River Delta Adaptive Management Strategy/5. Social Organization

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Barriers to Effective Adaptive Management

Beover (2008), in support of PSNERP, interviewed staff at three ecosystem restoration programs--CalFed, Louisiana Coastal Area, and Everglades--to evaluate barriers to adaptive management in ecosystem restoration. He identified seven candid and practical problems derived from first hand experience in ecosystem management. We acknowledge and describe our strategy in response to each problem:

1. Scientists are held responsible for success, but lack the resources and authority to implement, and are avoided on politically sensitive issues.
We anticipate a system of checks and balances between the science and management communities. Shifting all power to an academic science community does not assuredly increase the effectiveness of management. We propose an open and internet-based forum in which scientists and managers define the sources of restoration uncertainty. We define and analyze the scope of collective need prior to funding. By selecting learning projects from a suite of opportunities, funding programs assume responsibility for success, but are informed by the stated needs of a community of practice. By allowing the science community to define risk in a transparent forum we reduce the risk of politicized avoidance.
2. Few dedicated staff actually focus their work on management of adaptive management--effort is diffuse and split among many part time staff. Staff turnover and unclear points of contact inhibit continuity.
At this point, staffing is provided by ESRP and NOAA Restoration Center, and is integrated into a capital program budget. By integrating peer review processes into project selection, we hope to minimize and decentralize management labor, while creating a vehicle for distributing knowledge. By building a transparent and public body of evidence, linked to learning targets, we hope to develop a system of mutual benefit that maximizes resilience, while minimizing any risk of discontinuity caused by weaknesses in individual organizations. Long term staffing is a critical vulnerability, and diversifying beyond ESRP support is important. Development of overlapping fellowship positions within university departments, funded by multiple delta restoration partners, may be cost-effective tool for both increasing academic involvement and maintaining continuity.
3. System models are not designed to address the uncertainties that are the subject of adaptive management.
The program anticipates development of simple nimble models that support local planning and prediction (for example, the Delta tidal channel reference model). Given our scale of resources we anticipate development of a series of studies, rather that development of a singular, inflexible, and cumbersome decision support model. Our objective is to identify sources of risk, and develop models as necessary to explain those risks, which places to focus of quantitative work appropriately on those portions of the system where we perceive vulnerability. By diversifying model generation, we will need to evaluate risks related to loss of 'interoperability'. The community of practice is small enough that these risks can be overcome with increased communications.
4. Established monitoring competes with new monitoring, and monitoring may or may not be oriented to resolve the questions identified as most important to adaptive management.
We minimize programmatic monitoring under our Core Monitoring Strategy, to maximize resources available for learning projects. These projects are of limited duration to achieve specific objectives, reducing the entrenchment of monitoring interest groups. The program will need to guard carefully against systematic underestimation of the effort required to generate useful new knowledge, which creates a compusion to continue funding indefinately for fear of losing sunk costs. This is best managed through rigorous evaluation and scoping at the onset of a project. This requires adequate independant technical review during selection and contract negotiation, which is currently lacking at ESRP. Development of a blind and anonymous peer review system is anticipated to provide value. We will need to reinforce a feedback loop that updates the knoweldge base of our peer review community as new evidence is developed.
5. FACA requirements can inhibit extensive stakeholder involvement.
This concern primarily develops where many players are attempting to affect large federal funding decisions. We anticipate a system where implementation is broken down into a series of discrete investments. Funding decisions are independent and autonomous, but supported by a collectivized and competitive, criteria-based and peer-reviewed processes that provides decision support, consistent with the public interest, and avoiding a conflict of interest.
6. Cash flow to support work creates delays and diversion from planned adaptive management objectives.
Project selection criteria focus learning efforts on obtaining increments of evidence that that are suited to restoration project funding sources. Continuity is maintained by development of a long term adaptive management agenda. This approach does preclude monolithic intensive and long term efforts. This simplification and narrowing of learning focus may be a necessary step in turning adaptive management from a concept into a reality. Because our learning goals and risks are diverse, we anticipate that we will be better able to adapt to shifting funding while maintaining and integrating incremental gains in knowledge.
7. Absence of institutional recognition or reward to successful implementation of AM. AM is not necessary part of any agencies work.
Our aim is to use existing resources to demonstrate the value of targeted restoration research to stakeholders who are invested in restoration outcomes. We assume that stakeholders will value new evidence and information. If we are successful, we will increase the perceived value of restoration research. In this way we are not focussed on adaptive management as an activity, but rather on providing solutions through adaptive management to recoginzed problems, while simultaneously increasing recognition of real problems. We anticipate that if we deliver both clarity of risks, and value through adaptive management, we will gain a constituency that will support the work.

The Beover's analysis suggests that a short term need for this strategy is to diversify funding, and reduce dependency on the ESRP program as the sole source of financial and political support. This will require both specific collaboration between key partners, and development of a broad stakeholder community that can perceive a benefit to coordination of learning in delta restoration. To the extent that we successfully develop broadly participatory mechanisms, and diverse patronage, we will increase the odds of developing a sustained learning community.

Building Continuity in Learning

Our conceptual framework identifies a set of topics that describe what we know and don't know about delta restoration. This system of topics is described on our delta strategy page. This open source information sharing environment allows identified users to post documents and collaboratively edit text. Development of wiki content will become a contract requirement of grants. Participation is further incentivised as wiki content becomes a source of best available evidence and a marketplace of ideas, informing future funding decisions.

Each cycle of solicitation, review, selection and implementation further refines these topics in a transparent web-based format. Any partner is free to add additional sources of evidence and improve synthesis. These wiki articles reflect our best available understanding of delta restoration and so inform our technical review and contract negotiation. Partners that help us increase the rigor of our synthesis are consequently raising the bar for all competitors in the learning project selection process.

Using a highly accessible wiki increases the potential for broad stakholder awareness of restoration practice and restoration science. While a more open information environment may be uncomfortable, building broader stakeholder engagement through information sharing may strengthen our ability to restore ecosystem services over the next generation at a meaningful scale. In addition, an open information environment increases both the opportunity for collaboration, and accountability for advancing project work consistent with working in the public interest.

Learning Project Selection and Peer Oversight

There are four practical functions to develop within the ESRP program to implement this strategy:

  1. development of a learning project requests for proposals,
  2. evaluating which learning proposals best meet criteria,
  3. developing a scope of work that maximizes public benefits, and
  4. integrating the results of a learning project into a shared body of evidence that informs future decision making.

These activities will need to occur either through increasing ESRP staffing, collaboration with additional partners, or delegation of these tasks to project proponents through contracting.

1. RFP Development

We select proposals on a biennial basis that reflect the best opportunity to advance learning. The best opportunities depend on a confluence of factors: availability of an investigator, overlap with imminent project work, incorporation of recent findings into a new investigation, and leveraging of other resources. For these reasons, we anticipate that RFPs will continue to solicit a range of proposals.

However, now that we are managing an information framework, we expect RFPs to solicit proposals directly related to this Delta Strategy, that integrate the evidence and assumptions described on topic pages. Learning projects that propose specific advances in knowledge, within a clear time frame, that will have a desribed impact of specific decisions will considered. Our core monitoring strategy will be used to guide all other investments in monitoring.

Between RFPs ESRP staff and partners at the Salish Sea Restoration, will work to identify cost-effective opportunites to expand and refine topic pages of interest to delta restoration so that they organize and present the best available evidence and synthesis. Potential applications are encouraged to participate in this transparent discussion of delta ecosystem dynamics. We anticipate that this wiki will provide a strong basis for technical proposal review.

2. Proposal Review

Proposal review is focused on our three criteria of importance, viability and policy relevance. Each criterion requires a different perspective on a proposed learning project. The potential policy relevance of proposal is best analyzed by those who are involved in making policy. The importance of a proposal requires understanding of existing sources of scientific evidence. Viability requires specialized practical experience in ecological research and biostatistics within a specific arena.

ESRP has relied on community-based peer-review for project ranking. We anticipate that learning proposals may require an even broader peer community, with more technical expertise in delta ecosystems. This expansion of peer review based on ecosystem sitea unit from the nearshore project or watershed characterization watersheds that defines a ecologically cohesive site for management, may increase the rigor of restoration and protection proposal review. Anonymous peer-review may become an important part of our proposal review process.

3. Scope of Work Critique

At the point of developing a scope of work, the program has already committed to investing in a course of investigation. Scope of work critique is focussed on insuring that work is done in a transparent manner, that engages the stakeholder base necessary to insure that scientific investigation connects to policy at later stages of the project. ESRP staff have limited capacity to shepherd learning projects, and restoration projects commonly are vetted through regional coordination organizations, like the Lead Entity.

For these reasons, ESRP may interject additional tasks into a learning project scope, requiring additional peer review and communication tasks. This tasks may require engagement of independant review to enhance transparency and quality of work, without compromising an investigators ability to manage project scope. Specific tasks around posting and communication of results and integration of new evidence, using the Salish Sea Restoration platform, are described in our River Delta Adaptive Management Strategy/Learning Project Scope of Work Template.

4. Publications and Synthesis of Results

The Salish Sea Restoration site provides an opportunity to make projects visible and accessible. Learning Project proponents will be required to develop a learning project effort page, and upload key documents. These products can then be cited in an approriate topic page, where it may be considered in future decision making.

To actually review and weigh evidence, and integrate evidence into a revision of restoration postulates, is demanding work. This work has not to date been a strong part of the restoration process, perhaps in some cases to the detriment of restoration effectiveness. However, public critique and analysis is uncomfortable, and the sometimes politically controversial processes of restoration have encouraged tight management of information, let alone speculation. We anticipate this will be an area of growth and development, that will not always be predictable or comfortable. This may be an opportunity to better integrate the academic community, that is more practiced at critique and synthesis, and less affected by political risk.

A Note on Comprehensive System Monitoring

Skagit, Snohomish and Nisqually deltas have each proposed large scale systematic monitoring of delta ecosystems. We recognize that this scale and intensity of effort may provide unique insight into the dynamics of delta ecosystems, and ultimately may provide the only viable evidence to support important questions about ecosystem restoration.

The level of funding necessary to sustain the robust implementation of these programs is beyond the ability of the ESRP program to fund, and program staffing does not have the capacity to evaluate whether a prolonged and intensive approach is providing a robust and efficient pathway to new knowledge.

We strongly support the development of local-state-federal-academic partnership that can prioritize and consistently fund whole delta monitoring efforts. The development of these efforts provide an irreplaceable context for considering the findings of project monitoring or more focused investigations. For example, work on evaluating tide gates has benefited substantively from the ongoing Skagit Skagit Delta Intensively Monitored Watershed Project. Development of coordinated approaches to comprehensive system monitoring is the logical next step to increasing learning. We do not address that need here.