Work in progress: Collaborative Template

Honey bees are great a communicating! Credit: Pixabay

Honey bees are great at communicating! Credit: Pixabay

One of the products I have been working on for this project deals not just with the cool findings, but rather how we (researchers from UMCES) collaborated with educators, managers, and researchers from the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (CBNERR) of Maryland and Virginia, NOAA, and Chesapeake Environmental Communications to decide what we should be investigating.

From the beginning, our goal was to have this be a collaborative venture, not a clientele. This may not sound “revolutionary” but it was a first for me!

This is sort of a Part I post. When I starting write about our collaborative approach, I noticed my word count was getting longer and longer. So I stopped myself and thought 1) this is too long for a single blog post and 2) wow is our project approach very involved, dynamic, and complex!

Taking the Road Less Traveled

Figure 1: Traditional Projects have a linear flow while ours allowed for some wiggle room.

Figure 1: Traditional Projects have a linear flow while ours allowed for some wiggle room.

In most “traditional” research projects, scientists will write a research proposal laying out a clearly defined testable hypothesis and the methodology they plan to do in order to accept or reject that hypothesis (Figure 1). It is a fairly straightforward path that gets you straight from the proposed project idea to a result.

This proposal was more unique than a “traditional” project since the path from the hypothesis (“how is climate change affecting the ecosystems in Chesapeake Bay?”) end goal was not direct (Figure 1). This meant that the methodology could be defined as the project was ongoing, with input from other partners. The ultimate goal of this approach was to have our end-users be part of that process from day 1 so that the products created would truly be “end-user ready”.

In the “traditional” model, we would have “went away” for 2 years to do our rigorous science and had very little collaborative input. In this traditional scenario, that end product may not be useful and could just end up on shelf collecting dust. Our scenario still follows the scientific method, but allowed more wiggle room for input.

A Scary New World

flowers-desk-office-vintage

Communicating can be fun!

Collaboration can be tough and even time consuming from an administrative standpoint, but the end result is more fruitful. After all, it’s better to have 2, 3, 4+ sets of eyes than just 1!

For this project to be successful, we had to think not just about how we would go about testing the research question, but how we would communicate our methodology, results, and product design to the CBNERR staffs. We also had to think of ways to allow everyone to transparently see our work and have real-time input. (That is what a collaboration is after all!)

To do this, we implemented multiple tools to aid in the communication and collaboration aspects of this project.

Be like the talking flowers in Alice in Wonderland! Credit

Be like the talking flowers in Alice in Wonderland! Credit

Think Tanks: By the end of the project, we will have had 4 Think Tanks. These are in person meetings where we share ideas, findings, and talk about next steps forward.

Workplan: After the first Think Tank, the group decided we needed a Workplan for a “plan of attack” of this project. Over a few weeks, we wrote a DPSIR (Driver, Pressure, State, Impact, Response) framework that had multiple back and forths with our partners.

Blog: To increase the communication of what we were doing in real time, I started this weekly blog. It gives insight into our thought processes and allows for real time inputs (comments or emails welcome).

Rankable Matrix: When it came time to selected which environmental problems we would be investigating, I sent around a rankable matrix of topics that we realistically could do with the time and resources available to us. The highest ranked were our “vignettes.”

Monthly Emails: To increase the communication on milestones, hurdles, and what we were doing, monthly email updates were initiated last October; this was a lessoned learned that we needed more than just the blog.

As you can (hopefully) see, we put a lot of time and effort into this project not just analytically, but also communicably. Stay tuned for more specifics on this work-in-progress template!

Kari Pohl

About Kari Pohl

I am a post-doctoral researcher at NOAA and the University of Maryland (Center for Environmental Science at Horn Point Laboratory). My work investigates how climate variability and extremes affect the diverse ecosystems in Chesapeake Bay. I received a Ph.D. in oceanography from the University of Rhode Island (2014) and received a B.S. in Environmental Science and a B.A. in Chemistry from Roger Williams University (2009). When I am not busy being a scientist, my hobbies include running, watching (and often yelling at) the Boston Bruins, and taking photos of my cat.
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