Learnings from applied environmental research programs: Elements for success

Suzanne Long
Led by: Dr Suzanne Long, RRRC


Project Summary

The structure, governance and administration of large multidisciplinary applied environmental research hubs is critical to their ability to deliver new knowledge that funders and stakeholders need. While the MTSRF, NERP TE and NESP TWQ have differed in model and delivery since 2006, they have operated in the same region and delivered to similar stakeholders over that period of time. This is a unique opportunity to review and report on what has been learned about effective and efficient delivery of new knowledge for impact, for the benefit of future Commonwealth-funded applied environmental science programs.


Project Description

The NESP TWQ Hub is the third major Department of Environment and Energy (DoEE) investment in stakeholder-driven applied environmental research in north Queensland, building on its predecessors- the Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility (MTSRF) and the National Environmental Research Program’s Tropical Ecosystems (NERP TE) Hub. Each major research program has focused on natural ecosystems and efforts to sustain these in north Queensland, Torres Strait and along the length of the Great Barrier Reef from a triple bottom line approach. An assessment of large regional environmental research program design, planning, delivery and impact with a view to informing future investment is pertinent.

Besides examining the most effective methods for conducting large multi-disciplinary research programs, this synthesis will also examine their relationship with government plans. For example, has NESP TWQ Hub planning and decision-making been made easier/harder by the existence of framework documents such as the Water Quality Improvement Plan/ Reef 2050 Plan? Does this framework make following pathways to impact easier? What design or governance characteristics favour success in terms of impact?

Often, research programs and on-ground works programs are commissioned and managed separately. A key part of the evaluation to be considered in this synthesis is that the TWQ Hub has in many areas, straddled research and on-ground works and our research projects that have worked in tandem with on-ground works and their managers, have arguably produced the greatest outcomes. An evaluation of how evidence-based decision-making uses funded research hub scientific outputs will be undertaken and recommendations provided for improvement if required.

The synthesis project will have the capacity to draw together information from projects across the entire scope of the NESP TWQ Hub, plus external material where relevant. External material will include consideration of, and comparison with, other major research delivery programs operating in the GBR domain. Leaders of those programs will be consulted with to participate in this synthesis as appropriate. The experience of the NESP steering committee will also be utilised in constructing this synthesis and any comparisons drawn with other programs. In addition, we will also draw upon the experiences of our major project leaders, many of whom have worked across the MTSRF/NERP/NESP, and key stakeholders, many of whom have experienced a range of interactions with research programs.

Qualitative analysis via a mapping exercise will be undertaken of previous funded projects and their impact against Reef 2050 actions and targets, the Water Quality Improvement Plan and other government and end users research plans including the Torres Strait Land and Sea Strategy and Wet Tropics Research Strategy. Case studies highlighting the use of scientific evidence for improved ecosystem benefits will be considered throughout. The evaluation of the programs will include consideration of Indigenous engagement strategies and an assessment of data management and the role of the eAtlas as a depository and visual presentation of data.


Outcomes from the following NESP TWQ Hub projects and previous MTSRF and NERP programs will contribute to this synthesis project:

  • Project 3.13: eAtlas 2015 – NESP data management, Torres Strait NRM plan delivery platform and Torres Strait reef mapping.
  • Project 2.3.5 / Project 5.15: eAtlas – Data management for environmental research.
  • NERP TE Hub evaluation documents
  • Mid-term and final evaluations of the NESP
  • MTSRF Evaluation Report
  • Indigenous participation and engagement strategies.


NESP 2017 Research Priority Alignment

This project aligns with NESP 2017 Research Priority: Natural resource management improvements based on sound understanding of the status and long term trends of priority species and systems (Theme 3).


Project Keywords

Environment; Research; Program; Regional.


Project Funding

This project is jointly funded through JCU, QUT, TSRA and the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program.


Project Publications