Coordination means increasing awareness of related and potentially useful research, especially across the basic and applied divide. Secretary Chu emphasizes the importance of bridging the basic and applied divide. DOE uses several large scale methods to foster coordination, such as workshops attended by hundreds of researchers. A complementary approach is described here, which we call "Bench-to-Bench Coordination". This approach uses analysis of OSTI resources to identify closely related research across the divide. The results can be used in a variety of ways to put individual (or "bench") researchers in touch with one another for coordination purposes. This process can operate on an ongoing basis, in contrast to episodic workshops.
The goal of coordination is for researchers to find synergies and solutions outside their local community. This goal is spelled out in the "DOE Strategic Research Portfolio Analysis and Coordination Plan" (Energy Policy Act, Section 994, Report to Congress, 2006). The Plan "identifies how the applied technology and science programs are currently coordinating activities, not only across the basic-applied research divide, but also across the applied technology programs." It also describes a number of strategies for increasing coordination.
The coordination challenge is that there are millions of researchers and thousands of scientific journals, publishing an estimated one million articles each year. Just within the DOE community there are tens of thousands of researchers.
As described in the Plan, DOE's leading strategy of meeting this challenge is to hold large technical workshops on specific topics. For example, in 2006 DOE held three coordination workshops. The topics were (1) Basic Research Needs for Superconductivity (2) Basic Research Needs for Solid-state Lighting, and (3) Basic Research Needs for Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems. (Strategic Coordination Plan, page 3)
These coordination workshops bring together several hundred researchers for several days, and undoubtedly help to raise awareness of potential synergies between basic and applied programs. But what is needed in addition is a sustained effort to put individual researchers in touch with one another across the divide. One strategy for doing this is what we call "bench to bench" coordination.
Bench-to-Bench Coordination provides management with a variety of tools that help make researchers in different programs aware of one another's work, where that work may be directly related to their own work. The concept is quite simple. There are three basic steps: (1) execute searches on DOE research content that identifies closely related work; (2) identify closely related work that lies in different programs, and (3) alert the researchers to each other's work, using one or more coordination management tools.
Potential coordination management tools range from simple alert emails to the convening of permanent working groups. Also, network analysis and mapping tools can support coordination management by giving everyone an overview of closely related research efforts in diverse programs
Several OSTI collections are uniquely suited to support the process of identification of related work. These include Information Bridge, which contains DOE research reports from 1991, DOE Conference Proceedings, DOE Project Summaries and several others. For example, when a new report is posted on Information Bridge it is possible to identify other reports, in other programs, that appear to be closely related. The authors of these other reports can be sent a simple email message alerting them to this possibility.
At a more advanced level, coordination workshops often identify critical technical challenges in the hope that basic research might solve them. Bench-to-Bench analysis can be used to identify potential "dream teams" to consider these challenges, possibly forming cross cutting working groups to do so. Conversely, basic research often brings discoveries that are directly applicable in distant applied fields. But transitioning these transformational results may require ongoing effort by a cross cutting team.
The ability to identify related work in distant programs is the key element in bench to bench coordination. A great deal of research has been done on this problem in recent years. OSTI has already done applied research on author network analysis of Information Bridge reports, led by Dr. William Watson. The rapidly emerging field of scientific network analysis and mapping brings many new tools to bear on the challenge of coordinating DOE's diverse program portfolio. Basically it is all about getting the right people in touch with one another.
For example, DOE's Basic Energy Sciences program has launched a major effort to fund basic energy research that is directly aimed at applied research problems. This effort is an outgrowth of the coordination workshops. It is estimated that over 1000 researchers will be funded, via 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs). [http://www.sc.doe.gov/bes/EFRC.html]
Challenges will be faced as the results of this research will need to transition across the basic-applied divide. There are millions of potential basic-applied, person-to-person combinations between these two communities, only some of which are not relevant, so the challenge is great to find and capitalize on the most promising coordination.
For that matter there is also the challenge of coordination among the 46 EFRCs, many of which involve multiple teams working at different locations. Then too there is the challenge of coordination among the numerous applied programs and projects that are also ramping up their energy research.
This is the kind of great challenge that Bench-to-Bench Coordination is designed to address. Using a combination of search, analysis and communication, and operating on OSTI resources, the goal is to systematically put the right people in contact with one another.