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Consultation with Experts and Document Review

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 Olympic Coast 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. Some experts were recommended by key partners, including the Intergovernmental Policy Council (IPC), the University of Washington, the Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, and the U.S. Geological Survey. Experts represented various affiliations including the Washington State Departments of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, Ecology, Fish and Wildlife, and Natural Resources; Quinault Indian Nation; Hoh Tribe; Quileute Tribe; Makah Tribe; Coastal Maritime Archaeology Resources; Natural Resource Consultants Inc.; Wessen & Associates Inc.; NOAA (Fisheries and Office of National Marine Sanctuaries); Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission; Olympic National Park; University of Chicago Department of Ecology and Evolution; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and University of Washington (School of Oceanography and Applied Physics Laboratory).

Expert opinion was solicited electronically and through one-on-one contact via phone calls and/or e-mails. Background material was provided to the experts in order to develop a consistent understanding of the project and the questions. Experts were asked to utilize Appendix A, which accompanies every report, to guide their responses. Appendix A clarifies the set of questions and presents standardized statements that are used to describe the status and assign a corresponding color code on a scale from “good” to “poor.” These statements are customized for each question.

During the initial request for response to questions, a total of 80 experts were contacted and 28 responded. They were asked to rate resource status and trends based on guidance provided and submit supplemental comments, data, graphics, literature citations, Web site links and other relevant information.

The combined input of all experts was considered by a writing team composed of individuals from the sanctuary and the national office. They tallied and discussed ratings and accompanying comments, and summarized the input in a written draft that included a proposed status rating and a proposed trend for each question. The initial ratings represented agreement by the writing team, based on interpretation of quantitative and, when necessary, non-quantitative expert input, as well as other available information, such as assessments and observations of scientists, managers and users. In some cases, certain input was not used because it was either not relevant to the question it accompanied, or too narrowly focused to address the question. Nevertheless, the ratings and text are intended to summarize the opinions and uncertainty expressed by 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.

This draft document was sent back to the subject experts 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. 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.

The second phase of review, called invited review, involved particularly important partners in research and resource management, including state natural resource managers, regional fisheries science centers, NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, and the Pacific Fisheries Management Council advisory committees (Scientific and Statistical Committee, Habitat Committee, and Groundfish Advisory Panel). Review was also requested from stakeholder representatives on the Olympic Coast Sanctuary Advisory Council and from the sanctuary system's West Coast Regional Office. 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 James Delgado, Institute of Nautical Archaeology; Sarah Dzinbal, Washington Department of Natural Resources; Dave Fluharty, University of Washington, School of Marine Affairs; and Rikk Kvitek, California State University, Monterey Bay, 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’s Web site. Reviewer comments, however, are not attributed to specific individuals. Reviewer comments are posted at the same time as with the formatted final document.

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