The EA program seeks to provide a structure through which NASA can invest in partnerships that benefit both satellite missions and programs, as well as the early adopter. Figure 1
shows the elements of the partnership between NASA and the EA participants, where inputs, processes, outcomes and impacts are analyzed and the characteristics of successful partnerships are presented [22
4.1. Partnership Inputs
Many of the key aspects of strong partnerships are iterative and cumulative [23
]. If partnerships are to be successful, they need for participants to be able to articulate the value of the work beyond an assumption that partnerships are “a good thing”. Asthana et al. [22
] found that the development of meaningful partnerships rests on the availability of key inputs: the institutional need to collaborate to extend knowledge or capability, the availability of sufficient resources for participants, the scientific expertise to follow through on the collaboration, and the institutional recognition for the need for the new observation data type. Although expertise and time to engage in the EA program is a necessary input, it is not sufficient to ensure sustained collaboration through the mission lifecycle.
Commitment to the EA program activity on both the part of the institution and the individual PI participant are both necessary, and the ability to lead the integration from vision during the pre-launch period to actual application in the post-launch period are central. Many EA PIs fail to remain engaged with the mission during the entire period from application to decommissioning because of lack of institutional resources, changing positions, or organizational challenges which enable their institutional application through the entire process of incorporating the new data. Although there are officially 21 ICESat-2 early adopters, it is likely only 9 will conduct benchmarking activities and report back to NASA on the usability of the data within their system. This does not mean those that do not participate in benchmarking won’t ultimately use the satellite data and derive value from it, but that the project PI was unable to engage with the program over the long mission development period, or that the data was determined not to be very valuable for that application. Without some analysis that shows the value of the data within the institution, the value of the information will not be documented.
4.2. Partnership Context
The context in which the EA program is implemented is critical for success. The NASA mission needs to be supportive of each EA project, ensuring that each project has been assigned a contact person with appropriate scientific expertise from either the science definition team (SDT) or the mission leadership itself. These engagements need to be valued, with NASA providing its personnel the time and funding to ensure that they can engage with EA PIs throughout the life of the mission.
The selected EA PI needs to engage with the NASA mission scientists and learn about the new mission and communicate the value of the data to the larger organization. They also need to be appropriately positioned in their institution to affect the data incorporation or applications research they have proposed. A good example of this is the engagement of the SMAP mission within the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), which is an independent intergovernmental organization supported by most of the nations of Europe. As a premiere weather modeling group, the potential societal benefits for effective use of soil moisture data from SMAP in their weather models are substantial. However, the EA PI needed to understand the data, engage with multiple parts of the organization, and sustain engagement for over six years. Experiments were conducted within the organization to demonstrate the utility of SMAP data to improve model outcomes through estimating initial conditions. Through participation with the SMAP science team, and engagement with the Early Adopter program, SMAP data was evaluated and integrated into the system.
NASA’s mission applications lead needs to identify incentives that will continue to foster a vibrant and supportive social network among all the EA organization and that will encourage each participant and institution to remain engaged for the period over which NASA develops missions. For example, it can be a decade or more from the funding of a mission formulation study through to when the data become regularly available post-launch. In many cases, it is several decades from initial concept to launch if NASA’s priorities change or technological maturity is low. A good example of this long and varied instrument history is the Vegetation Canopy Lidar (VCL). NASA funded the project in 1997 but after a series of delays and technological problems, the project was canceled in 2000. The sensor concept was recently once again selected as the Global Ecosystems Dynamics Investigation Lidar (GEDI) via NASA’s Earth Ventures Instrument 2 (EVI-2) competition and installed on the International Space Station in December 2018. Research conducted from the mid-1990s through to the present continue to document the critical importance of three-dimensional structure of the Earth’s forests for environmental and policy decisions [24
]. Had there been EAs projects for VCL, they would need to be patient and engaged for over two decades with NASA on multiple projects before GEDI actually provided them data to integrate into their application.
4.3. Partnership Outcomes
The outcome of the partnership between NASA and each PI institution needs to be articulated if at all possible. This will allow for an evaluation of the benefit the institution has derived from the long engagement with NASA during pre-launch, as well as ensuring that the effort put into incorporating the satellite data is valuable to decision making. Benchmarking improved decision making and documenting the expanded networks of people affected by those decisions requires serious investment and understanding of how to evaluate social science systems [25
]. This requires substantial effort and funding that is not provided under most science activities.
NASA Earth science is increasingly focused on documenting and quantifying the impact of Earth science data and observations. The recently funded NASA Valuation of Applications Benefits Linked with Earth Science (VALUABLES) consortium and their Value of Information (VOI) assessment framework contributes to this activity. The key objective of the consortium is to advance analytic techniques to quantify the impacts (in economic and social terms) from uses of Earth observations in management, policy, and business decisions and activities. By quantifying the socioeconomic benefits of satellite data applications, we can demonstrate return on investments in satellites and satellite data.
Articulation of benefits to stakeholders enables the prioritization of investments of satellite observations and capacity to maximize societal benefits. Descriptions of the value of satellite information that are being used by stakeholders provide an effective way to communicate the value of investments in satellite instruments to policymakers and the public [11
]. The EA program provides a framework for quantifying value of satellite data can help Earth scientists design projects and data applications with an eye toward how they will benefit society.
4.4. Principles of EA Partnerships
A no-funds-exchanged partnership allows institutions with the capacity to incorporate new satellite remote sensing information into their decision process to participate. For-profit companies, international institutions, foreign universities, students, and non-profit institutions can apply and be included. This inclusive network allows for open partnerships where information is exchanged and learning is shared across institutions. Because the entire program is non-competitive, the program focuses on sharing of expertise and experience to bring the most value to all participants.
Including all these diverse institutions can reduce the effectiveness of the program, however. Hudson et al. [26
] argues that good partnership depends on limiting the number of parties involved in the collaboration, as the number of “members cannot be so great that the process of partnership becomes unmanageable”. This implies that the process of partnership should involve exclusion, which has important implications for principles of access, representation and power [5
]. In particular because the EA program is unfunded, and the selection process is open, different missions have taken a different approach on the number of EA projects they accept and support. ICESat-2, for example, selected approximately half as many EA projects as SMAP, simply by not soliciting proposals as frequently. If the mission personnel and science team members are to effectively support each EA project and engage with them one-on-one throughout the mission life-cycle, careful selection of projects to ensure representation and ability to sustain engagement is necessary.
Another principle of partnership is representation, both from the user community to the mission, and from the mission to the user community. Although useful, the EA program will not provide an effective way for the broader user community to be represented to the mission at every stage of development. This is because as the mission matures, the EA PIs will become extraordinarily well informed about how the new satellite will work, the characteristics of the data, and its utility for their application. If a mission relies only upon the EA program institutions as information about how well they are doing popularizing their data and the level of understanding of how to use it in the community, they will get a biased view. Everyone will be assumed to have the same level of expertise as the EA PIs and their colleagues.
The SMAP mission applications program provides a good example. In 2011, SMAP had 270 members of its applications list-serve, which it grew to over 600 individuals at launch along with its 37 EA institutions [4
]. Both the applications user community and the Early Adopter community grew substantially in the four years before the launch of the sensor in 2015 through an active applications program that focused on representation and inclusion. By holding workshops, events at larger meetings, co-hosting meetings at user organizations and engaging with online media, the mission was able to continue to grow the broader community beyond the EA program.
Engagement with stakeholders during the mission formulation period supports the Project’s awareness of the needs of these communities and characterization of the mission’s applications value [27
]. Through physical and virtual means, engagement involves speaking with individuals and institutions beyond
the immediate research community and across sectors, such as resource managers, policy analysts, commercial organizations, non-profits, and government officials. A key purpose of the EA program is to characterize and understand the disciplines from which the communities originate. Identification of decision-making tools and models that the project data may interact with are parts of the community assessment.
The final principle is to share expertise. Satellite applications tend to be extremely diverse, with users of satellite data continuously coming up with new and totally unexpected uses of satellite data [28
]. User institutions and scientists therefore are likely to have very diverse skill sets, which NASA scientists and managers can learn from. Similarly, mission experts share their specific sensor and product expertise with all who are in the EA program, and to all users via the applications program. Because the EA program is open to all, NASA commits to sharing its expertise with all participants, and expects the same from their partners.
The impact of the EA program depends on the success of the partnerships it creates. As the 2017 Earth Science decadal survey points out, society is increasingly dependent on Earth information to support decisions on our daily lives, our businesses, and our government policies. Supporting day-to-day decisions require ongoing investments in the observation, understanding, and prediction of Earth’s environment and an awareness of how it is changing. NASA’s EA program focuses on enabling the usability of new science data investments across multiple institutions and programs.
Although in the past, NASA has not focused on evaluating user communities, the new Directive on Project Applications, coupled with recently funded projects like the Consortium for the Valuation of Applications Benefits Linked with Earth Science (VALUABLES), will heighten the ability of NASA to understand and articulate how satellite data is used and place a value on the data. The focus of the EA program is to engage with institutions over long periods, both encouraging the use of data as well as learning more about how the data has made a difference in decision making and what data are needed in the future. Having NASA missions and institutions engage in EA partnerships in diverse ways will ensure that benchmarking occurs in as many projects as possible and will change the community’s knowledge of the benefits of EA partnerships for new satellite data programs. By telling clear stories and including applications in mission goals and deliverables, NASA will be able to document how its data affects society while it continues to support high quality science.