Approaches to Implementation

Support mechanisms(University of South Carolina)
Caption: By supporting individual investigators as well as groups and centers, NSF employs a variety of support mechanisms - helping to open new frontiers of knowledge.

To meet the challenges of the changing world, NSF will use a variety of approaches in pursuing its goals. NSF's future will see support of teams, centers, and consortia as well as individual investigators; focused proposal solicitations as well as unsolicited proposals; increased emphasis on integration of knowledge; and increasing reliance on partnerships. This section outlines a few of these approaches.

Offer Different Modes of Support - The needs and opportunities of the science and engineering enterprise come in all shapes and sizes. The challenge to NSF is to meet these needs and pursue these opportunities in ways that are appropriate in each case. Many NSF projects are well suited to the traditional mode of supporting an individual investigator. Some research questions and education initiatives require support for groups of specialists. Other problems will yield only to high levels of sustained support provided to research or education Centers. High risk projects sometimes need small grants for short-term exploration, while other projects require sustained periods of support in order to study long-term processes. Research sometimes requires specialized instruments or facilities, and many areas of science and engineering require dedicated research platforms that are beyond the size and scale available to individuals or small groups. NSF must provide a variety of instruments and facilities necessary for the conduct of pioneering research and education.

Improve Agency Efficiency and Accountability - As the steward for public investments in science and engineering research and education, NSF is committed to improving its organizational performance. Developing credible performance measures and assessment methods is a critical component of NSF planning. NSF's data collection program will enable policy makers and the general public to monitor the progress that NSF is making toward its goals. This will require continuous improvement of proposal review, grant making and other processes, including response time. Merit review with peer evaluation is the core of NSF's decision making process. NSF is committed to making this an open, fair, and robust process. Accountability for public funds will demand assessment of the effectiveness of agency operations and the return on the Foundation's investment strategies.

Promote Intellectual Integration - Intellectual integration brings the knowledge and skills from different disciplines to bear on complex problems. NSF will encourage intellectual integration among fields of science and between research and education missions. Collaboration across traditional disciplinary boundaries is a positively reinforcing process: the first interdisciplinary discoveries lead to the discovery of many new problems at that disciplinary interface. Innovative research methods and tools can stimulate the imagination of researchers at disciplinary frontiers and open new paths for action. Integration of research and education activities maintains the currency of what is taught, ensuring an up-to-date research community and a technically agile workforce.

Caption: The strong, flexible buckyball molecule has potential applications in materials sciences and micro-engineering.

Accelerate Knowledge Transfer - An important approach to carrying out NSF's mission is to help the Nation use new knowledge in science and engineering for the benefit of society. The transfer of such knowledge is a vital ingredient in enhancing the Nation's industrial competitiveness. NSF's knowledge transfer activities are focused on building working relationships at the research project level between academia, industry, and other potential users, such as local and State governments. Knowledge is used most rapidly when those charged with discovery are in close contact with those charged with applying new knowledge. This approach is particularly effective when there are one-to-one working relationships and people exchanges; for example, when university-trained researchers and professionals move to industry and vice-versa.

Reflecting changing national priorities, there has been a gradual shift so that NSF, while increasing its support for fundamental research, has also assumed a greater concern with technology and the transfer of knowledge to industry. NSF has established programs that are actively oriented toward knowledge transfer: for example, multidisciplinary centers with technology transfer as explicit components of their research mission, Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR),and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs which help to move the results of basic exploratory research to the marketplace.

Mastodon(Dan Fisher, University of Michigan)
Caption: NSF provides the majority of Federal support for academic research in paleontology and archaeology. In this photo, a paleontologist works to uncover a well-preserved tusk, rib, and tooth from a mastodon estimated to be 10,000years old.

NSF in a Changing World: The National Science Foundation's Strategic Plan

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