The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce, is focused on research of the oceans and the atmosphere. It provides decision-makers with information they need—in the form of weather forecasts, severe storm warnings and climate monitoring—and it encourages economic vitality through fisheries management, coastal restoration and marine commerce support. Last summer, I got to contribute to that work through an internship at NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor.
From May to August, I worked in the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Team, along with my co-worker Jerry Guo, a master’s student in SNRE. Our job was to explore innovative and non-traditional partnership opportunities that are strategically aligned with NOAA’s priorities and mission-critical work.
Early on in the internship, in May, we drafted a potential partner list, but we realized we had put the cart before the horse, hastily making a potential partner list without using an evaluation rubric first. We needed a robust partnership evaluation methodology to determine appropriate partners for NOAA, so we adjusted our approach. We also scheduled weekly meetings with our sponsors to communicate better with them about our progress.
To create our methodology, Jerry and I reviewed a lot of literature. At the same time, we conducted more than 20 interviews about environmental issues in the Great Lakes region and corresponding partnership opportunities. We interviewed NOAA staff, environmental professionals and University of Michigan faculty.
On the Right Track
From June to August, we successfully defined our methodology model, which separates NOAA’s partners into three different roles: information co-producer, information distributor and information end user. For each partner category, we defined specialized criteria for evaluating potential partners.
Also, based on the idea that partnerships should be driven by specific project opportunities, we identified eight environmental topics for future NOAA partnerships in the Great Lakes region: invasive species, weather service, green infrastructure, harmful algal blooms, coastal navigation, coastal management, coastal health and dams and other barriers. We think many cooperation projects will stem from these eight topics and bring strategic partners to NOAA.
In August, we were invited to deliver a formal presentation at the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Team’s annual meeting in Erie, Pa. We were pleased when our presentation got a lot of positive feedback from participants at the meeting.
For NOAA, valuable partners will include not only universities and research organizations but also private foundations, industries, conservation and restoration organizations, and even local farmer associations—which means our methodology had to be creative and comprehensive.
The U-M team’s research was featured in NOAA’s 2016 Annual Accomplishments Report for their work in exploring public-private partnerships (pg. 14).