Managing Scientific Research

During the two decades of its existence, there has quite naturally been considerable discussion of how to direct the Hudson River Foundation's funding to the most meritorious and important projects headed by the best qualified principal investigators. Regardless of the context, management of research funding is a challenge: for corporate research and development managers, for Federal and state management offices, for Federal basic science agencies and for foundations and nongovernmental organizations the desire is to direct funding for the most efficacious purpose. No perfect formula exists for the best mix of research topics, and irrespective of this, philosophical differences abound as to what the highest purpose is. Environmental activists might argue that research must be directly relevant to the problems of the day and thus provide immediate feedback for management actions. In contrast, many scientists might argue that fundamental research should have the largest role, and that only by understanding the environment in depth will we be able to manage it.

HRF has migrated to several principles in managing scientific research over the years. In 1999, it clarified its mission as making science integral to decision making with regard to the Hudson River and its watershed and to support competent stewardship. This purpose is being pursued in large part through support of quality scientific research relevant to public policy. The most important aspect of selecting projects of the highest quality is the reliance on a peer review process with the following important characteristics: use of outside mail reviews and inside panel discussions; avoidance of conflict of interest, real or perceived; use of interdisciplinary evaluation; evaluation of prior results; involvement of scientists from many institutions, including outside of the region; evaluation of proposal significance; and availability of multiyear funding, when feasible.

HRF further believes that investments in environmental research should be distributed in ways to best address short and long term issues. This "portfolio approach" is akin to what financial managers might recommend to investors, that is, instead of making all investments in a single category, one should diversify one's holdings. Thus, HRF seeks to have a flexible blend of research projects, addressing scientific and public policy questions that may or may not have time constraints associated with them, but nonetheless relate to important areas in need of scientific inquiry. The categories considered are as follows:

• Long-term or fundamental importance, that is, what is believed to be necessary in order to understand basic ecological function and thus of potential long-range bearing on management approaches. This is often referred to as "basic" research that is intended to advance the state of knowledge where the possible applications of the results of the research are many years away. Example: studies of lower food web processes in the tidal freshwater portion of the river.

• Near-term importance, that is, what is anticipated will have important bearing on an environmental issue in the next five to ten years. This may have both "basic" and "applied" components. Example: studies of the fate, transport, and potential effects of toxic chemicals.

• Immediate importance of high priority, that is, what needs to be known now for a compelling environmental problem of present interest. This typically is what is often referred to as "applied" research. This research is intended to provide needed information for issues facing the Hudson over the near term, say in the next several years. In addition, HRF recognizes the need to direct resources at emerging issues that need clarity before management actions can even be contemplated. Example: studies in connection with the decline of Atlantic sturgeon.

Managing its grants program as a "portfolio" and making its programs as responsive to public policy issues as possible makes it incumbent upon HRF to understand the pressing management problems and issues facing the Hudson River and the role that science can play in developing solutions to them. This requires active participation by HRF staff in management deliberations, particularly those of HEP and HREMP. We note that a major disconnect exists between organizations that need scientific information for management, and organizations, like HRF, that fund research. As pointed out in the discussion of the Science/Management Paradigm, most complex environmental problems require some combination of research, monitoring, and modeling to formulate solutions. Determining which combination of technical tools is appropriate to solve the problem is crucial, and this process can greatly benefit from the participation of research organizations and scientists who are currently engaged in research or have recently completed studies of the river. Establishment of collaborations and partnerships is perhaps the greatest challenge to resolving complex environmental issues in the future that cross political and administrative boundaries, and where the need for scientific information to reduce the uncertainty in decision making is critical.

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