Report: Integrating Social Science into NSF Environmental Observatories

Network News Fall 2007, Vol. 20 No. 2
News Briefs

The final report on "Rising to the Challenge: Integrating Social Science into NSF Environmental Observatories," co-authored by Shalini Vajjhala, Alan Krupnick, and Eleanor McCormick, has been released. A copy of the report can be downloaded from the workshop website at

In early 2006, following meetings of the CLEANER (Collaborative Large-Scale Engineering Analysis Network for Environmental Research) Social Science Committee and Executive Committee, plans were developed for a workshop on improving social science integration into CLEANER and other NSF Environmental Observatories (EOs). This effort was motivated by the realization that first, social, behavioral, and economic science theory and research were centrally important to resolving the major "grand challenge" questions being addressed by the observatories, and second, more coordinated research efforts across social science, natural science, and engineering disciplines were necessary to "rise to these challenges."

The report was prepared for the subsequent National Science Foundation-funded workshop, "Integrating Social Science at NSF Observatories," held on January 24-26, 2007 in Arlington, Virginia, which discussed a wide range of ideas for long-term multidisciplinary research opportunities linking social and natural science data collection at the observatories.

After the workshop, the original report underwent multiple reviews and revisions to come up with this final report, which identifies three research themes-human activities and behaviors, human impacts and responses, and human welfare and development-as opportunity areas for potential advances in core social environmental science research and future collaboration at the EOs.

Like the workshop, the report targets ongoing observatory efforts including National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), the Water and Environmental Research Systems (WATERS) Network, and parallel developments within the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network, as well as addressing the lessons learned from past observatory initiatives, such as Collaborative Large-Scale Engineering Analysis Network for Environmental Research (CLEANER) and Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science (CUAHSI).

The authors worked extensively with program officers from different Directorates at NSF, a multidisciplinary community of environmental scientists (including LTER PIs), and selected observatory leaders, to build consensus, address broader collaborative experiences and perspectives, and ensure technical accuracy of the report.

The authors are hopeful that the report will lay the groundwork for improved integration in EOs planning in the near- and long-terms.

By McOwiti O. Thomas, LNO