Date: December 1, 2019
Post by Michael Dietze, Boston University
We have had a busy 6 months with lots of progress and community building for the Ecological Forecasting Initiative. Here is a summary of what the group has been up to since the EFI meeting in DC in May.
The inaugural meeting of the Ecological Forecasting Initiative took place at AAAS Headquarters in Washington, DC on May 13-15, 2019. The meeting brought together >100 participants from a broad array of biological, social, and physical environmental sciences and spanning internationally across academia, government agencies, and non-profits. Overall, it was a highly productive meeting that generated a lot of excitement about our growing community of practice. The meeting was organized around EFI’s seven themes (Theory, Decision Science, Education, Inclusion, Methods, Cyberinfrastructure, Partners) with a mix of keynotes, lightning talks, and panel discussions on each area. The panel discussions were particularly valued by participants, as they generated dynamics community discussions and often highlighted the perspectives of early-career participants. The meeting also included time for break out discussions, starting with a series of sessions (with participants randomly intermixed) addressing high-level questions about the opportunities for advancing science and decision making, and the challenges and bottlenecks facing our community. These breakouts then fed into a later set of sessions, organized by theme, where individuals self-organized by interest to synthesize what we learned and to start discussing next steps. Finally, there was a healthy amount of unstructured break time, as well as a conference dinner on Monday night and a poster session on Tuesday early evening, that provided attendees with time for informal discussions and networking. A post-meeting survey showed overall satisfaction with the meeting was very high (4.8 of 5), as was the likelihood of attending another EFI meeting (4.6 of 5).
The original conference plan was for the breakout groups organized around the EFI cross-cutting themes to be the kick-off of the theme working groups. In practice, this was delayed slightly by the NSF Science Technology Center preproposal deadline (June 25) which occupied much of the organizing committee’s time in the ~6 weeks post-conference. However, working group telecons kicked off in July and all eight working groups have continued to meet virtually on Zoom at approximately a monthly frequency. Based on group discussions at the conference, and our post-meeting survey, a number of key ideas emerged for the working groups to focus on. A top priority was the establishment of community standards for forecast archiving, meta-data, and application readiness levels. Standards will allow our growing community to more easily perform higher-level synthesis, disseminate predictions, develop shared tools, and allow third-party validation. The bulk of the work on developing a draft set of forecast standards has been taken on by the Theory working group, which is focused on making sure forecast outputs and metadata will be able to support larger, synthetic analyses. Theory has also held joint meetings about Standards with Cyberinfrastructure, which has focused on the CI needs of archives (blog post in prep), repeatability/replication, and the standardization of model inputs. Application Readiness Levels (ARLs) have also been discussed by the Decision team, which wanted to evaluate whether existing NASA and NOAA ARLs reflect decision readiness.
Second, there was considerable enthusiasm for discussing and documenting best practices, both around the technical aspects of forecasting and for decision science and interacting with stakeholders. On the technical side the Methods and Tools team is working on a document summarizing the tools being used by the community in seven key areas: Visualization & Decisions Support tools; Uncertainty quantification; Data ingest; Data cleaning & harmonization; User interfaces; Workflows & Reproducibility; Modeling & Statistics. The primary goal of this exercise is to produce a set of EFI webpages that inform forecast developers about the tools available (especially newer members of the community). The secondary goal is to enable a gap analysis that will help the Methods and Tools team prioritize areas where needed tools are missing or not meeting the needs of the community. At the same time, the Decision team has been discussing the stakeholder side of best practices, has already produced two blogs about lessons learned by NOAA in translating from Research to Operations (R2O), and a third blog is being drafted that describes areas in the ecological forecasting process where social science can provide valuable input. Similarly, the Partners team has been thinking about how to improve the ‘matchmaking’ process between stakeholders and forecasters and is working on a survey to reach out to potential EFI partners to let them know what EFI is, what we are doing, and to learn how organizations are currently using data, models, and forecasts and where there is the potential for synergies with EFI.
Third, the community is interested in the expansion of educational materials and open courseware. The Education and Diversity teams have mostly been meeting together and have discussed key forecasting vocabulary and are working with EFI’s Cayelan Carey, who has a new NSF Macrosystems grant to develop undergraduate forecasting modules, to develop a survey of forecast instructors to provide information on (and a compilation of) syllabi, code, problem sets, and topics currently being taught, pre-requisites, and input on what new forecasting teaching material would be most useful. The Diversity team is also drafting a Strategic Plan to work on increasing diversity and inclusion in EFI and ecological forecasting more generally. Steps in this plan include: 1) Identifying the current diversity status, 2) Identifying the barriers, 3) Identifying solutions and which solutions make sense to work on given the participants and networks currently in EFI, 4) Identify who else needs to be involved and make a plan to bring them in, and 5) Form collaborations and seek funding to carry out the plan.
Fourth, there was interest at the EFI conference in supporting the development of an EFI student community. The EFI student group was launched in August and is working on developing a charter, forming a steering committee, and running a journal discussion group.
Working Groups are always open for new people to join. There are 3 more calls scheduled before the end of the year: Education on Dec 4, Social Science on Dec 16, and Partners on Dec 17 all at 1pm US eastern time. Polls will be sent out in mid-December to set recurring times for working group calls in Jan-May 2020. If you would like to join a working group and be included on any of the remaining calls or if you wish to participate in the polls to set times for next year’s calls, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition, to responding to the ideas discussed at the EFI2019 conference, the EFI working groups are also involved in the planning process for the EFI Research Coordination Network. This NSF RCN funding was awarded after the EFI2019 meeting and ensures that EFI will continue to meet and grow over the next five years. The EFI RCN is also launching an open forecasting challenge using NEON data, the protocols for which will be finalized at the first RCN meeting, May 12-14, 2020 in Boulder, CO at NEON headquarters.
Other key products of the EFI2019 meeting are the meeting slides and videos. The overall meeting was recorded and the individual keynote and lightning talks have been edited down and released on YouTube, the EFI webpage, and Twitter. In addition, EFI2019 participants suggested dropping EFI’s existing discussion board (which participants were encouraged to use as part of meeting prep) and replacing it with a Slack channel, which has seen substantially greater use. The EFI organizing committee is also close to finalizing an Organizing Principles and Procedures document which establishes the obligations and benefits of EFI membership and lays out the operations of the EFI Steering Committee and committee chair. The OPP is currently being reviewed by legal counsel and we anticipate holding our first elections shortly after the new year.
Finally, we are happy to pass on that the NSF Science Technology Preproposal that was submitted shortly after the EFI2019 meeting has been selected to submit a full center proposal in January.