Connecting NASA Data With User Needs: A Case Study in Public Engagement
We find that relationship building through two-way dialogue is the most important step in getting science to new users. Scientists must spend time cultivating dialogue with the communities they want to support at the beginning – in the problem formulation period, in the middle – as results take shape, and at the end – to share results. This kind of sustained dialogue may be the hardest step in the engagement process. Although sustained dialogue is not easy, we found that time invested can have a big payoff. Many of the most cited papers and high-impact results emerged from close connections with professionals, who could identify new problems, offer a high-value perspective on results, and ensure that the benefits of research findings are clear to potential users.
We learned to recognize the spectrum of stakeholders relevant to our research. In addition to the active partners on each project, we worked to transfer knowledge to wider audiences. We post all publications online, often in open-access journals; encourage scientists to participate in professional meetings of relevant organizations; and publish work in professional society magazines, like EM, the monthly magazine for environmental managers published by the Air & Waste Management Association (http://tinyurl.com/EM-AQAST).
For research to be responsive to user needs requires some flexibility in science funding. Scientists must be nimble and able to respond rapidly to emerging problems. With AQAST and HAQAST, NASA supports fast-turnaround work on real-world problems, offering a potential model for other applied research funding efforts.