Before drafting a collaborative science proposal, potential team members need to begin conceptualizing a project that will have the desired impact. These early stages can take months or even years, because successful projects must be built on relationships, trust, and a shared purpose.
Collaborative science projects revolve around a compelling problem statement. A well-drafted, concise problem statement can motivate and focus a group's efforts, guide the design of a project's technical and collaborative approach, and demonstrate a project's potential value — in a nutshell — to potential funders. A problem statement is a critical starting point for pursuing a collaborative science idea, and it is likely to undergo numerous adjustments as you learn more about a management need, context, and key players.
A compelling problem statement answers the following questions in just a few sentences:
- Who are the end users and what is their management need?
- Who else is connected to the management need and must be involved in defining the problem?
- How could collaborative science address the need?
- What is the purpose of the project you are envisioning? What should happen as a result of the project?
The first step is to identify and understand the management need that will focus and drive a project. For Science Collaborative grant programs, staff from each of the National Estuarine Research Reserves (NERRs) regularly update a set of management needs to serve as a focal point for upcoming calls for proposals. Each of these management need statements is a teaser to invite potential partners into deeper conversations about the issue.
Tip: Leverage boundary spanners, especially NERRS staff
Reserve staff are embedded in the coastal management and research communities in their state. They are also embedded in their coastal communities. As a result, they serve as important boundary spanners, matchmakers, and conveners and can help practitioners, researchers, and community partners come together to identify and address pressing coastal resource management needs.
Reserve staff have longstanding relationships with potential end user groups and can leverage their knowledge and connections to begin the conceptualizing of a new project. Other organizations play a similar function for other ecosystems and can be valuable partners to people interested in pursuing collaborative science.
Tip: Gather background information on the issue
Do your homework. Before you run with an idea, gather background information and talk to people who can help you understand:
- What has been done to address the issue in the past? What has been achieved and what work remains?
- What strategies are being considered currently?
- What kinds of actions could resolve the issue? Who has authority to undertake those actions? Are there other key players who inform or influence actions in this area?
- What are the policies, regulations, plans, and programs that affect the management issue?
- What groups are connected to or impacted by the management issue?
- What are the barriers to action?
- Where are there levers of change? Are there areas where more action, greater inclusivity, or better decisions could improve the issue?
- What science is available, and where are there gaps in understanding or uncertainties related to the issue?