Establishing a minimum standard for collaborative research in federal environmental agencies
There is a general consensus that—given the magnitude of the challenges facing our nation's natural resource managers—the rate, efficiency, and effectiveness of linking research to decision making must be enhanced. Many reports have touched on this issue, most of them culminating with the exhortation to “foster more interactions between scientists and users,” but very few documents provide details or assign responsibility to drive the interactions that most agree should happen. As a result, many natural science and engineering programs “talk the talk”—that is, they say they do collaborative research with intended users; however, upon inspection, few of them “walk the walk” by effectively supporting collaboration throughout the research process. Moreover, when called to support transition to application in specific ways, research agencies often balk, most often objecting that research programs cannot afford to take any support away from funding more research. They may also argue that science works best for society when it is freed from concerns related to application. In this paper we will 1) review the cultural conflict that often underlies disagreements about collaborative research, 2) offer details on the basic ingredients required to achieve a minimum standard for collaborative research, 3) suggest an approach for determining the appropriate level of support for collaborative research, given various research goals, and 4) recommend specific steps for motivating scientists and stakeholders to participate in collaborative research.