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New Guide to Collaborative Science

Jun 20, 2022

A new tool from the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) will help scientists, communities, natural resource professionals, and others work together to find science-based solutions to the most urgent problems facing our nation’s coasts. 

The NERRS Guide to Collaborative Science is designed to support research teams working across disciplines, and with rights holders and stakeholders, to advance understanding of issues in ways that each group working alone could not accomplish. A product of the NERRS Science Collaborative, the guide is an interactive, web-based tool that distills lessons from more than 100 Reserve-based research and science transfer projects. It offers practical tips, tools, and case studies to help teams design and manage projects, enhance collaboration, and fine-tune products to share the results of their work. 

“When science is in response to the needs of local communities, it is a powerful tool for protecting people and places along the coasts,” says Rebecca Roth, NERRA’s executive director. “The NERRS approach to science is grounded in collaboration as it engages diverse perspectives directly in the scientific process. Research informed by shared knowledge and experiences is much more likely to result in real world support that actually helps coastal communities.”

Founded in 2009, the NERRS Science Collaborative is a national program that sponsors Reserve-based research and science transfer projects focused on urgent issues, including the need to mitigate the impacts of climate change, protect water quality, restore habitat, and sustainably manage natural infrastructure that contribute billions of dollars to the economy. In these projects, every team member or participant is considered an expert in their own knowledge system or sphere of influence and an important contributor to the process.

“Equitable and reciprocal relationships are the bedrocks of collaborative science, which makes Reserves ideal places to pioneer and refine this approach to research,” says Jen Read, director of the Science Collaborative, which is managed by the University of Michigan Water Center through a cooperative agreement with NOAA. 

“To understand and address local resource management needs, each Reserve already maintains a diverse network of relationships—with municipalities, community groups, educators, state agencies, Indigenous groups, universities, research institutions, land trusts, and other nonprofits. It all adds up to a framework of credibility and trust within which collaborative science projects thrive.”

The guide will continue to be enriched by future projects sponsored by the Science Collaborative that meet critical coastal needs. The program will also more deliberately incorporate the principles of diversity, equity, inclusion, and access into its requests for proposals and dissemination of project results.

“The NERRS Science Collaborative is an excellent example of how the Reserve System has exceeded expectations since it was first authorized by Congress as part of the Coastal Zone Management Act in 1972,” says Roth. “The System is a self-learning network that is constantly evolving to meet the changing needs of coastal communities. As a result, Reserves have become indispensable local resources that also meet national needs and priorities.”

NERRA is proud to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Coastal Zone Management Act—the legislation that led to the creation of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System. Want more Reserve stories delivered to your inbox? Subscribe to our newsletter.

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ReservesNew Guide to Collaborative Science