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 Monterey Bay 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 (Linstone and Turoff 1975). 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 (Appendix A).
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. A small workshop (23 participants) was convened where experts participated in facilitated discussions about each of the 17 questions. Experts represented various affiliations including Applied Marine Sciences, California Department of Fish and Game, California State University Monterey Bay, Center for Integrated Marine Technologies, Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Monterey Maritime & History Museum, NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center, Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans, Regional Water Quality Control Board, Santa Cruz County Water Resources Program, The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Geological Survey, and University of California Santa Cruz.
At the workshop each expert was introduced to the questions, was then asked to provide recommendations and supporting arguments, and the group supplemented the input with further discussion. In order to ensure consistency with Delphic methods, a critical role of the facilitator was to minimize dominance of the discussion by a single individual or opinion (which often leads to “follow the leader” tendencies in group meetings) and to encourage the expression of honest differences of opinion. As discussions progressed, the group converged in their opinion of the rating that most accurately describes the current resource condition. After an appropriate amount of time, the facilitator asked whether the group could agree on a rating for the question, as defined by specific language linked to each rating (see Appendix A). If an agreement was reached, the result was recorded and the group moved on to consider the trend in the same manner. If agreement was not reached, the facilitator instructed sanctuary staff to consider all input and decide on a rating and trend at a future time, and to send their ratings back to workshop participants for individual comment.
The first draft of the document summarized 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 the subject experts (including those who had been invited to the workshop but could not attend), the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Research Activities Panel for what was called an Initial Review, a 21-day period that allows them to ensure that the report accurately reflected their input, identify information gaps, provide comments or suggest revisions to the ratings and text. Upon receiving those comments, the writing team revised the text and ratings as they deemed appropriate.
A draft final report was then sent to Dr. Chris Harrold (Monterey Bay Aquarium), Dr. Rikk Kvitek (California State University Monterey Bay), Ms. Karen Worcester (Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board). 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 ONMS 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. Reviewer comments, however, are not attributed to specific individuals.
During the time period the report was being peer reviewed the document was also sent to particularly important partners in research and resource management, including NOAA’s Marine Debris Program, the National Marine Sanctuary West Coast Regional Office and NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service. 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. 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 Superintendent. 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.