DEB recently made a change in how the Biological Sciences Directorate’s Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites are managed. We’d like to tell you about it.
First, some background. The LTER program is financially supported by three Directorates: Biological Sciences (BIO), Geosciences (GEO), and Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE), and the Office of Polar Programs. Most LTER sites are supported and managed by BIO — more specifically by DEB. The rest reside in the Biological Oceanography and Office of Polar Programs in GEO. Within NSF, an LTER Working Group comprised of staff and Program Officers in BIO and GEO meet regularly to coordinate management activities such as site reviews, renewal panels, and budgets. Outside of NSF, the LTER National Communications Office is a hub for research synthesis, communication, outreach, education and training across all sites.
That organizational scheme for LTER has been in place for many years, albeit with various tweaks. What’s changed is how BIO’s LTER sites are managed at the level that PIs tend to care about most: their own site. Historically, one permanent Program Officer (PO) was given primary oversight for all LTER sites funded by BIO. Henry Gholz did it for many years, followed by Nancy Huntly and then by Saran Twombly. Thus, PIs grew accustomed to seeing just one PO at LTER sites and events — and they knew pretty much immediately whom to contact about challenges and opportunities.
Roughly a year ago, DEB switched to a Working Group model of managing BIO’s LTER sites. The DEB Working Group consists of three Program Officers, representing Ecosystem Sciences, Population and Community Ecology, and Evolutionary Processes, who collectively manage the program. Sites will each have a single PO who will act as their Point of Contact. POs have been assigned a portfolio of sites that generally correspond to their interests or expertise. At least one member of DEB’s LTER Working Group is a permanent PO at NSF. Management and budgetary decisions are made by consensus, except for minor stuff. The group meets bi-weekly.
We’d like to emphasize that this is not a divide-and-conquer approach to the many and diverse issues of LTER award management (e.g., site visits and renewal proposals). Quite the opposite. We enjoy discussing those issues and are usually able to reach consensus based on our collective wisdom (and perhaps missteps in our individual pasts). It’s a shared management model in which, for example, concerns about a particular site are considered in the context of all sites and everyone on the DEB LTER Working Group has a voice in decision making.
Additionally, this arrangement provides a more balanced perspective of LTER science, helping sites realize opportunities for new interdisciplinary work. And, we hope it will provide more continuity in management style and substance, since it’s extremely unlikely that there will ever by an abrupt and complete turnover of the Working Group.