NRSP1: Multistate Research Information Management and Impact Communications Program
(National Research Support Project Summary)
NRSP1: Multistate Research Information Management and Impact Communications Program
Duration: 10/01/2017 to 09/30/2022
Statement of Issues and Justification
How is the NRSP consistent with the mission?
(Given the unique nature of NRSP1 with NIMSS and our National Impact Communications Programs, this proposal cannot match the standard NRSP format. We recommend viewing the attached proposal document to obtain the best information on our Outcomes section and specific details and breakdown of our budget. The budget listed in the budget form only shows the totals across both NIMSS and the Impact Program.)
NRSP1 serves two critical functions for the State Agricultural Experiment Station (SAES) System. First, it supports the National Information Management and Support System (NIMSS). NIMSS was designed to facilitate the management of multistate research and Extension activities supported by the Hatch Multistate Research Fund (MRF), from proposal conception to project termination. NIMSS is a web-based application allowing: (1) online submission of proposals, peer reviews and progress reports, (2) management of participants, (3) scheduling of annual project meetings, and (4) ready access to this information. An automated e-mail notification function prompts users to take action and sends out notifications for meetings and report deadlines. Researchers, Extension educators, stakeholders, and other cooperators can review and keyword search NIMSS for relevant and timely information related to multistate research projects. In addition, the public has access to research project outlines and impacts. NIMSS is now serving all of the 1862 and 1890 Land-grant institutions, allowing them to manage, in a paperless environment, their multistate research portfolios. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) also uses NIMSS to download and integrate some data into its management dashboard and pre-populate federal forms.
How does the NRSP pertain to a national issue?
Following a successful three-year NIMSS redesign, hosting, and maintenance contract that transformed NIMSS into a modern, secure work-flow database, the Experiment Station Section (ESS) wishes to continue its work with Clemson University ITT by renewing the project for another five years, from October 1, 2017 through September 30, 2022. This renewal would allow for the continuation of critical multistate research support services, as well as improved system efficiency, continued security enhancement, daily data back-ups, and continued correction of legacy system data integrity. Moreover, Clemson developers and the regional NIMSS system administrators (RSAs) will work together with stakeholders to continue to cooperatively identify and develop new system features.
The second important function that NRSP1 serves is the communication of impacts from multistate research and Extension activities to decision-makers and stakeholders. The impact communications component of NRSP1 enhances the visibility of Land-grant institutions and the success of multistate research projects. Impact statements are prepared by an impact writer and shared with Administrative Advisors (AAs), project participants, Regional Association offices, NIFA representatives, and kglobal (the communications and marketing firm contracted to support ESCOP and ECOP along with AHS/ACOP efforts). The statements are often shared with partner trade associations, elected officials, regulatory organizations, college leadership, and other stakeholders. The impact statements are also posted on the Multistate Research Impacts website (www.multistateresearchimpacts.org), featured on Regional Association websites, and entered into the NIMSS database and the National Land-grant Impacts Database (NIDB) (http://www.landgrantimpacts.org). Impact statements are posted in multiple locations in order to reach a variety of audiences and serve different purposes. For example, visitors to NIMSS are largely internal participants in the Multistate Research Program, so impact statements are uploaded to this database for mostly archival purposes. The National Land-grant Impact Database makes impact statements accessible to NIFA and communicators. The Multistate Research Impacts website is devoted to Multistate Research Program impact statements and information about the program, including opportunities for training and presents both in a public-friendly format, making it an appropriate site to link with social posts (impact statements are on social media using the hashtags #MRFImpacts and #NIFAImpacts). This website is the only one of the three that showcases the final design of the impact statements. It is currently not possible to display final, formatted impact statements in the NIDB (it only supports text) and the NIMSS database is not designed for the public.
Impact statements are used by NIFA staff to prepare reports, blog posts, speeches, and responses to Congressional and other inquiries. kglobal features impact statements in the “Why Ag Matters” newsletter and on Ag Is America social media feeds. Through the distribution efforts of the impact writer and kglobal, the collective social media reach of any given impact statement is over 35,500 individuals.
The impact writer has also turned impact statements into press releases. These press releases, when promoted via the Ag Is America campaign as well as website and social media platforms, have typically earned around 200 media hits (how many times the press release was repurposed by a news outlet) and 20 million to 91 million impressions (how many people potentially saw the press release as measured by a news outlet’s circulation/website traffic). Some impact statements are further highlighted in feature stories and op-ed pieces in traditional media. Going forward, we propose to strategically share impact statements using a variety of formats (e.g., email, social media, paper) to reach a broad audience.
Feedback from SAES directors universally points to the need for additional faculty/staff training on how to write impact statements. A cursory examination of annual reports in NIMSS supports this notion. While many groups complete the section on impacts, few truly answer the essential questions “So what?” and “Who cares?” Articulating the impact and public value of multistate work is essential to maintaining support for this program and leveraging multistate activities.
Since 2013, impact communication workshops have been given (in-person and by webinar) to a variety of groups—from individual multistate projects to faculty at a particular college to participants at national meetings like the National Extension and Research Administrative Officers Conference (NERAOC) to NIFA’s communications staff. Workshops give participants the tools and knowledge they need to craft better reports and to recognize strong impact statements and then parlay them into other communication pieces (e.g., social media posts, press releases, infographics). Demand for workshops is increasing. We propose to continue to provide training as time and finances allow and continue to suggest that a more comprehensive effort be initiated to address this critical need for improving impact reporting nationwide.
The impact communications component of NRSP1 has been in place since June 2012 and has been extremely effective and well received within the Land-grant University system, NIFA, its public and private partners, its stakeholders, and the public in general. Collectively, the NIMSS database system and the impact communications program provide for open and transparent systems that enhance compliance and accountability for SAES.
Priority Established by ESCOP/ESS
See above sections.
Relevance to Stakeholders
See above sections.
Maintain and enhance the effectiveness, functionality, and utilization of NIMSS.
More effectively document and communicate impacts of multistate research and Extension activities.
- Please see attached NRSP1 proposal document for details on project outcomes.
General oversight, policy development, proposal preparation, and budget recommendations will be provided by a Management Committee composed of: four AAs, representing each of the four SAES regions; the four Regional System Administrators; and two director's administrative assistants who use NIMSS routinely. NIFA will assign one or more non-voting representatives to the Committee.
Funding for NRSP1 will be provided through an off-the-top allocation from the Hatch Multistate Research Fund. The annual range of NRSP1, combining NIMSS and the Impact Communications Effort, runs from $220,052 to $243,697 (Table 1). The five-year grand total investment is $1,156,200 for NRSP1. NRSP1 will provide important administrative support services to research administrators and staff, project participants and other users of NIMSS, and the impact communication efforts. Funding for NRSP1 is seen as an administrative expense and alternative sources of funding are not anticipated.
NIMSS is managed by each of the Regional Associations serving the SAES. The RSAs from NCRA (primary) and WAAESD (secondary) will serve as the leads with routine interactions with Clemson ITT. All RSAs handle the day-to-day tasks related to updating the system and answer queries from their regional users. Funds for continued development and maintenance of NIMSS will be transferred by NIFA to Clemson University AES, for distribution to the Information Technology Team (ITT) at Clemson’s Youth Learning Institute. The annual budget ranges from $126,980 in FY2018 to $142,730 in FY 2022 to reflect cost increases in technology, salary, and fringe rates (Table 2). As a point of reference, years two and three for the NIMSS redesign project were $128,500.
To accomplish system administration and development, the NRSP1 budget for NIMSS would accommodate a part of the salary and fringe of multiple technical professionals who would be responsible for maintaining, updating and developing new features as needed or requested for their particular programmatic areas. Technical professionals are needed for UI / Front End Development and Administration, Application Development and Administration, Database Administration, System Administration and Security, QA/QC, and Project Management. For those interested, specific job duties and justifications for these positions are found below. Within the software development community, the term ‘development’ is commonly used to reflect the on-going and dynamic nature of a continually changing environment.
User Interface/Front End Development and Administration
User Interface (U/I)/Front End Development is the process of designing and developing interfaces that an end user interacts with when they are using the NIMSS system. It is necessary to invest time in User Interface/Front End development during the initial development phase as well as in the maintenance phase of the development cycle as web applications do not live in a static environment. Users must access web-based applications through a web browser. There is currently no standard that all web browsers must adhere to and, as such, bugs are introduced from the user/client side on a continual basis. Our UI/Front End Developer is responsible for staying informed of the changing web environment and works to ensure that all users are able to access and interact with the NIMSS system with minimal front-end issues.
Application Development and Administration
Application development, in the case of NIMSS, is the process of developing code utilizing the Laravel framework to gather information collected by the UI/Front End Developers that interfaces and manipulates/stores that information in databases designed and maintained by a data base administrator (DBA). This person is also responsible for creating and maintaining system features as well as adapting the current system to work with new technologies that are currently available as well as to proactively redevelop sections in the NIMSS system to take advantage of these new technologies.
Database administration refers to the tasks in NIMSS that are centered on saving and retrieving information from our relational databases. Server environments must periodically be updated to avoid falling too far behind modern technology and the services provided by a DBA helps to mitigate these issues and ensure that resources that are allocated to the database are being used effective and efficiently. Data backups and recovery are also critically important for system reliability. Both making sure that data is stored in multiple locations and that data stores contain valid and recoverable data are aspects of what must be done to ensure work is not lost due to hardware or software issues. Another critical task for a DBA is database security. Databases are often targets for hackers and must be reasonably protected. In all cases, security measures must be managed proactively to minimize the risks of system access from unwanted agents, who are constantly changing their approaches and finding new exploits to gain access to systems. Database administrators will regularly track system access logs to look for possible injections into the database as well as to review possible slow queries.
System Administration and Security
Much of what is accomplished by system administration is similar to database security in technique and purpose. The main difference between these two areas is that system administration refers to securing the server, whether physical or virtual, from unwanted access. This is done by keeping track of trends in security and intrusion techniques and patching them as soon as is possible.
This refers to quality control and assurance of the NIMSS product. It is a best practice to employ a non-developer to review and test the system and write test cases for automated testing. It is this person’s responsibility to make every effort to eliminate bugs or other issues from the system before it is made available to our end users. This person also coordinates larger alpha and beta testing groups and serves as a bridge between the various developers and the stakeholders.
This person coordinates the resources available in order to execute the project. In the case of NIMSS, this person would review newly developed code to make sure it meets the standards set forth by the initial development. They would monitor the timeline of the project to make sure all areas of development and administration are working together effectively. They oversee documentation of the project and provide reports to stakeholders and partners to ensure all parties are satisfied with the process. The NIMSS technology costs in the budget would cover the server expenses, ownership of the domain name, hosting, SSL (secure sockets layer; a technology that maintains system security by encrypting the connection between the user and the NIMSS site), email systems server, and all data backups.
The impact communications effort is managed by the WAAESD Office (WDO) under the guidance of the RSA/WAAESD Assistant Director (Program Director). Funding for the impact communications effort will be transferred by NIFA to Colorado State University (CSU) AES for distribution to the WDO. The overall proposed budget for the communication of multistate impacts varies from year to year and ranges from $93,072 in FY2018 to $100,967 in FY2022 (Table 3). As a point of reference, the prior NRSP1 project for Impact Communications was $55,000.
To accomplish effective communication for the multistate research program, the NRSP1 budget for communications would support a part-time Program Director, one full-time Impact Writer, and one part-time Social Media Specialist (student). The proposed budget includes salary and fringe for a part-time Program Director, a full-time Impact Writer and one part-time student social media specialist. Salary for the Impact Writer is set to meet market standards. A cost of living increase is also factored in for both positions. Fringe is budgeted at CSU’s FY18 rate of ~28.6%. In addition, the budget supports travel and infrastructure needed to maintain this program.
The part-time Program Director provides overall strategic vision (direction and support) for the impact communications project, supervises staff, and is responsible for higher-level coordination of activities with other ESCOP initiatives including: Ag Is America and the NIDB; serving as a liaison with partners including the NRSP1 Management Committee, NIFA, kglobal, Cornerstone, the NIDB Management Committee, the Communications and Marketing Committee (designated NIDB rep), and ESCOP; managing human resources; reconciling budgets and expenses; authorizing, approving, and facilitating reimbursement for travel; editorial oversight of impact statements, social media content, and training programs; conducting training programs; and supervising the Impact Writer and student social media specialist.
The full-time Impact Writer is responsible to write, edit, design, produce, and distribute/disseminate to a broad audience Impact Statements; maintenance of a dedicated Multistate Research Impacts website (www.multistateresearchimpacts.org);conduct training workshops; contribute to overall program strategy and approach; and supervise and coordinate social media campaigns (e.g., retweeting, liking, sharing) with the student social media specialist.
Student Social Media Specialist
The part-time student social media specialist will be responsible for creating and posting social media content with graphics about multistate projects; monitoring relevant social media trends and conversations; finding and engaging with key audiences; and uploading finalized impact statements to NIMSS and NIDB.
Under special circumstances, printed materials may be needed to support the overall communications strategy. Special circumstances might include promotion of ESS special initiatives, timely events and regional promotions. Creation and production of printed material will be done in consultation with the NRSP1 Management Committee and partners at kglobal and Cornerstone Government Affairs, so that these products are prepared and distributed when it is most beneficial to overall national efforts and supports national priorities.
We propose to replace the impact writer’s laptop in FY18. At that time, it will be necessary to obtain a yearly site license for the Adobe Creative Suite. In addition, the budget includes funds for an external speaker/microphone/camera for conducting webinar workshops.
The WDO provides coordination, editorial oversight, and accommodates some physical space needs of the impact communications component of NRSP1. The WAAESD Assistant Director serves as the Program Director, with a scope of work described above. Thus, the NRSP1 proposal Objective #2 provides part-time salary and fringe support to reflect 0.15 FTE of activity.
To meet increasing demand for impact communication workshops, we propose a travel budget that accommodates multiple in-person workshops and expands access to all multistate regions. Workshops would target multistate project participants.
In addition, travel funds are provided for professional development. Professional meetings may include (but are not limited to) the annual Association for Communications Excellence meeting, the National Association of Science Writers annual meeting, the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists, and the U.S. Ag Media Summit. In FY18, the budget would support attendance at the 10th World Conference of Science Journalists in San Francisco, CA.
NRSP1 was developed to facilitate the management and communication of the impacts of integrated research and Extension activities supported by the Hatch Multistate Research Fund. It supports all 1862 and 1890 Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension participants. The program can also accommodate integrated education activities as the need arises.
Input from SAES administrators and scientists on issues of policy, planning, and management of NRSP1 is an essential element in sustaining it as an effective support system. The approval of this NRSP provides the mechanism to support the representation of user interests and provide a forum to assess the effectiveness of the outreach of the NRSP1 programs.
The four NIMSS RSAs will serve as the primary contacts and source of information and training for university administrators, program managers, investigators, business officers, and station staff using NIMSS. The primary RSA will provide quarterly updates on new NIMSS developments during NRSP1 meetings and will collect feedback from AAs and NIFA on user comments/experiences, as available. Lead RSAs may also send out short surveys to the user community and/or conduct ad hoc interviews during conferences in order to gain improved understanding of user needs.
The WDO will serve as the primary contact and source of information on the impact communications component. The NRSP1 Management Committee with representation from regional associations, staff from director’s offices across regions, NIFA and the AAs will serve as stakeholder representatives in addressing assessment issues and to help evaluate the effectiveness of outreach efforts. The representatives will be responsible for collecting information from the institutions in their respective regions or associations to reflect the effectiveness of the NIMSS and the impact communications programs in meeting their needs and objectives.
Projected ParticipationView Appendix E: Participation