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Photo of Kathie L. Olsen
Credit: Sam Kittner/kittner.com

Dr. Kathie L. Olsen
Deputy Director
Chief Operating Officer
National Science Foundation

Strategic Plan Update

National Science Foundation
Arlington, VA
August 9, 2006

See also slide presentation.

If you're interested in reproducing any of the slides, please contact The Office of Legislative and Public Affairs: (703) 292-8070.

[Slide #1: Cover Slide]
[Slide #2: Strategic Plan Update, Title Slide]
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For nearly a year now, you've been listening to me make regular updates on our Strategic Plan development, and I am now pleased to make a final report. The plan has been revised after a final round of National Science Board (NSB, Board) and public comment by our dedicated and hard working Strategic Planning Team, and put into final form by the Office of Legislative and Public Affairs, or OLPA, just this week.

We now seek your approval of the plan, which was forwarded for your review by Dr. Bement last week.

Dr. Bement and I have been actively engaged with the team during the entire year, and we both feel confident that the plan articulates the Board's vision, our leadership goals for the Foundation in the coming years, and the input from our community.

[Slide #3: Planning Timeline]
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Our strategic planning process is, as you well know, just one part of a much larger Foundation planning process that, in the current cycle, began with the Board's Vision last December.

The NSF plan drew from the vision to develop the top level goals, overall direction, and special priorities for the next several years.

But, it is the annual budget that will contain the meat of our implementation strategy, our annual priorities and funding levels, and the measures that we will use to assess our progress. The budget request to Congress will be released by the President in February 2007.

[Slide #4: Strategic Plan Timeline]
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At NSF, strategic planning is an ongoing activity, but the formal development of the new Plan began with the creation of the strategic planning group, led by Drs. Craig Robinson in Budget and Ann Carlson in the Office of the Director, about 1 year ago.

Since then we have received staff and public comment on the previous plan; discussed our strategic planning with the Board, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and Congressional staff; delivered a draft plan to our staff, the Board, and our Advisory Committees for comment; made revisions as suggested; delivered a second draft of the plan to our staff, the Board, and the public for comment; and once again revised the plan.

Today we request Board approval to submit the plan to OMB for their 45-day review.

I should mention that we anticipate having to make minor edits to the Plan as we continue to negotiate with OMB over the details of how we will evaluate our programs. The change would be in outlining the relationship between NSF's vision, mission, and strategic goals and implementing OMB's Performance Assessment Rating Tool (PART) process. Of course, all edits will be referred to the Chair of the Board and Chair of the Committee on Strategy and Budget (CSB) for concurrence.

Then the last stage is to submit the final plan to OMB and the Congress on September 30, 2006, as required by law.

[Slide #5: NSF Core Values]
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One section of the plan directly followed from a senior management retreat we held last fall -- an articulation of NSF's core values. We discussed who we are and what we want to be as a Foundation; not just at the retreat, but in senior management meetings, and then in conversations throughout the Foundation. We settled on this statement of core values that gives NSF its distinct culture, maintain its integrity, and keeps it focused on service.

[Slide #6: NSF Vision and Mission]
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The basic flow of the Strategic Plan is outlined in this graphic: From our vision and mission flow our four strategic goals – discovery, learning, research infrastructure, and stewardship. The first three follow from the three strategic priorities in the Board's Vision, and the stewardship goal is one focused internally on excellence and accountability in everything we do.

We evaluate our goals against progress in two crosscutting objectives: "to inspire and transform" and "to grow and develop."

It takes us several paragraphs in the plan to explain how we interpret these objectives. These titles were settled on after lengthy, serious discussions. We believe they come closest to accurately describing the complex ideas in the required short "catch phrase."

Our investment priorities follow from our goals and objectives, and they also reflect and communicate the priorities of the new NSF leadership.

[Slide #7: Legislated Requirements]
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Unlike the typical corporate strategic plan, a federal agency strategic plan is bound by Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) legislative requirements. These provide a framework that relates the high-level strategic plan to annual budget development. The Budget Request contains the details about annual priorities, disciplinary priorities, funding levels, new programs, and the like--as well as implementation plans and metrics.

The law also requires a description of "key factors" that could affect the achievement of our goals, a description of our program evaluations, a description of how the plan will be communicated internally to the staff, and an indication of how we will assign accountability for achieving our goals.

Working with OMB, the Strategic Plan team has managed the difficult job of incorporating all these legal requirements without producing a dull, bureaucratic document. In fact during the comment period, we received 40 direct compliments on the quality of the writing and how exciting the plan was.

[Slide #8: Public Comment Demographics]
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In total, NSF received over 120 public comments on the plan. This slide illustrates the demographics of the respondents. We've also tried to illustrate the diversity of respondents using appropriate logos, but I should note that there were many more worthy logos that would just not fit on the slide.

We also received comments from the Board, our Advisory Committees, and NSF staff.

[Slide #9: Public Comment Synopsis]
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This slide, and the next summarize, summarize the comments we received.

Not only were the comments generally positive, there was a great deal of appreciation expressed for being invited to participate in the process.

The plan was seen as clear about NSF priorities as well as exciting. Reviewers liked the education focus, the emphasis on interdisciplinary research, and being able to see themselves in the sidebars.

[Slide #10: Public Comment Synopsis (cont.)]
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In terms of what people thought were weaknesses; a number of people wanted to see specific discipline information, implementation plans, funding levels, and specific metrics. However, these are subjects covered in our Budget Request, not the NSF strategic plan.

Additional perceived weaknesses reflected how we addressed some education topics; a lack of emphasis for socially important research, and not enough focus on leading-edge research. It was also suggested that we reorganized the material in the plan for a better flow of the logic.

[Slide #11: Major Revisions]
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This slide gives an overview of some of the major changes from the public draft.
It's been revised to clarify the overall planning process and how Board Vision, strategic plan, and annual budget relate to each other.

We reorganized the material to make linkages easier to follow and to show more clearly how the plan is translated into action.

[Slide #12: Major Revisions (cont.)]
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We also included additional emphasis on transformational research in response to one of the Board's comments.

We also enhanced the importance of our merit review process in identifying and funding the very best ideas.

We revised the introduction to be more forward looking and positive. This is where we evaluate the environment for NSF and explain the "Key factors" for success that are required in the legislation.

The document was also professionally edited and enhanced with much better photos and graphics.

[Slide #13: Other Revisions of Note]
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This slide and the next just briefly touch on some other changes to the document in response to concerns raised by the public, NSF staff, or Board members.

We put in a graphic to outline the relationships between mission, vision, goals, objectives, and priorities.

We highlighted the importance of mathematics and computer science as essential disciplines in their own right and also core fields that enable progress in other disciplines.

And, we made sure that the education and workforce discussions included all levels of science and engineering preparation and careers.

[Slide #14: Other Revisions of Note (cont.)]
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We included discussion of collaborations to leverage investments and maximize impact. We added language about strengthening our links with the corporate world.

We identified our intent to strengthen review of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary proposals. We clarified how we will improve large facility management and oversight.

And, we rewrote the description of our cross-cutting objectives for clarity.

[Slide #15: Acknowledgements: Strategic Planning Team]
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Finally, I would like to acknowledge the Strategic Planning team and its writing sub-group for their hard work.

[Slide #16: Investing in America's Future]
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Lastly, I want to call your attention to the cover design, which was selected by Dr. Arden Bement late last week. The image is a circular bent helicoid, a mathematical object that was discovered by NSF-funded researchers in 2005.

It is both attractive and enigmatic, allowing each observer to interpret it as he or she sees fit--a stunning ending to our process. Thank you.



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