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Best Practices for Project Design: Effectively Addressing Natural Resource Management Needs

Project Information

Principal Investigator: Paul R. Armsworth, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee – Knoxville
Proposed Project Completion: March 2023
Implements Science Plan Theme: Adaptation
Project Cooperators: Karen McNeal (Auburn U.), Mitch Eaton (USGS SE Climate Adaptation Science Center), Cari Furiness (NC State U.), Lalasia Bialic-Murphy (U. Tennessee – Knoxville)


Hundreds of millions of dollars of public funding are invested annually in projects that aim to deliver research that can improve people’s lives and safeguard the environment. To invest that money wisely, we need to know how to design projects so that they will successfully address the information needs of natural resource managers. By using systematic evaluation to assess the effectiveness of past projects, we can start to identify shared characteristics that make funded research more likely to provide accessible and useable information to resource managers both within and beyond the Department of the Interior.

Applied science projects pose a particular evaluation challenge. These projects have two goals: they aim both to advance the frontier of scientific knowledge and to deliver results and products people will use to make management decisions. In this context, the few existing evaluation studies all use qualitative data and approaches that are hard to scale up, making it difficult to identify broadly applicable best practices.

We will develop quantitative and scalable approaches to evaluate applied science projects based both on how they innovate and how well they address natural resource managers’ information needs. We will focus on projects that aim to help federal and state natural resource managers, as well as resource users, adapt to changing environmental conditions. We will draw on existing information and new survey data to evaluate a set of science projects aimed at informing adaptation strategies of stakeholders such as the National Park Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service in the Southeast region. We will then identify project design characteristics associated with success both in innovating and informing natural resource management practice. These analyses will ensure that public funding for science is more effectively invested by improving future project designs to maximize the chance for project success.

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