Coral Reef Capacity Assessment Project with NOAA CRCP

For over ten years, partners within the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP) and the US flagged States and Territories with coral reefs have expressed a major concern over lack of capacity to effectively manage coral reefs in the jurisdictions. Through these discussions, and an external review process, CRCP decided to support a capacity assessment process to better understand specific issues, needs, and gaps within and across all jurisdictions to help better support decision making to build coral reef management capacity.

However, the first question remained “Capacity to do what specifically?” To answer this question, CRCP and the jurisdictions completed a series of steps to define key threats to reefs and prioritize what needs to be done to manage and conserve coral reefs and show measured results at the national and jurisdictional levels. The results of these processes are described in the NOAA CRCP National Goals and Objectives document and the Coral Reef Management Priority documents for each of the seven jurisdictions with coral reefs (American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Florida, Guam, Hawai`i, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands).

Upon completing these plans in 2010, CRCP has decided to now follow-up on the priority setting process to assess the capacity of the jurisdictions to implement these goals and objectives and has selected a partnership consultant team led by SustainaMetrix.

The purpose of the assessment is to identify gaps and persistent barriers in coral reef management capacity in each jurisdiction, and provide recommendations as to how these gaps could be addressed. The product will be seven separate reports, one for each jurisdiction, designed to support the jurisdictional organizations that manage coral reefs, their partners, the All Islands Committee (AIC) of the US Coral Reef Task Force, and other stakeholders by documenting what is needed to improve coral reef management capacity, focusing in particular on the capacities needed to implement the goals and objectives set forth in the Coral Reef Management Priority documents completed in 2010. A synthesis document will also be done to assess capacity across all seven jurisdictions, the findings of which are primarily intended for NOAA CRCP and other federal partners.

Visit NOAA CRCP's page to learn more about the capacity assessment process and SustainaMetrix's role in it.

Appalachian Highlands


  • Assist US F&WS’s Chesapeake Bay Field Office (CBFO) for future planning and training in order to maximize success in conservation efforts and efficient allocation of limited resources.
  • To help sequence and prioritize action.

Scopes & Objective

  • Gather background information on ecosystem governance that includes brief review of environmental and socioeconomic conditions of Western Maryland, the Shenandoah, and Rappahannock River regions
  • Inform CBFO of potential partners for conservation projects, grant proposals for land acquisition
  • Review of documents and select interviews to gain perspective of stakeholder issues and  consider connection with CBFO with potential stakeholders

Tufts University - Water Diplomacy IGERT

Interdisciplinary research, education and training projects are “heating up” across the country (Jacobs and Frickel, 2009).  There is dramatic increase of top-down funding opportunities from organizations such as NSF, National Institutes of Health, National Academy of Sciences, MacArthur Foundation, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the American Association of Universities - and the list goes on. 

Bottom up interdisciplinary initiatives are increasing as well, evidenced by the increase in faculty seeking collaborations on their own (often in spite of evaluation and reward structures that tend to favor more single disciplinary achievement (Mansilla and Gardner 2010). 

The current trend of increase in interdisciplinary projects underscores the perceived value of collaborating effectively across disciplines which is thought to increase the likelihood of finding effective solutions to complex problems, promote creativity and increase the pace at which knowledge can move forward.  One would think with such an increase in quantity that the quality would correspondingly increase.  Unfortunately, high quality collaboration across disciplines is not the norm.  

In a 2005 NAS Report, the problem is seen as follows: “social science research has not yet fully elucidated the complex social and intellectual processes that make for successful IDR [interdisciplinary research].  A deeper understanding of these processes will further enhance the prospects for creation and management for successful IDR projects.”  As Myra Strober puts it, “talking to colleagues across disciplines is not for the faint of heart... it is more difficult than people imagine” (Strober 2011).  From our experience in conducting external assessment for other IGERT projects, we would agree that start-up, implementation and completion of an IGERT funding cycle is downright complex.  We believe that applying complexity concepts in a form of “developmental” evaluation is most appropriate and facilitates the innovation the project intends.

The SustainaMetrix approach to external assessment of the Water Diplomacy IGERT is grounded in the desire to assist the project at a basic level of accountability to the funder (NSF), but more importantly, to help to understand and identify the dynamic nature of the project and help guide adaptation and innovation.  We neither intend to test nor prove an educational theory of change, nor do we focus on evaluating academic outputs of students or faculty as part of this project.  Instead, the SustainaMetrix team in partnership with the IGERT team would work together in the following ways:

  • Ensure the project is following what it proposed to the National Science Foundation (NSF) and implementing these activities in a “learning by doing” process that is evidenced by adaptive adjustments along the way;
  • Develop, refine and use a set of metrics and indicators to better understand the progress of implementation by focusing on both process and outcomes as well as the culture within which the project operates; 
  • Develop consensus on what “success” will look like in five years, define the enabling conditions necessary to achieve the goals of the project and track the degree to which they are in place
  • Explore risks and rewards to involvement in the project by trainees, faculty and external partners
  • Help to guide adaptation to emergent and dynamic realities that unfold over the course of the implementation of the project and recommend project adjustments (small tweaks and large changes) as necessary
  • Maintain a focus on the long term trajectory of the project, e.g. what happens after the NSF funding ends, how the IGERT may influence changes in reward structures for interdisciplinarity, other effects the project may have for increasing collaboration across disciplines at University of Delaware, etc.

Charles County, Maryland

In 2011, the Fish and Wildlife Service Chesapeake Bay Field Office (CBFO) wrote a strategic plan identifying 13 focus areas based on priority species and habitats and current projects. While this plan narrowed the geographic focus of CBFO’s work, it did not provide guidelines for dedicating CBFO resources within a focus area in order to achieve the greatest impact, making most efficient use of CBFO’s limited resources. In order to address this issue and continue the strategic planning process, in the Spring of 2011, CBFO began a series of workshops facilitated by SustainaMetrix to train CBFO staff in using SustainaMetrix’s methods for analyzing the governance systems and how these governance systems respond to changes in the environmental and social qualities of a specific place. The workshops were designed to provide CBFO with the tools and skills needed to develop the following:

  • A system for gathering the key information needed to understand the unique context of a focus area
  • Specific, time-bounded and prioritized goals for CBFO work in a focus area informed by an understanding of the context of the focus area
  • Action strategies that are rooted in the reality of the context of the focus area
  • A baseline of the environmental, social, and governance systems in the focus area that can be used as a reference point for future assessments and strategic planning initiatives

The CBFO’s Lower Potomac Focus Area was chosen to be the focus of the workshop series because of its high quality habitats that support both terrestrial and aquatic priority species that are threatened by rapidly increasing development, especially in the Mattawoman watershed. Early on, CBFO chose to narrow its focus to Charles County, Maryland, rather than the entire Lower Potomac Focus Area, because the CBFO’s goals and priorities relate most directly to land use, and, in Maryland, land use decision-making power lies with county governments.

Hen Mpoano - Our Coast, Our Future

SustainaMetrix recently hosted a training session in partnership with the University of Rhode Island Coastal Resources Center. The three day program in early February was designed to discuss and apply the methods being introduced by the Integrated Coastal and Fisheries Governance Initiative. These include the ecosystem approach, examination of long term trends, analysis of the existing governance system, techniques for assembling a baseline as a reference point for future change and framing strategies for achieving a desirable future in a specific place. A total of 26 participants came from the Coastal Resources Center/ ICFG team, Friends of the Nation, Government of Ghana, SustainaMetrix, the Universities of Cape Coast and Ghana, Environmental Protection Agency, SEMA and several District Planners from the Western Region.