Integrated Assessments

What type of information does an Integrated Assessment provide?

Michigan Sea Grant supports research projects that take an Integrated Assessment approach to tackling complex environmental issues in the state. The goal of Integrated Assessment projects is to use the best available data and analytical tools to answer the following questions regarding a specific environmental issue. Depending on the needs of decision-makers, certain questions may be emphasized within the assessment.

  • What is the current status of the environmental, social, and economic conditions related to the issue?
  • What are the historical trends related to the issue and what is likely to happen if no change is made?
  • What are the likely social and environmental causes of the issue?
  • How is the issue impacting people and the environment?
  • What can be done to address the issue and how effective are the possible strategies?
  • How can these strategies be implemented?
  • How certain is our assessment of this issue? What other areas need to be studied?

How does Michigan Sea Grant develop research topics?

Michigan Sea Grant works with state and local agencies that manage natural resources, community planning, or economic development along Michigan’s coasts. These management partners help Sea Grant identify a suite of potential issues and develop and approve the topics listed in each call for proposals.

Research topics align with Sea Grant’s four focus areas: resilient coastal communities and economies, healthy coastal ecosystems, sustainable seafood supply, and environmental literacy and workforce development. For additional information, see the Michigan Sea Grant Strategic Plan.

Who participates in an Integrated Assessment?

An Integrated Assessment project involves:

  • Researchers from several disciplines that form a technical assessment team
  • An agency sponsor — a natural resource manager or policy-maker who plans to use the results of the assessment
  • Stakeholders, including relevant community, business, and government leaders
  • Michigan Sea Grant Extension educators and communication team members

Are multidisciplinary teams required?

Yes, in most cases. Michigan Sea Grant supports the development of multidisciplinary teams that are able to address increasingly complex natural resource management and policy issues in Michigan. These types of teams are being sought more frequently in federal and foundation proposal solicitations. Thus, Michigan Sea Grant research projects provide an opportunity to build a track record for multidisciplinary teams prior to seeking other types of funding support.

How can researchers conduct such a complex project with a relatively small grant?

The focus of the Integrated Assessment approach is data analysis, synthesis, modeling, and stakeholder engagement. This methodology does not require the collection of new data, which is generally the most expensive element of academic research.

Research teams may seek to collaborate with local non-governmental organizations or government agencies. Collaborating with agencies that bring access to data and/or capacity to synthesize and process data is also a creative method of extending the project budget. Team members are also encouraged to apply for other relevant sources of funds to augment Michigan Sea Grant support. Thus, Michigan Sea Grant encourages team leaders to be as creative as possible in building project teams and budgets.

How are stakeholders defined?

Stakeholders are defined as anyone who is affected by or who has an interest or stake in a particular issue. Stakeholders may include:

  • Key decision makers from local, state, federal, or tribal government, including natural resource managers and city planners
  • Business leaders and industry representatives
  • Representatives from non-profit groups, churches, or other citizen organizations
  • Individuals from loosely defined user groups, such as anglers, recreational boaters, or farm owners
  • Any other individual with an interest in the issue

What are the benefits of working with stakeholders?

Michigan Sea Grant’s Integrated Assessment projects are intended to support decision-making for Michigan’s coastal communities and coastal resources. Understanding the needs of stakeholders is crucial to their success. For many issues, businesses and user groups could be part of an innovative and effective solution. Studies have shown that audiences are more likely to see the results of an assessment as relevant and credible if they participated in the assessment. In addition, stakeholders often have access to, or at least know of, additional relevant data that will benefit the project.

How do stakeholders contribute to the research project?

From the outset, the research team will identify the most important stakeholders and, in many cases, will contact them in drafting their research proposal. The stakeholder engagement plan should be given implementation priority at the same level as data collection and analysis. The research team should keep stakeholders updated on progress of the assessment and regularly invite feedback through meetings, workshops, or online tools.

Some stages of the Integrated Assessment can only be accomplished through discussions with decision makers and the range of stakeholders:

  • Defining the problem within the decision-making context
  • Establishing goals for the region
  • Integrating expert opinions and local knowledge
  • Identifying feasible management/policy options
  • Identifying potential challenges to implementing solutions
  • Reviewing results and identifying overlooked or less tangible factors, such as impacts to quality of life

How can Michigan Sea Grant assist with stakeholder engagement?

Engaging policy-makers, community members, and the media requires time and skills that may be beyond the scope of a traditional research team. A Michigan Sea Grant Extension educator who works in the study area will partner with the research team to support the process of identifying and engaging stakeholders. This educator and other outreach specialists are also available to help plan and facilitate workshops and inform targeted audiences about the project. Michigan Sea Grant outreach specialists maintain relationships with decision-makers and community members long after a research project has ended, providing continuity and enabling lasting impacts.

Can research teams tap into Michigan Sea Grant’s communication and public outreach capabilities?

Yes. Project managers need to use creative outreach techniques to attract stakeholders and gather the necessary feedback. Framing the assessment in a meaningful way can help motivate local or regional involvement. Michigan Sea Grant communication professionals work with researchers to develop web materials, fact sheets, stakeholder surveys, press releases, and more.

How do you determine the success of an Integrated Assessment?

Four criteria have been used to evaluate integrated assessments:

  • Credibility: Measured by the peer review process and the general acceptance of the science by the scientific community
  • Value/Salience: Assessed by evaluating its relevance to the policy questions being addressed
  • Legitimacy: Established by the extent of engagement of a wide range of stakeholders in the development and review of the assessment, and whether the process was deemed fair and objective.
  • Effectiveness: Best measured by two factors — did the IA make a difference in a policy outcome and/or did it influence how policy makers understand the problem?

For more information on Integrated Assessments, please review our Tips for a Successful IA Research Project