Improving the Relevance of the Usgcrp to Decision Making

A common finding among many past reports (for example, NRC, 2007a, 2008b, 2009g), and this one, is that improving the relevance and utility of scientific research and infusing scientific information into the decision-making process require increased dialogue and engagement between scientists and decision makers. Several mechanisms help connect scientific and decision-making entities in the context of the USGCRP. For example, the USGCRP could establish an external advisory board to provide input on research needs, to review and provide advice on research priorities, and to guide activities designed to enhance communication and interactions with the broader stakeholder community. An external advisory board would help to ensure that priorities for research are informed by and responsive to the needs of decision makers and other information users, and it could assess and improve the program's decision-support capabilities. If established, such a board should be composed of decision makers and stakeholders from a broad range of communities (e.g., leaders in state, local, and tribal governments; relevant businesses and industries; citizen groups; and other nongovernmental organizations), including communities that are currently not strongly linked with the program, as well as members from across the scientific research community.

Mechanisms should also be developed for regular interaction between users and researchers at the individual research project level. A number of federal agencies have already taken steps to increase such engagement, but more comprehensive and coordinated efforts are needed. For example, "user councils" focusing on a particular type of decision or research area could help researchers understand the questions that are most critical for decision makers and other stakeholders, help users understand the information that science can and cannot provide, and assist in the development of enhanced decision-support processes and tools. Workshops and dialogues, such as the "listening sessions" USGCRP has held at various venues across the country, are also a valuable contribution.

There are two important caveats that need to be kept in mind when designing and implementing strategies to increase interactions between the research community and its stakeholders. First, and most important, interactions between users and producers of scientific information should always preserve the integrity of the research process in reaching factual conclusions. Second, input from stakeholders needs to be considered in the context of the tractability of the proposed research and the resources required, and mechanisms are needed to ensure that the scientific enterprise is not totally dominated by near-term decision-support activities.

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