This chapter addresses several of the research questions formulated by the committee that cut across various topic areas in the committee’s charge (see Table 1-3 in Chapter 1). Specifically, the chapter addresses ways to make better use of Minerva research and researchers, changes that may be needed to Minerva’s vision and goals, and opportunities for increasing social scientists’ engagement with the program. Also discussed is the importance of developing benchmarks to enable continuous monitoring and evaluation.
Over the past decade, Minerva grants have produced a substantial body of research in a variety of areas of importance to national security. Respondents to the committee’s survey of grantees (see Chapter 2) overwhelmingly reported that the program has had a positive impact on the amount of dialogue between the Department of Defense (DoD) and the social science community, the number of social science researchers with an interest in research relevant to national security, and the amount of collaboration among researchers working on a variety of national security topics (see Table 5-1). Based on the committee’s interviews with DoD staff and the committee’s own observations, however, the research is not utilized to maximum benefit because dissemination and outreach efforts have not yet been maximized.
It is important to note that dissemination is not a linear process. The research community becomes oriented to a policy area by listening to and
TABLE 5-1 Grantees’ Perceptions of the Impact of Minerva Grants (percentages)
|Area of Impact||Positive Impact||No Impact||Negative Impact||Unable to Say|
|The amount of dialogue between DoD and the social science research community as a whole||87||5||—||8|
|The number of social science researchers with interest in national security research||82||8||—||11|
|The amount of collaboration among researchers working on different national security research topics||76||11||—||13|
NOTES: Sample size = 76; Grantee survey Q12: “Would you say the Minerva grant program has had a positive impact, no impact, or a negative impact on each of the following . . . ?”
participating in policy discussions involving policy makers and others. Researchers contribute to the body of knowledge on a continuous basis, and these resources become available to the broader community. Policy makers then can tap into the specific research directly, or can utilize the broader expertise of the researchers who have produced the body of knowledge. Those activities can stimulate further research that broadens both the body of knowledge and the expertise of researchers.
Going forward, it is essential to develop a systematic outreach and dissemination plan that is based on a carefully considered strategy to ensure that Minerva researchers are exposed to policy discussions and that the knowledge gained through Minerva research can benefit the broader national security community. This plan needs to include an approach for building institutionalized mechanisms that will facilitate the spread of information about the grants and is specifically targeted to the audiences the Minerva program office wants to reach, both within DoD and externally.
RECOMMENDATION 5.1: The Minerva program office should develop a strategic outreach and dissemination plan for distributing information about the Minerva Research Initiative and about the studies and researchers funded.
In addition to encouraging the development of a dissemination and outreach plan, the committee suggests several actions for the near term focused on increasing both the use of Minerva research and the expertise of the researchers, as detailed below.
When asked about opportunities for interaction with various national security staff and policy makers, the majority of the grantees responding
to the committee’s survey said that the Minerva program had increased (“greatly” or “somewhat”) opportunities for these types of interaction with service branch staff interested in integrating basic research insights into their work (68%), other DoD staff (64%), national security staff in other federal agencies (59%), and policy makers in the legislative branch (42%) (see Table 5-2). Minerva researchers have provided briefings for a range of entities, including the United States Central Command, the United States Special Operations Command, the White House National Security Advisor, the National Security Agency, and the United Nations Security Council. DoD leadership and program managers reported receiving positive feedback about the usefulness of these briefings and their influence on policy decisions.
Despite these activities, however, the committee identified the need for more work to maximize opportunities for dissemination. Approximately one of three responding grantees said that opportunities to interact with national security staff and policy makers had not increased at all as a result of their participation in the Minerva program, while only about one of four said these types of opportunities had greatly increased, even with DoD staff. Opportunities for interaction with policy makers in the legislative branch were the least likely to be reported, with just 13 percent of grantees saying these opportunities had increased greatly, and 50 percent reporting that they had not increased at all.
Increased opportunities for dissemination and assistance with increasing the visibility of their work was also one of the most frequently cited changes to the Minerva program that grantees would like to see (mentioned by 14% of the grantees when asked in an open-ended format; see Appendix E, Q14). Grantees also raised related concerns when asked about challenges specific to conducting research relevant to national security (compared with research in other areas). The challenges mentioned included lack of interest in or understanding of social science among military leaders and national security stakeholders (5%), lack of adoption of findings by military leaders and national security stakeholders (5%), and lack of dissemination opportunities in general (4%).
Information gleaned from the survey of grantees and interviews with DoD staff indicates that many of the grantees disseminate their work very actively in the form of presentations, briefings, and publications in various venues beyond peer-reviewed journals. Over the years, Minerva directors and program managers have also facilitated opportunities for grantees to discuss their research with DoD staff or others in the broader national security community. However, DoD’s role in systematically identifying these types of opportunities has been relatively limited to date, and DoD staff attributed this to staffing limitations.
With the new deputy director in place since 2018, several efforts to increase dissemination have been initiated, such as the redesigned website
TABLE 5-2 Grantees’ Perceptions of Opportunities for Research and Dissemination as a Result of Minerva Grants (percentages)
|Area of Opportunity||Greatly Increased Opportunities||Somewhat Increased Opportunities||Did Not Increase Opportunities at All||Not Applicable|
|Pursuing research in new directions related to the national security topics funded by the Minerva program||76||20||1||3|
|Expanding networks with other researchers interested in national security research||49||46||4||1|
|Participating in interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary research||46||37||16||1|
|Providing training opportunities for students and postdoctoral scholars/fellows||53||36||5||7|
|Interacting with service branch staff (Air Force, Army, or Navy) interested in integrating basic research insights into their work||26||42||28||4|
|Interacting with other DoD staff||26||38||30||5|
|Interacting with national security policy staff in other federal agencies||22||37||34||7|
|Interacting with policy makers in the legislative branch (e.g., through congressional testimony, meetings with staff or members)||13||29||50||8|
NOTES: Sample size = 76; Grantee survey Q7: “For each of the following activities, did the Minerva program greatly increase, somewhat increase, or not increase at all your opportunities?”
for the program, a new blog (“Owl in the Olive Tree”) to showcase the grantees’ work, and greater use of social media to distribute information about the program and its funded research. DoD is also working on compiling a comprehensive list of all grants and planning on posting this list to the DoD website (lists of grants awarded have been posted on the previous version of the website, but have not been kept up to date). These efforts, particularly the development of a comprehensive database of the grantees’ work, are important because having an inventory of the research and the associated expertise is a necessary first step in being able to identify how the work can be useful for the broader national security community.
The committee believes that conducting basic research and developing human capital are complementary activities. Dissemination efforts are most valuable if they promote not only the research produced under the Minerva grants but also the expertise of the researchers. Doing so helps build a community of researchers and make available a group of scholars who can provide assistance in addressing immediate needs.
Some of the information in the database of grants (for example, topics, names, and expertise of the principal investigators [PIs]) needs to be made public to increase the usefulness of the Minerva research to others, outside of DoD. Ideally, this information would be searchable, using keywords. To implement a public-facing version of the database of grants, DoD could consider having a repository hosted by a third party, such as an academic institution. Testing this version of the database with the help of potential users as it was being developed would ensure that it would become a user-friendly resource.
RECOMMENDATION 5.2: The public-facing component of the grantee database to be developed by the Minerva program office should include detailed information about the funded projects, providing a current and historical picture of the portfolio of research that has been conducted and an inventory of the researchers’ expertise. The database should be user-friendly and searchable. (See also Recommendation 3.3 in Chapter 3.)
Simultaneously with the development of the grantee database, it is essential for the Minerva staff to begin establishing both formal and informal mechanisms for interaction between grantees and DoD staff, as well as others who could learn from the research. Policy staff have expressed an interest in being able to reach out to a group of Minerva researchers with expertise on a specific topic and obtain input relatively quickly. Developing procedures to facilitate such access to the researchers would greatly increase the usefulness of the Minerva research and researchers. Possibilities could also include organizing brief, targeted sessions with research and
policy staff within DoD and other agencies, policy makers in the legislative branch, policy researchers and advisors with think tanks, and others. Importantly, any procedures for interaction with Minerva researchers would need to include the handling of grantee travel funds for trips of this type. It appears that to engage in such interaction, grantees must use travel funds budgeted for this purpose as part of their projects, so it might help to clarify this point ahead of time, when grantees are developing their budgets.
RECOMMENDATION 5.3: The Minerva program office should develop mechanisms for facilitating interaction between grantees and potential users of their research or expertise in the broader national security community.
Professional military education institutions represent an opportunity to reach additional stakeholders, particularly future leaders in the national security community. Several years ago, DoD attempted to introduce grants targeted at such institutions as part of Minerva, launching the Minerva Research for Defense Education Faculty program. This program was discontinued, however, because many of the proposals received did not meet DoD’s expectations. DoD is now attempting to launch a new program—the Defense Education Civilian University Research Partnership—to award grants for basic research projects that involve collaboration between two co-PIs: one from a professional military education institution and one from a civilian research university. The Minerva program office also could consider facilitating the introduction of Minerva researchers to professional military education institutions by helping to organize seminars, elective courses, or visiting professorships.
RECOMMENDATION 5.4: The Minerva program office should continue to explore collaborations with professional military education institutions to expose future leaders in the national security community to the program.
The main dissemination mechanism for Minerva research is the Minerva Conference, which appears to be a highly regarded event that both grantees and the broader national security community find very useful. The goal is to hold the conference annually, although no conference was held in 2017, when the program had only an interim director. While efforts have been made to encourage participation by and interaction with the policy community as part of these conferences, the 2018 event, which the committee attended, was not particularly outward-facing. Planning for the event took place at the last minute as a result of changes in the Minerva program staffing, and this may have contributed to lighter attendance than has been
typical among the broader community. One might also argue that there are some benefits to keeping a conference of this type relatively small (along the lines of a “program review,” which was the official title of the event) to facilitate greater interaction and more candid discussion. In that case, it might be useful to consider holding an additional conference, or perhaps lengthening the current one by an extra day, to enable an event that is more outward-facing. This outward-facing event would be focused primarily on showcasing the outcomes of the research generated by Minerva grantees, and less on academic discussion of research methods. Its agenda could also include discussions focused on future directions for the Minerva program.
RECOMMENDATION 5.5: The Minerva Conference should continue to serve as a key mechanism for outreach, dissemination, and interaction and should be held annually, on a predictable schedule.
As discussed, one of the challenges associated with the dissemination of Minerva work is that the program is intended to support basic research (referred to as 6.1 research within DoD), which, by definition, tends not to have immediate policy applications. Service branch program managers reported to the committee that they are always on the lookout for follow-on funding sources that could be a good match for the grantees they oversee, and have helped identify additional funding for some of the Minerva projects. Indeed, it appears to be relatively common for grantees to receive additional funding through the Minerva program to build on their initial work, as was the case for 38 percent of the grantees who responded to the committee’s survey (see Appendix E, Q10 and Q11). Another 17 percent of the responding grantees said they had received additional funding through some other DoD funding stream, while 41 percent said they had received funding from a non-DoD source for research building on their Minerva work. Approximately one in four of those who received additional funding from another source received a grant from the National Science Foundation, another frequent source of funding for follow-up work being the PI’s own academic institution.
It is unclear how much of the additional research funding obtained by grantees after a Minerva project can be described as being for applied research. Several Minerva projects appear to have produced tools and other outputs that could be well positioned to garner funding set aside for applied research (6.2 funding). There is no obvious funding stream at DoD, however, that would be a clear fit for grantees who would like to conduct applied research building on their Minerva work.
Stakeholders, including DoD staff who provided input to the committee, appear to agree that the basic research conducted under the Minerva program is valuable and should not be compromised in the interest of an
increased focus on applied research. In 2005, the National Academies conducted a congressionally mandated study in response to concerns that DoD basic research funds were increasingly being used for research that did not meet the criteria of basic research. The committee that carried out that study recommended favoring “unfettered exploration” over “research related to short-term needs” for 6.1 research, and recommended further that DoD “should abandon its view of basic research as being part of a sequential or linear process of research and development . . . [and] should view basic research, applied research, and the other phases of research and development as continuing activities that occur in parallel, with numerous supporting connections among them” (National Research Council, 2005, p. 5).
As discussed, the Minerva program office has requested separate funding for 6.2 research, but the first such request did not have sufficient support within DoD. Ultimately, support for 6.2 research is an issue that goes beyond the Minerva Research Initiative.
The committee was asked to address whether there are ways in which the fundamentals of the vision and goals of the Minerva Research Initiative need to change to better address contemporary security needs. The vision for the Minerva program is to “support social science for a safer world” by improving “DoD’s basic understanding of the social, cultural, behavioral, and political forces that shape regions of the world of strategic importance to the U.S.” To accomplish its goals, the program “brings together universities, research institutions, and individual scholars and supports interdisciplinary and cross-institutional projects addressing specific topic areas determined by the Secretary of Defense.”
There is clear support for Minerva’s vision among those involved with the program, as well as the experts from the broader national security community who provided input to the committee. It is also clear that some challenges have been associated with implementing the program’s vision, particularly with respect to balancing the characteristics of basic research with more immediate policy needs, balancing the needs of the service branches and the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), balancing longer-term policy objectives and shorter-term concerns within OSD, and considering alignment with the National Defense Strategy. These challenges have manifested especially in negotiating the selection of topics and specific projects to fund. Given the recently implemented changes that shift more of the responsibility for developing topics from OSD to the service branches, DoD staff prefer to wait to see how this restructuring functions before considering further changes, an approach the committee finds reasonable, except for the specific changes recommended in this report.
The challenges associated with reconciling the goals of basic research and policy relevance were also evident in comments made to the committee by representatives of the broader national security community who were asked about their views on the program’s vision. They made several suggestions for expanding outreach to obtain broader input on topics to fund. An example was to establish an advisory board for the Minerva program, possibly including chief scientists from each of the commands. Another suggestion was to survey a broader community of researchers and policy makers to request input on research priorities—perhaps similar to the decadal surveys that have been conducted by the National Academies in several fields (see, for example, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2019a). At the same time, these experts encouraged enough consistency in the topics funded from year to year to allow for a body of knowledge to develop.
The input received by the committee from all sources underscored continued support for the key aspects of the original vision of the Minerva program, including its interdisciplinary nature, as well as the importance of keeping the work transparent and unclassified. Overall, the input received by the committee did not reveal a need for major changes in the types of research that are funded or the size or duration of grants.
At the same time, DoD needs to carefully consider the program’s priorities with respect to addressing immediate versus longer-term research needs, serving DoD-wide versus service branch interests, and emphasizing scientific merit versus policy relevance. DoD also needs to consider the implications of these priorities for the program’s organizational structure and other features of its implementation. Having these priorities defined more clearly would reduce some of the friction that currently characterizes the relationships among the program’s internal stakeholders, and could potentially address some of the concerns that led to the Army’s decision to withdraw from the program.
RECOMMENDATION 5.6: The Minerva program office should specify its priorities for the Minerva Research Initiative, and, as needed, refine the program’s approach to topic selection and grant award to reflect these priorities.
The committee found no evidence to suggest serious problems with the engagement of social scientists or, in particular, early-career scholars with the Minerva program. Nonetheless, there is room for improvement in this area, particularly with regard to promoting broader awareness of the
program across the social science research community and more active roles for early-career researchers.
DoD staff reported that the Minerva grants are competitive and that strong proposals are routinely turned down. It is also evident, however, that some potential stakeholders have never heard of the program. Of the 88 respondents who completed the survey on behalf of university offices of sponsored research, 40 percent said they were “not familiar at all” with the Minerva program, and an additional 34 percent said they were “not too familiar” (see Appendix F, Q1). The committee had no ideal way of identifying the most suitable respondents for the survey of administrators of sponsored research in every case, and this may have been a limitation on the information obtained. Nonetheless, 90 percent of the respondents said they either personally had experience working with other (non-Minerva) grants from the DoD service branches or were aware of their colleagues working with such grants. Thus, despite widespread familiarity with DoD grants generally, university administrators of sponsored research have only limited familiarity with Minerva grants.
Researchers tend to learn about the Minerva program by word of mouth. Table 5-3, based on responses from the grantee survey, shows the percentage of respondents who had heard about the Minerva program from various sources. The most frequently cited source, by far, was “a colleague,” suggesting possible opportunities for developing new or improving existing outreach efforts to take a more systematic approach.
Among the grants awarded to date, 87 have been at doctoral universities with the highest levels of research activity, 10 at doctoral universities with higher levels of research activity, and 3 at doctoral universities with moderate levels of research activity, as categorized by the Carnegie
TABLE 5-3 Grantees’ Sources of Information about Minerva Grants (percentages)
|University research office||29|
|Department of Defense (DoD) website||37|
|National Science Foundation||22|
NOTES: Sample size = 76; Grantee survey Q1: “Prior to applying for a Minerva grant, did you learn about the Minerva grant program in any of the following ways?”
Classification of Institutions of Higher Education (see Appendix L). One grant was at an institution that does not have a Carnegie code, and 8 grants have been awarded to researchers at universities abroad. Among 64 institutions receiving Minerva grants, 26 were awarded more than one grant (this number includes institutions where some PIs have received more than one grant, but also institutions that have had two or more faculty with different Minerva grants).
With respect to the Minerva program’s reach across the social sciences, the grants attract researchers from many different disciplines. Approximately half of the grants have been awarded to PIs whose highest degree is in a subfield of political science, broadly defined. Psychology and economics, as well as mathematics and computer science, are also well represented, with around 10 percent of the grants awarded each. In addition, grants have been awarded to PIs with backgrounds in other social science fields, such as sociology, anthropology, demography, and criminology, as well as such fields as law, engineering, and physics. Many projects have involved cross-disciplinary collaborations.
Representatives of social science associations reported to the committee that in some fields, there is awareness of the Minerva program mainly among researchers focused on a specific subfield (for example, those working on issues related to intergroup conflict within the broader field of psychology). Others observed that early-career academics may be less aware of the program than more established researchers. This is the case particularly among anthropologists because the American Anthropological Association’s high-profile involvement in debates about the program when it was first launched attracted a great deal of attention within that field. However, this also appears to be the case among political scientists, even though there is much more overlap among the areas of specialization of political scientists and the Minerva topics funded relative to the field of anthropology, and several prominent political scientists have been PIs on Minerva grants.
Representatives of social science associations who met with the committee noted that the DoD website contained very little information about the Minerva program. This was due in part to the transition to a new website during the course of the committee’s evaluation. Among the specific suggestions made regarding the types of information that could make the website more useful to researchers, particularly those not yet familiar with the program, were examples of the work conducted by researchers from various disciplines, discussion of how the research could be used to reduce conflict or avoid wars (in contrast with the language of the 2018 National Defense Strategy to “build a more lethal force”), and a description of the potentially positive impact of the research on the populations studied. The ongoing efforts to improve the Minerva website could address these suggestions.
As the staffing in the Minerva program office stabilizes, another area in which increased efforts by program staff could enhance the engagement of social scientists in the Minerva program is participation in the conferences of professional associations. For example, Minerva staff could disseminate information about the program at conferences by participating as exhibitors. A symposium at an American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting could also be considered.
Occasionally, the Minerva grant announcements have been released later than the typical grant cycle, primarily as a result of the program staffing challenges discussed previously in this report. A short turnaround time can have the unintended consequence of increasing the ratio of repeat applications (including from existing grantees) to new applications. Grant announcements issued on a predictable schedule could therefore increase the diversity of the applicant pool.
Similar to planning for outreach and dissemination (see Recommendation 5.1), efforts to inform a broader community about the Minerva program and build engagement need to be based on a carefully developed plan that identifies strategic objectives and how they can be achieved. As discussed earlier, it is notable that about three-quarters of the administrators of sponsored research said they were not familiar at all or not too familiar with the Minerva program. Discussions with stakeholders are needed to inform the development of the plan for broadening engagement with the program. Having a staff member specifically focused on outreach activities could be particularly helpful.
RECOMMENDATION 5.7: The Minerva program office should develop and implement a plan for further broadening engagement with the Minerva Research Initiative based on strategically identified objectives with respect to the target groups of researchers to engage and systematic steps for how to reach and engage them.
Engaging early-career researchers is particularly important to support the continued success of the program and cultivate the next generation of academics with interest in conducting social science research relevant to national security. One productive way of engaging these scholars is to include students and postdoctoral fellows on the Minerva project teams, an approach that is encouraged by DoD. When PIs were asked about whether their Minerva grants provided training opportunities for students and postdoctoral scholars/fellows, 53 percent said these opportunities had been greatly increased by the Minerva projects, and 36 percent said they had been somewhat increased. Among those who provided a response about the number of students or fellows actively involved in their Minerva grant for at least one academic quarter or semester, the median number of
undergraduate students was three, of graduate students was four, and of postdoctoral fellows was one, with quite a bit of variation across projects. Larger projects can likely include students and postdocs more easily.
As an additional opportunity for early-career scholars, DoD recently launched a collaboration with the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). The Minerva Research Initiative’s Peace and Security fellowships are awarded to graduate students working on research related to their dissertation. Priority topics for this funding are determined jointly by DoD and USIP. During the most recent round of funding, more than 220 applications were received, and 12 fellowships were awarded.
DoD already receives applications for the Minerva grants from a mix of early-career and more senior researchers, but to further bolster interest among the next generation of researchers, has discussed the possibility of tailoring smaller awards for early-career academics. Such awards could potentially reduce the time investment required of grantees to perform administrative tasks associated with larger, more complex projects. In addition, smaller grants placing less emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration might be more appealing to early-career academics, who are rewarded more substantially for publications in their own discipline. On the other hand, larger grants can enable researchers to reduce their teaching load, which may be particularly important to early-career researchers.
Some DoD staff expressed the view that one barrier to participation by early-career researchers might be greater caution about accepting DoD funding and its perceived implications for their career. When grantees were asked about challenges associated with conducting (unclassified) research relevant to national security, only 12 percent mentioned criticism from academic colleagues due to DoD funding, which suggests that these types of concerns are not pervasive. Nevertheless, they may influence the decisions of early-career scholars about what research to undertake. Among administrators of sponsored programs, 11 percent agreed with the statement that “most people at my institution have unfavorable views of conducting national security research in general,” and the numbers were similar when they were asked specifically about the views of social science faculty (although most said they did not know).
The annual Minerva Conference provides an important venue for outreach, and it can be particularly productive for outreach focused specifically on early-career academics, who sometimes have less visibility and engagement at conferences relative to the senior researchers on their teams. The Minerva Conference could include informational sessions or other such activities (for example, meetings with senior DoD leaders) focused on early-career researchers. In addition, the Minerva program office could facilitate more active roles for these researchers in presenting their work at the conference, perhaps through specifically targeted or structured sessions.
RECOMMENDATION 5.8: The Minerva program office should consider organizing activities for early-career researchers at the Minerva Conference to provide them with information about substantive topics in national security, as well as research opportunities and guidance about how to take advantage of those opportunities.
RECOMMENDATION 5.9: The Minerva program office should encourage more active roles for early-career researchers on existing Minerva project teams in presenting the research at the Minerva Conference.
As the Minerva program approaches its tenth year, it will be important to develop benchmarks for ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the program, based on the priorities identified by DoD staff. In specifying these benchmarks, however, the Minerva program office needs to ensure that striving to reach one benchmark does not create an unanticipated incentive that might compromise achieving other goals of the program. For example, the benchmarks should not discourage the funding of high-risk projects if they have the potential for high reward.
RECOMMENDATION 5.10: The Minerva program office should develop specific benchmarks for use in continuously monitoring and evaluating the Minerva Research Initiative’s accomplishments and challenges going forward. These benchmarks should be measured and assessed on a regular basis, possibly annually or biennially.
Given increasing emphasis on open-science practices and other efforts to improve reproducibility and replicability in research (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2019b), it will also be important for the Minerva program office to monitor how research standards evolve in the context of the disciplines relevant to the Minerva program and to be at the forefront of implementing transparency and other requirements that encourage best practices, as they become established.