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Post by Christopher Brown; Oceanographer – NOAA
Ideally, newly developed ecological forecasts deemed useful should be transitioned to operations, applications or commercialization to benefit society. More succinctly, if there is no transition, there is no outcome. NOAA develops and transitions ecological forecasts to fulfill its mandates and role in the protection of life, property, human health and well-being, and in stewardship of coastal, marine, and Great Lakes environments. A depiction of this general process (Figure 1), affectionately called “the R&D funnel”, illustrates how new technologies and products are identified from the multitude available from numerous sources and are culled and eventually transitioned to meet NOAA’s needs. Unfortunately, while several ecological forecasting projects at NOAA have been successfully transitioned to operations, many projects remain primarily in a research mode. To better understand the reasons behind this, NOAA’s Ecological Forecasting Roadmap program conducted an unpublished study in 2014 that compared ecological forecasting projects that had been successfully transitioned to operations with those that languished or failed in order to identify common characteristics related to the success or failure of the transition. (NOAA defines operations as “sustained, systematic, reliable, and robust mission activities with an institutional commitment to deliver specified products and services”.) Based on the comparative analysis of nine projects, a list of “lessons learned” for transitioning ecological forecasts to operations, applications or commercialization (R2X) were compiled. The salient points are listed below:
- Identify the “owner” or group responsible for operationally producing the product or service as early as possible in the process. In baseball vernacular, find the catcher’s mitt;
- Engage the users, stakeholders and decision makers, from researchers to management, as early as possible to establish user needs and obtain routine feedback for setting and updating product requirements;
- Find and secure funding of the product or service to ensure its transition, verification, sustainment and improvement;
- Plan and document, to the best of your ability, as many steps in the life of the product or service, from research to operations to termination, including the entities responsible, the major milestones, and the funding required. This activity will focus attention on the steps that need to be taken and provide information required in the formal R2X process; and
- Include plans for the sustained collection, analysis and archive of relevant data necessary for product verification.
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Quinn Thomas from Virginia Tech won the inaugural Ecological Forecasting Outstanding Publication Award from the Ecological Society of America for his work 2017 Biogeosciences publication predicting forest carbon from Pinus taeda in the southeastern US.