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Survey of Surveys: Lessons Learned from the Decadal Survey Process

View the Report:  The Space Science Decadal Surveys: Lessons Learned and Best Practices(2015)


Statement of Task:

The NRC will convene an ad-hoc committee to consider lessons learned from the most recent NRC decadal surveys in space science. Primary attention should be devoted to the most recent surveys--i.e., solar and space physics (2012), planetary science (2011), astronomy and astrophysics (2010), and Earth science and applications from space (2007)--but important lessons derived from earlier surveys may be noted. The study will also review and consider the first round of NRC mid-decade assessment reports in astronomy and astrophysics (2007), planetary science (2007), solar and space physics (2009), and Earth science and applications from space (2012). The issues identified during the NRC workshop Lessons Learned in Decadal Planning in Space Science held in November 2012 will be a major input to the committee’s deliberations.

The committee will formulate a set major lessons-learned from the recent decadal survey planning process and present a set of options for possible evolutionary changes and improvements to this process, including the statement of task, advanced preparation, organization, and execution.

The proposed study aims to provide a foundation for strengthening future surveys by analyzing and integrating findings in the sources above to address, in particular, the following issues.

  • The committee will identify best practices for a well-structured statement of task that will result in a report that reflects the consensus of the authoring community, meets short-term needs of the sponsoring agencies, and addresses the interests of other important constituencies, all while remaining relevant in the face of technology and science advancements, budget evolution, and international cooperation opportunities over the decade (and the following decade, for the largest projects). This analysis should recognize the primacy of science goals over implementing missions. The committee should consider, in particular, the pros and cons of a two-phase decadal survey process that results in a science prioritization report first and then, after a period of community interaction with NASA and mission formulation, a separate implementation prioritization report; and
  • While not offering any recommendations to change them, the committee will examine the impacts of the procedures and policies of the NRC (regarding the confidentiality of committee deliberations) and of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) (regarding the embargo of pre-release budget formulation) on the operation of decadal survey studies. The committee will consider how to mitigate the impact of these conditions (the so-called “blackout problem.”)—in particular the impacts of the fact that during critical phases of survey recommendations development, sponsors often cannot share budget (and budget-related planning) information due to the OMB's embargos on releasing information on the President’s budget request and the survey committee cannot share details of its ongoing deliberations with the sponsors.

 Learn more about this project on our current projects page.

Committee Meetings

June 23-24, 2014
Washington, DC

August  25-27, 2014
Washington, DC

December 8-10, 2014
Irvine, CA

Committee Membership

View Bios here

Dr. Alan Dressler - (Chair)
Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science

Dr. Daniel N. Baker
University of Colorado Boulder

Dr. David A. Bearden
The Aerospace Corporation

Dr. Roger D. Blandford
Stanford University

Dr. Stacey Boland
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Dr. Wendy M. Calvin
University of Nevada, Reno

Dr. Athena Coustenis
National Centre for Scientific Research of France

Dr. J. Todd Hoeksema
Stanford University

Dr. Anthony C. Janetos
Boston University

Dr. Stephen Mackwell
Lunar and Planetary Institute

Dr. Norman H. Sleep
Stanford University

Dr. Charles E. Woodward
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis

Mr. A. Thomas Young
Lockheed Martin Corporation [Retired]