NRSP1: Multistate Research Information Management and Impact Communications Program
(National Research Support Project Summary)
NRSP1: Multistate Research Information Management and Impact Communications Program
Duration: 10/01/2022 to 09/30/2027
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 NRSP budget form only shows the totals across both NIMSS and the Impact Program.)
STATEMENT OF ISSUES AND JUSTIFICATION:
NRSP1 and the National Information Management Support System (NIMSS)
NRSP1 is a long-term, 1862 Land-grant State Agricultural Experiment Station (SAES) () project that has existed for almost two decades, supporting our regional and national Hatch Multistate research projects and Extension-integrated activities. NIMSS facilitates multistate project management, from proposal conception to project termination. Initially, NRSP1 served as the financial mechanism for the legacy NIMSS (National Information Management Support System), which was developed and housed at the University of Maryland until 2014 when a security breach at the University of Maryland forced the Experiment Station Section (ESS) to migrate NIMSS. A full redesign of the database was implemented with a Clemson University’s ITT contractor. With guidance from an ESS and NIFA-partnered team, Clemson developers created a secure, modern, and agile new NIMSS that went online in 2015.
Following the initial three-year (FFY2014 to 2017) NIMSS redesign period, ESS renewed its contract with Clemson University ITT in 2017 for a full, five-year NRSP, ending on September 30, 2022. That renewal has allowed for continuation of critical multistate research support services, improved system efficiency, continued security enhancement, daily data back-ups, and continued correction of legacy system data integrity. In addition, the Clemson team was able to work closely with US Department of Agriculture (USDA) - National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to allow for improved data integration and sharing with REEport and as of spring 2021, into the new NIFA Reporting System (NRS). Clemson developers and the regional NIMSS system administrators (RSAs) work together with stakeholders to continue to cooperatively identify and develop new system features.
NIMSS continues to serve ESS as 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, (4) current and past project proposals, and (5) 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, along with instructions for completing required tasks. 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 without needing to apply for an account. NIMSS is now serving all of the 1862 and many 1890 Land-grant institutions, allowing them to manage, in a paperless environment, our multistate research project portfolios.
NRSP1 and the Multistate Research Fund Impacts Program (MRF Impacts)
Impact reporting is a vital mechanism for project accountability and generating awareness of and support for NIFA-supported research. While NIMSS operates as an internal system for administrating Hatch Multistate projects, it is important to share the impacts of these projects with decision-makers and stakeholders. Project participants submit technical reports and publications throughout each project period, but a professional communications strategy and communicators are needed to develop cohesive messaging, create engaging materials, and reach a wider audience.
Since 2012, NRSP1 has supported the Multistate Research Fund Impacts Program (MRF Impacts), which employs communication professionals who use a variety of strategies to showcase the unique value and successes of Hatch Multistate projects and enhance the visibility of SAES and land-grant universities (LGUs). This is done primarily through Impact Statements (one- to two-page infographics) for terminating projects. Impact Statements are shared directly with Administrative Advisors (AAs), project participants, Regional SAES Associations, and NIFA representatives. They are often shared with leadership and communicators at participating LGUs, partner trade/industry associations, elected officials, regulatory organizations, media, and others. These beneficiaries use Impact Statements to prepare reports, blog posts, press releases, articles, speeches, responses to Congressional inquiries, and more. Secondary beneficiaries include producers and the general public who are impacted by Hatch Multistate research projects.
In addition to being housed on the MRF Impacts website (mrfimpacts.org), Impact Statements are also uploaded to the NIMSS database and the National Land-grant Impacts Database (NIDB; landgrantimpacts.org). Impact Statements are uploaded in multiple locations to reach a variety of audiences and serve different purposes. For example, the NIDB does not display final, formatted Impact Statements (it only supports text), and visitors to NIMSS are largely project participants, so Impact Statements are uploaded to this database for mostly archival purposes. The MRF Impacts website houses Impact Statements and other program information and materials in a public-friendly format. Future work will consider ways to better link the MRF Impacts website, NIMSS, and NIDB for easier access and greater functionality.
Social media continues to be an important space for communicating. Effective social media requires monitoring and networking and a deep understanding of program messaging and resources. In the previous project period, we piloted a social media internship in which a part-time student hourly employee assisted with sharing Impact Statements—along with supplemental information and graphics—on MRF Impacts social media channels (@MRFimpacts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram). Participating institutions and researchers, Regional SAES Associations, and NIFA staff frequently engage (e.g., share, retweet, like) these posts.
Continuous increase in the reach and use of MRF Impacts materials provides evidence for continuing with this component of NRSP1. In the previous project period (2017-2022), over 50 Impact Statements were produced. The MRF Impacts website had over 13,500 page views between October 1, 2020, and September 30, 2021. Project participants, Regional SAES Associations, participating researchers and universities, and USDA-NIFA continue to express appreciation for Impact Statements and use them widely. For example, NIFA’s Director of Communications has used numerous Impact Statements to develop talking points for the NIFA Director and USDA Secretary and Undersecretary. Reach and engagement on social media has continued to rise each year. In federal fiscal year 2021, our tweets had 223,200 impressions; they were retweeted 563 times by NIFA, LGUs, and others. Going forward, we propose to continue strategically sharing Impact Statements and other products using a variety of formats to reach a broad audience.
Impact Writing Workshops
Since 2013, MRF Impacts has responded to requests from SAES Directors, AAs , and scientists for impact reporting guidance by delivering in-person and virtual Impact Writing Workshops to a variety of groups, including individual Hatch Multistate projects, faculty at LGUs, NIFA staff, and national conference attendees. Because participants of Hatch Multistate projects actively engage in other research, Extension, and teaching endeavors, even the Impact Writing Workshops that target individual project groups indirectly support better reporting across grants and programs. During the 2017-2022 project period, we delivered over 30 Impact Writing Workshops. Workshop evaluations consistently report satisfaction with presenter knowledge and delivery and indicate improvement in targeted knowledge and skills. Demand for workshops continues to increase and is growing beyond the program capacity. Going forward, we propose to explore a variety of ways to meet this demand more efficiently and effectively.
Proceeding with MRF Impacts will ensure we continue to track and communicate the progress of Hatch Multistate projects and provide project participants with the tools they need to share their impacts. Our activities will continue to support the assembly, storage, and distribution of information and materials about Hatch Multistate research projects. Through these activities, MRF Impacts supports the entire portfolio of Hatch Multistate projects, which address all ESS Science Roadmap national priority areas and needs. Going forward, MRF Impacts will continue to coordinate with NIFA, Regional SAES Associations, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), the Communications and Marketing Committee (CMC) and others to connect Hatch Multistate projects to broader national campaigns and ensure proposed actions meet stakeholder needs.
Collectively, the NIMSS database system and MRF Impacts provide for open and transparent systems that enhance compliance and accountability for SAES. The success of prior NRSP1 projects and their continuous adaptation of new technologies and approaches reinforce their inherent value and purpose to the Multistate Research portfolio. These two systems reflect ongoing core capacities of ESS.
How does the NRSP pertain to a national issue?
See above section for details.
Priority Established by ESCOP/ESS
Relevance to Stakeholders
Maintain and enhance the effectiveness, functionality, and utilization of NIMSS.
Effectively document and communicate the impacts of multistate research, enhance the utility of MRF Impacts materials, and improve the capacity of the Hatch Multistate project participants and others to report their impacts.
- Please see attached full NRSP1 renewal proposal for details on Outcomes related to each Objective.
General oversight, policy development, proposal preparation, and budget recommendations for both components of NRSP1 will be provided by a Management Committee composed of four AAs, representing each of the four SAES regions; the four RSAs; the four regional Executive Directors, and two director's administrative staff members 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 MRF Impacts, runs from $226,400 to $249,083 (Table 1). The five-year grand total investment is $1,187,891 for NRSP1.
NRSP1 will provide essential administrative and communications services to Hatch Multistate research program administrators and staff, project participants, and other users of NIMSS. Thus, funding for NRSP1 is seen as a core administrative and management 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 NERA (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 $144,750 in FY2023 to $155,941 in FY2027 to reflect cost increases in technology, salary, and fringe rates (Table 2). As a point of reference, the FY2022 budget for NIMSS was $142,730.
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 programmatic areas. Technical professionals are needed for UI (User Interface)/ 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.
Year-to-Year Cost Increases
To account for the inevitable expense increases from year-to-year, projections for technology were increased by 1% per year to cover any potential increases in server costs which are typical when upgrading servers for application maintenance. An increase of 1.9% was factored into all personnel categories to cover cost of living adjustments for development staff over the term of the project.
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 not just during the initial development phase, but also regularly in the maintenance phase of the development cycle since 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. The project’s UI/Front End Developer is responsible for staying informed of the changing web environment and works to ensure that all users can 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). These persons are 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.
A person is assigned to coordinate the resources available in order to execute the project. This person would review newly developed code to make sure it meets the standards set forth by the initial development. They 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.
MRF Impacts is managed by the Program Coordinator under the guidance of the NRSP1 Management Committee. Funding for MRF Impacts will be transferred by NIFA to Colorado State University (CSU) AES for distribution in their annual Hatch allocation. The overall proposed budget for MRF Impacts ranges from $81,650 in FY2023 to $93,142 in FY2027 (Table 3). As a point of reference, the FY2022 budget for MRF Impacts was $100,967.
This budget will support one full-time Program Coordinator and the travel, materials, and technology needed to meet objectives successfully and efficiently.
The proposed budget includes salary and fringe for a full-time Program Coordinator. Salary for the Program Coordinator is set to meet market standards for positions with similar responsibilities and levels of education and experience. Annual increases of 3% are built in across the 5-year project. Fringe is budgeted according to CSU’s FY22 rate of 28.1% and predictions for 1% annual increases resulting in rates of 29.1% in FY23 to 33.1% in FY27.
The Program Coordinator provides overall strategic vision for MRF Impacts, including coordination of activities with NIFA, the NRSP1 Management Committee, ESCOP, CMC, NIDB, and others. The Program Coordinator is also responsible for writing, designing, and disseminating Impact Statements; managing social media; developing and conducting Impact Writing Workshops; and maintaining mrfimpacts.org. The Program Coordinator also attends to administrative tasks such as budgeting and purchasing.
Operating Expenses includes computer hardware and software, and printing/copying of materials. The proposed budget for hardware and software includes annual subscriptions to essential software and services, such as Adobe Creative Cloud, iStock, Buffer, and Zoom, and anticipates replacing the Program Coordinator’s laptop. The budget also includes funds for technology and/or software that may help record impact training or conduct virtual Impact Writing Workshops in an efficient and engaging way.
Under special circumstances (e.g., conferences, Congressional visits), printed materials may be needed to support the overall communications strategy. Creation of printed material will be done in consultation with the NRSP1 Management Committee and NIFA, so that these products are available when most beneficial to overall national efforts and priorities. Handouts and promotional materials may also be printed to support in-person Impact Writing Workshops.
Though we plan to transition most Impact Writing Workshops to virtual platforms, we propose a travel budget that accommodates three trips per year to provide impact training to larger, national groups in person or to attend important meetings and conferences (e.g., Association for Communications Excellence conference, Ag Media Summit) that provide promotional, networking, and professional development opportunities.
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 many 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.
Sara Delheimer, the Impact Program Coordinator, 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