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Suggested Citation:"3 Level of Ambition." 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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3

Level of Ambition

The draft document represents a departure from the style and structure of previous NASA SMD science plans and is better described as a document of guiding principles. Whereas previous science plans presented detailed outlines of ongoing and near-term activities within individual science divisions, the current document presents high-level principles that NASA SMD will adopt in its operations. But the draft document does not adequately describe how the implementation of these principles will enable SMD to address current and emerging opportunities to advance Earth and space science goals.

PRINCIPLES AND REALIZATION OF SCIENCE GOALS

The guiding principles (called “strategies” in the draft document) are appropriately ambitious (see Figure 2.1).1 Organizing SMD’s planning and decision-making around these guiding principles will require a twofold change: a substantial shift in both mindset and execution relative to current operations and a careful mapping of the guiding principles onto the plans of the individual science divisions within SMD. However, the ways in which each division would seek to embody the guiding principles are not clearly articulated in the draft document.

Ongoing SMD planning and decision-making will directly benefit from having the clear guiding principles and ambitious goals outlined in the draft document. This approach could enable stated organizational ambitions to be incorporated in a way that would not normally be part of a traditional science plan. Some examples of particularly ambitious aspects of the plan are as follows:

  1. The level of cross-disciplinary and cross-division collaboration required of SMD divisions by several of the guiding principles (i.e., NASA Strategies 1.2, 1.3, and 1.4) represents an ambitious departure from business as usual within NASA;
  2. The goal of developing a culture of entrepreneurship is highly ambitious; and
  3. The emphasis on embracing high intellectual risk and high-impact research investments will require changes to the current decision-making processes.

The brief “Implementation” section in the draft document is vague. Moreover, the summaries of the activities of SMD’s four divisions only list ongoing scientific efforts and programs and do not speak to the guiding principles that form the core of the draft document. Although the information in division summaries is valuable, the existing text could be moved to an appendix or to another document (cited by this one) that provides information about existing and planned missions and activities.

Making the guiding principles truly manifest across SMD requires not only a detailed planning effort within the four science divisions but also a targeted process for achieving consensus about the importance of the outlined principles at all levels within SMD. The division-specific sections, if they are to be included in the final version of the plan, will need to be clearly integrated with the guiding principles and leadership priorities.

___________________

1 A listing of all of the draft document’s Strategies can be found in Appendix B.

Suggested Citation:"3 Level of Ambition." 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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Recommendation: Outline the ways in which SMD’s four science divisions will seek to embody the presented guiding principles.

Although some of the guiding principles are indeed laid out as principles, others define specific near-term directions or objectives. For example, “Develop a directorate-wide, target-audience focused approach to applied programs” (i.e., Strategy1.4) is a specific task that can be accomplished in the 2019-2024 timeframe. On the other hand, “Execute a balanced science program” (i.e., Strategy 1.1) is a longstanding principle that describes a desired and achievable state with no specific endpoint. Additional examples include “Actively engage with other Federal agencies to make more informed decisions” (i.e., Strategy 3.3), which implies a specific direction of change over the next 5 years relative to the past, whereas “Pursue public-private partnerships” (i.e., Strategy 3.5) is a more general principle about how SMD seeks to operate in the long term.

Recommendation: Consistently frame the guiding principles, either as declarations of a desired state or as near-term directions or tasks.

Suggested Citation:"3 Level of Ambition." 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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Page10
Suggested Citation:"3 Level of Ambition." 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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Review of the Draft 2019 Science Mission Directorate Science Plan Get This Book
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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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