NEST Vision and Plan
The shared collaborative vision of the New England SusTainability Consortium (NEST) is to mobilize the collective capacity of New England institutions of higher education (IHEs), beginning with Maine (ME) and New Hampshire (NH). NEST will establish a sustainability solutions incubator designed to strengthen the scientific basis for decision-making. Improving links between science and decision-making is a global challenge. Mounting evidence reveals disconcerting gaps between scientific knowledge and public and private decision-making, and these gaps undermine society's capacity to maintain resilient social – ecological systems. The field of sustainability science is explicitly focused on the urgent challenge of producing knowledge and linking it to actions that improve human well-being and preserve the planet’s life-support systems. Building this Consortium will expand our collective capacity in sustainability science in ways that expand our ability to conduct solutions-oriented research at a regional scale and train a highly skilled 21st century STEM workforce across New England, while engaging all aspects of diversity and working in close cooperation with numerous stakeholders and communities.
Goal 1: Build a national model for a cross-jurisdictional collaborative to increase and sustain scientific competitiveness; advance achievement using qualitative and quantitative evaluation processes and effective management.
Goal 2: Achieve prominence in solutions-oriented research and expand research capacity in sustainability science.
Goal 3: Foster the next generation of sustainability science professionals; prepare and diversify the STEM workforce.
Goal 4: Diversify all aspects of human and institutional resources to achieve broad advances in innovation and competitiveness.
Goal 5: Sustain the Consortium’s human, physical and social infrastructure, impacts, and achievements; broaden scientific entrepreneurship, partnerships, institutional, and external support.
Sustainability science calls for innovative research that advances the theory and practice of sustainable development. Concurrently, sustainability science demands unprecedented levels of collaboration and interactions across diverse institutions critical to knowledge exchange, cooperative research, and new forms of engagement. There is a growing consensus that fields like sustainability science can help to reorganize and accelerate methods of knowledge production and accelerate the transition to sustainability. Moreover, universities have great potential to help accelerate this transition, which in turn requires an ability to develop new capacities, partnerships, infrastructure, and knowledge. NEST will advance the regional sustainability science capacity of Northern New England to work in strategic partnership across IHEs and in collaboration with stakeholders and communities in pursuit of regional, national, and global sustainability solutions. Investment in NEST will result in a collaborative, cross-jurisdictional R&D infrastructure between ME and NH that will increase our competitiveness, ability to acquire external funding, and accelerate our interdisciplinary collaboration across jurisdictions. We intend to integrate additional IHEs from ME, NH, and other New England states.
One key tenet of NEST’s collaborative strategy is that small research universities in small states often have difficulty increasing their R&D competitiveness relative to major research universities, which have much greater institutional resources. We believe, however, that our proposed collaboration can offer significant competitive advantages when it comes to addressing many sustainability challenges. In particular, these challenges are often place-based, so many solutions must be tailored to local and regional biophysical and socioeconomic contexts that are not amenable to one-size-fits-all approaches. Moreover, smaller universities and colleges are often more adept at mobilizing interdisciplinary research teams to work with diverse stakeholders in the solutions-development process.
NEST will promote cross-jurisdictional scientific innovation by leveraging the existing research capacities of the two EPSCoR jurisdictions to advance theory and practices of sustainability science. RII Track I EPSCoR investment has enabled NH to hone its expertise in sustainability science with a focus on earth systems science, ecosystem services, and real-time sensor networks, while ME has advanced stakeholder-driven, solutions-oriented sustainability science, knowledge-action systems (K↔A) research, and the use of organizational science to enhance interdisciplinary engaged research. Both states’ investments in cyberinfrastructure will allow us to manage and openly share data rapidly and support state-of-the-art, virtual, cross-institutional collaboration. Both states have strong researcher-stakeholder networks and have advanced research on public participation in scientific research (PPSR). NEST intentionally promotes synergies among these respective strengths in ways that expand our region’s capacity to tackle regional and national challenges and provide solutions that benefit society through improvements in quality of life, STEM educational attainment, and regional economic development.
NEST’s primary focus is on strengthening the scientific basis for decision making through sustainability science. Given the local-to-global importance and vulnerability of coastal zones, NEST will focus initially on developing science to support the sustainable management of the shared NH-ME coastal system. Our shared coastline is strongly affected by environmental, social, and economic processes that do not coincide with political boundaries. Furthermore, coastal areas accommodate the majority of the world’s population, contain valuable built infrastructure, and deliver critical ecosystem services that sustain human well-being. Thus, research capacity in coastal sustainability will have relevance to local, regional, and global challenges. Key to our strategy for increasing the scientific basis for decision making in coastal areas is the ability of IHEs to work in interdisciplinary collaboration with diverse stakeholders and communities to build lasting, respectful, mutually reciprocal partnerships. ME- and NH-EPSCoR consortia have each advanced a scientifically-based understanding of the nature of interdisciplinary collaborations and stakeholder engagement within our jurisdictions. Management of our shared coastal system requires a regional perspective; NEST harnesses our existing, complementary capacities and scales our state focus to address the complexity of decision-making at a regional scale.
NEST approaches broader impacts in an integrative way that aligns directly with NSF’s five key areas for Broader Impacts. We integrate sustainability science and ecosystem expertise with a primary goal of improving the scientific basis for decision-making. One key strategy for achieving this goal is to collaborate with the New England Stewardship Network, and use this network as an opportunity to conduct innovative research on public participation in scientific research. We will also build expanded sensor networks and strengthen informal and formal science education. ME and NH’s S&T plans emphasize the key role of innovation in catalyzing economic development. Both call for an accelerated production of a STEM-ready workforce and greater leveraging of existing research strengths to advance research and development. Broader impacts components are summarized as follows:
|Broader Impact||NEST Components|
|Advance discovery while promoting teaching, training, and learning||
|Broaden participation of underrepresented groups||
|Enhance infrastructure for research and education||
|Broaden dissemination to enhance scientific and technological understanding||
|Create benefits to society||