementation of the Strategic Plan. Work on many other topics with longer term benefits introduced in the 2012 Plan would also continue.
Recommendation 6: The descriptions of priorities in the USP should reflect both the near-term payoffs of new initiatives and the value accruing from long-term research efforts already in progress.
2.5 NEED TO PLAN INTEGRATION OF SOCIAL SCIENCE TO ADDRESS SPECIFIC ASPECTS OF HUMAN-INDUCED FORCING, VULNERABILITY, AND CAPACITY FOR RESPONSE
The draft USP includes a laudable commitment to fuller integration of social science research into both its fundamental science (i.e., understanding all components of the Earth system) and translation/communication (i.e., decision support, decision making, science-policy research) components. It states that the integrated USGCRP program “conducts cutting-edge fundamental and use-inspired science and relevant social science” (emphasis ours), without defining what is meant by “relevant.” Moreover, the draft USP notes in several places a lingering challenge to understanding human drivers and responses to global environmental change (e.g., p. 11, lines 34-38; p. 14, lines 10-12; p. 19, lines 13-16) and difficulty in effectively engaging social scientists (e.g., p. 12, line 17; p. 17, lines 39-40).
The Committee endorses this direction and the steps underway to implement that intent. The Program has made some progress in terms of integrated assessment modeling, impact and vulnerability modeling, and in the development of a social vulnerability index in its Climate Resilience Toolkit. It is too early to evaluate the impact these actions will have, but the Committee applauds this direction. However, we note that the adoption of integrated social-natural science approaches in Goal 1 and the effective use of social science knowledge in Goals 2-4 have been recurring challenges for the Program for some
time. More than a decade ago, one of the high level goals of the Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) specifically identified social science as necessary to “Understand the sensitivity and adaptability of different natural and managed ecosystems and human systems to climate and related global changes” (CCSP Goal 4), and one of the CCSP’s core approaches included a research thrust and interagency working group on “Human Contributions and Responses” (CCSP, 2003). The 2012 Strategic Plan gives even more emphasis to incorporating social sciences.
The draft USP continues to lack specifics about how social science research will be integrated into the four goals, and there have been some clear advances. For example, The Social Science Coordinating Committee (SSCC) was a good first step, but little information is provided on any outcomes of its deliberations or how its work differs from previous efforts such as the Human Contributions and Responses Working Group. Another positive development of which the Committee is aware is that some of the Agency research competitions held with funds that are considered part of the USGCRP budget cross-cut require an “end to end” framing of research that integrates (not just adds on to) social science framing and research objectives. It might be helpful in assessing progress on integration of social sciences to analyze and refer to results from this approach across the agencies in addition to including other indicators of trends in social science integration, for example, trends in funding levels, number of social scientists funded or participating in program activities, and so on.
More generally, the Committee notes that much progress is being made in the broader social science community in integrating natural and social science research to improve understanding of how coupled human-environment systems are co-evolving. There is a significant body of research in the fundamental social sciences in the academic and policy communities that directly relates to global environmental change (e.g., NRC, 1992, 1997, 2010a, 2013); two illustrative examples are provided in Boxes 2.2 and 2.3. These lines of social science research range well beyond research on decision support and work done in support of decisions (which the Committee discusses later in Chapter 4).
While the Committee has not had adequate time to discuss and evaluate factors that contribute to successful integration, we note two characteristics that seem important: specificity and joint framing. With respect to specificity, much integrated natural-social science research is planned in a way that identifies the particular insight or information that is required from the social sciences and how it will be integrated into other research. Examples abound in areas such as land use/land cover change, water resources, a wide range of “impacts” research, and studies of environmental consequences of different institutional arrangements or policies. The Committee understands that the USP cannot be as specific as required in an individual research study, but we believe that where the research described under Objectives 1.1 and 1.2 addresses aspects of interactions between human and natural systems, the USP could discuss conceptually the role of social science in contributing to answering the questions raised. Because of the more general sense of progress in the community, the Committee was surprised that draft USP continues to lacks specifics about the integration of the social sciences: For what specific purposes is social science needed, and how will social sciences be involved?
With respect to framing, the Committee notes that simply calling for greater integration of social science within a climate change agenda set largely by the natural sciences fails to recognize and build upon the theoretical and methodological approaches of the social sciences and limits the contributions that the natural and social sciences can bring together (NRC, 1992, 2010b). This challenge is partly recognized in the Navigating Challenges section of Objective 1.2 (draft USP p. 21). However, the activities listed still come across as natural science driven (what information the natural sciences can supply and what social science inputs are needed for a natural science decision support agenda?). This is particularly important for research in areas germane to vulnerability, mitigation, and other climate-related subjects that could help inform all of the Objectives throughout Goal 1 of the Strategic Plan.
A logical next step to better informing the USGCRP and its strategic planning would be a broad review of the relevant social science research. For example, one area of research that might deserve particular attention is developing understanding of vulnerabilities to the multiple stressors involved in global change (see Boxes 2.2, 2.3, and 2.4). A review would be part of the process of harnessing the existing knowledge base in the social sciences (see the conceptual framework laid out by Weaver et al. ) and could be prepared by a science advisory group (similar to how the Carbon Cycle Working Group elicits input from the research community on its specific plans) or through an independent external group.
Recommendation 7: The USGCRP would benefit from and should undertake a detailed review of advances in the integration of social science into research pertinent to anthropogenic forcing, vulnerability, and capacities for response to global change (e.g., adaptation, mitigation).