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Review of the Draft 2019 Science Mission Directorate Science Plan (2019)

Chapter:2 Readability and Clarity of Presentation

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Suggested Citation:"2 Readability and Clarity of Presentation." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Review of the Draft 2019 Science Mission Directorate Science Plan. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25587.
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2

Readability and Clarity of Presentation

The draft document provided to the committee was less polished than one would normally expect for such an important guiding publication being sent to the National Academies for review. The target audience for the document is not clearly specified, but the committee infers that it is dominantly aimed at NASA employees, contractors, and the community funded by SMD missions and research and analysis programs. The committee recognizes that the draft document represents a novel approach that seeks to motivate and facilitate change, but successfully achieving change requires inspiring the target audience to believe that changes will benefit them and the organization. Unfortunately, the draft document does not present the subject matter in an inspiring way. The draft document could have been developed more to fully evaluate the comprehensiveness of the proposed strategies nor their sufficiency to achieve SMD’s scientific objectives. Furthermore, the document lacks context and terminology that are consistent with the content, and it requires clarification in several areas.

TITLE AND CONTEXT

Notably, the focus of this document has changed relative to prior NASA science plans;1,2,3 it no longer represents a plan for executing missions and conducting science but instead conveys a set of guiding principles adopted by the SMD, recognizing the key role of the decadal surveys in setting priorities and science goals.4,5,6,7 As such, the draft document’s title, Explore Science 2019-2024: A Vision for Scientific Excellence, does not present it as a “science plan.” The draft document introduces four cross-cutting foci under the heading of “Science Leadership Priorities”—Exploration and Scientific Discovery, Innovation, Interconnectivity and Partnerships, and Inspiration—and describes strategies within these focus areas. However, the title of the draft document does not clearly convey the content.

Recommendation: Change the title to Priorities and Principles for Leadership of NASA Science: A Vision for Scientific Excellence, or something similar, to better reflect its apparent purpose and content.

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1 NASA, The Space Science Enterprise Strategic Plan: November 2000, NP-2000-08-258-HQ, NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C., 2000.

2 NASA, Science Plan For NASA’s Science Mission Directorate 2007-2016, NP-2007-03-461-HQ, NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C., 2007.

3 NASA, Science Plan 2014, NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C., 2014.

4 National Research Council (NRC), New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2010.

5 NRC, Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.

6 NRC, Solar and Space Physics: A Science for a Technological Society, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2013.

7 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Thriving on Our Changing Planet: A Decadal Strategy for Earth Observation from Space, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2018.

Suggested Citation:"2 Readability and Clarity of Presentation." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Review of the Draft 2019 Science Mission Directorate Science Plan. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25587.
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A major deficiency of the draft document is its lack of critical context. The introduction explains neither its origins, purpose, intended audience, nor its relationship to the NASA Strategic Plan and other key documents.8

Recommendation: Include critical context explicitly in the introduction of the document. This information can be drawn, in part, from background information presented to the committee by NASA officials.

The four foci in the document are more straightforwardly described as leadership priorities (a term the draft document uses as a heading). This designation follows logically from the desire to include leadership at the core of how NASA SMD operates.

Each of the four focus areas is associated with a number of strategies (Figure 2.1).9 However, these strategies are better described as guiding principles. Because the document is not a science plan in the model of previous science plans, this language would be more consistent with the ambition of the document.

Recommendation: Rename “focus areas” as “leadership priorities” and “strategies” as “guiding principles.”

CLARITY OF PRESENTATION

As already mentioned, the committee was asked to comment on the draft document’s clarity of presentation. The draft document delivered to the committee was much less polished than had been anticipated. Issues relating to clarity of presentation include the following:

  • Much of the text is not sufficiently mature to fully evaluate the comprehensiveness of the proposed strategies nor their sufficiency to achieve SMD’s scientific objectives.
  • Inaccurate statements detract from the draft document’s credibility. For example, the statement that “NASA Science will continue to seamlessly collaborate with the Human Exploration and Operations and Space Technology Mission Directorates” does not accurately reflect the community’s experience.10
  • The draft document does not define what “NASA Science” means. The phrase appears multiple times in the draft document in different contexts. Does it include only NASA civil servants, its funded investigators, and/or the broader scientific community?
  • The graphics in the draft do not represent well the guiding principles.
  • The pictures included in the draft document lack captions, and the photograph illustrating, for example, “New American Exploration Partnerships” does not represent a diverse workforce.
  • The draft lacks references or cross linkages to critical supporting documents such as roadmaps or plans.
  • The draft includes material SMD had already decided to eliminate: for example, the incomplete section “Outer Planets and Ocean Worlds Program” and the appendix describing NASA Science Performance Goals.

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8 NASA, NASA Strategic Plan 2018, NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C., https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/nasa_2018_strategic_plan.pdf.

9 A complete listing of the four focus areas and 15 strategies can be found in Appendix B.

10 See, for example, National Research Council, Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2013, pp. 56-63.

Suggested Citation:"2 Readability and Clarity of Presentation." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Review of the Draft 2019 Science Mission Directorate Science Plan. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25587.
×
Image
FIGURE 2.1 The four focus areas and the 15 strategies associated with their implementation, as presented in the draft document and explained to the committee by SMD Associate Administrator Thomas H. Zurbuchen. As explained in the text, the focus areas and strategies are more appropriately called leadership priorities and guiding principles, respectively. SOURCE: Figure adapted from slides presented by NASA/SMD.
Suggested Citation:"2 Readability and Clarity of Presentation." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Review of the Draft 2019 Science Mission Directorate Science Plan. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25587.
×
Page7
Suggested Citation:"2 Readability and Clarity of Presentation." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Review of the Draft 2019 Science Mission Directorate Science Plan. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25587.
×
Page8
Suggested Citation:"2 Readability and Clarity of Presentation." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Review of the Draft 2019 Science Mission Directorate Science Plan. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25587.
×
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NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) ties together diverse researchers, sponsors, and resources to develop the science community’s understanding of the universe. Within scientific organizations like NASA, it is important to establish clear strategies and goals to guide research and foster new discoveries across varying missions. SMD created a draft for their 2019 Science Plan, and a review of this draft is necessary to ensure that the plan establishes clear, attainable, relevant, and ambitious goals.

Review of the Draft 2019 Science Mission Directorate Science Plan provides comments on and recommendations for SMD’s draft. Comments in this report focus on the level of ambition of the specified strategies in light of current and emerging opportunities to advance Earth and space science over the next 5 years, the ability of SMD to meet the science objectives in the most recent decadal surveys through implementation of specified strategies, additional strategies for SMD’s considerations, and the general readability and clarity of the draft. Recommendations in this report identify important improvements for the 2019 Science Plan.

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