Developing the Report
The process for preparing condition reports involves a combination of accepted techniques for collecting and interpreting information gathered from subject matter experts. The approach varies somewhat from sanctuary to sanctuary, in order to accommodate differing styles for working with partners. The Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary approach was closely related to the Delphi Method, a technique designed to organize group communication among a panel of geographically dispersed experts by using questionnaires, ultimately facilitating the formation of a group judgment. This method can be applied when it is necessary for decision-makers to combine the testimony of a group of experts, whether in the form of facts or informed opinion, or both, into a single useful statement.
The Delphi Method relies on repeated interactions with experts who respond to questions with a limited number of choices to arrive at the best supported answers. Feedback to the experts allows them to refine their views, gradually moving the group toward the most agreeable judgment. For condition reports, the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries uses 17 questions related to the status and trends of sanctuary resources, with accompanying descriptions and five possible choices that describe resource condition.
In order to address the 17 questions, sanctuary staff selected and consulted outside experts familiar with water quality, living resources, habitat, and maritime archaeological resources. Phone calls and one-on-one meetings were convened where experts participated in discussions with sanctuary staff about each of the 17 questions. Experts represented various affiliations including University of California-Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory, NOAA Fisheries Southwest Fisheries Science Center, Institute for Bird Populations, and Point Reyes National Seashore. During each consultation, experts were introduced to the questions and asked to provide recommendations and supporting arguments for their suggested rating. The ratings and text found in the report are intended to summarize the opinions and uncertainty expressed by the experts, who based their input on knowledge and perceptions of local conditions. Comments and citations received from the experts were included, as appropriate, in text supporting the ratings.
The first draft of the document was sent to various subject matter experts and important partners in research and resource management for what was called an Invited Review. Individuals included representatives from the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, NOAA’s Marine Debris Program, NOAA’s National Status and Trends Program, NOAA Fisheries, and the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries West Coast Region. Review was also requested from stakeholder representatives on the Cordell Bank Sanctuary Advisory Council. These bodies were asked to review the technical merits of resource ratings and accompanying text, as well as to point out any omissions or factual errors. The comments and recommendations of invited reviewers were received, considered by sanctuary staff, and incorporated, as appropriate, into a final draft document.
A draft final report was then sent to Chris Caldow (NOAA’s Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment), Dr. Lance Morgan, (Marine Conservation Biology Institute), and Dr. William J Sydeman (Farallon Institute for Advanced Ecosystem Research) who served as external peer reviewers. This External Peer Review is a requirement that started in December 2004, when the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a Final Information Quality Bulletin for Peer Review (OMB Bulletin) establishing peer review standards that would enhance the quality and credibility of the federal government’s scientific information. Along with other information, these standards apply to Influential Scientific Information, which is information that can reasonably be determined to have a “clear and substantial impact on important public policies or private sector decisions.” The Condition Reports are considered Influential Scientific Information. For this reason, these reports are subject to the review requirements of both the Information Quality Act and the OMB Bulletin guidelines. Therefore, following the completion of every condition report, they are reviewed by a minimum of three individuals who are considered to be experts in their field, were not involved in the development of the report, and are not Office of National Marine Sanctuaries employees. Comments from these peer reviews were incorporated into the final text of the report. Furthermore, OMB Bulletin guidelines require that reviewer comments, names, and affiliations be posted on the agency website: http://www.osec.doc.gov/cio/oipr/pr_plans.htm. Reviewer comments, however, are not attributed to specific individuals. Reviewer comments are posted at the same time as with the formatted final document. Following the External Peer Review the comments and recommendations of the reviewers were considered by sanctuary staff and incorporated, as appropriate, into a final draft document. In some cases sanctuary staff reevaluated the status and trend ratings and when appropriate, the accompanying text in the document was edited to reflect the new ratings. The final interpretation, ratings, and text in the draft condition report were the responsibility of sanctuary staff, with final approval by the sanctuary manager. To emphasize this important point, authorship of the report is attributed to the sanctuary alone. Subject experts were not authors, though their efforts and affiliations are acknowledged in the report.