Project Development and Reporting - Project Outcomes
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Station scientists often find it challenging to describe and/or measure the anticipated and actual societal outcomes of research, particularly for research initiatives in more basic sciences. This page provides guidance for principal investigators on how to efficiently fulfill U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and station requirements for describing project outcomes in proposals and reports.
Research in the Maine Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station, whether basic or applied, is mission oriented with an overarching goal of delivering meaningful benefits to Maine citizens. Accordingly, projects sponsored by the station are expected to produce tangible positive impacts in Maine or have other benefits. The public also expects that research at public institutions address important needs. In that spirit, the USDA requires information on research outcomes. The USDA uses this information for program accountability and to raise the public understanding of the benefits of federally funded research. The station uses this information for a variety of reporting, outreach, and public relations purposes.
We use the general term “outcomes” to encompass all impacts and benefits to society from project activities. Please note that outcomes differ from traditionally reported research outputs such as study activities, services, publications, presentations, patents, and databases.
Outcome Information Needs During the Project Life Cycle
We ask PIs to provide information on outcomes at several stages in the lifecycle of projects. During the project approval phase, PIs are asked to describe the anticipated outcomes of proposed projects. For active projects, PIs are asked to report on actual outcomes. Specific instructions accompany proposal and reporting forms, but PIs should understand the interrelationships of the many requests for outcome information during the project life cycle. This can save you significant time over the course of the project, improve your outcome reporting, and help the station fulfill its reporting requirements.
The station’s project proposal format is designed to make it easy for you to simply copy and paste text blocks from your proposal into initial USDA electronic forms. The outcome statement in your proposal serves as the non-technical summary required for the form AD416, which initiates the project, and as the base text for the outcome entry in the first annual progress report.
Below is a summary of information needs on outcomes during the lifecycle of a typical five-year project. Note: USDA electronic form AD-416 initiates projects, USDA form AD-421 is for annual reporting.
|Life Cycle of 5-Year Project||Station/USDA||Outcomes Information Needs|
|Pre-proposal (October)||Station||Requires a brief description of the anticipated outcomes for the proposed project.|
|Full Proposal (December)||Station||Requires an outcome statement that includes anticipated outcomes.
Requires a list of outcome measures.
|Project Initiation||USDA||Requires submission of AD-416. Outcome statement from the full proposal is used for the non-technical summary in this form.|
|Annual Reports (December, Years 1-4)||USDA||Requires submission of AD-421. Outcome statement is the core text for the outcome entry in this form.|
|Cumulative Progress Report (October, Year 4)||Station||Requires a final updated outcome statement that includes actual and additional anticipated outcomes.|
|Final Report (December, Year 5)||USDA||Submission of AD-421 in the last year of the project constitutes the final report.|
Writing Outcome Statements
USDA limits the number of characters and spaces to 3200 for major entries on its electronic forms. Assuming 15% of characters are spaces, a limit of 450 words is a useful guideline for the outcome statement.
An excellent outcome statement provides answers to the four questions below. The nature of the statement will change during the lifecycle of the project as accomplishments and outcomes gradually shift from an “anticipated” to “actual” status and can be described in more depth.
- Who cares and why?
- Who specifically is the target audience?
- What will be or has been done?
- What are the expected or actual major accomplishments and impacts? Include major findings and conclusions here.
The USDA also requires that PIs provide simple statements of expected short-term, medium-term, and long-term outcomes for projects. The USDA refers to these as outcome measures. Short-term outcomes are defined as a “change in knowledge.” Medium-term outcomes reflect a “change in action.” Long-term outcomes reflect a “change in condition.” These outcome statements or measures are used by the USDA for compiling information on the impacts of federally-funded programs at the national level. The station asks PIs to submit outcome statements as part of full proposals and to address progress towards achieving these outcomes in annual reports. Please provide at least one of each type of outcome statement using the examples below as a guide.
Examples of Short-term Outcomes—change in knowledge
- Maine food producers will learn more about the principles of food safety programs.
- Increased knowledge about the interactions between seals and Atlantic salmon.
- Improved understanding of patterns of adaptive divergence in wild fish population and the relevance of evolution in fish conservation management.
- Apple growers will improve their knowledge about most suitable rootstocks for Maine
- Improved understanding of hypovirulence in Rhizoctonia solani.
Examples of Medium-term Outcomes—change in action
- More Maine blueberry acreage will be treated with perimeter tactics for controlling blueberry maggot fly.
- More organic and diversified vegetable farmers will adopt weed seed bank management practices.
- State agencies will use findings on the effects of contaminants in rivers on maturation of Maine salmon to develop BMPs for pesticide use.
- More coastal communities will undertake crab-monitoring programs.
- More acreage planted to new apple varieties that have greater consumer appeal.
- Land managers will use land-use change data.
- Increased numbers of cruise ship passengers will return to Maine for a land-based vacation.
Examples of Long-term Outcomes—change in condition
- Rivers and coastal waters will experience a decrease in nutrient enrichment.
- Increase in productivity of blueberry fields (lbs/a) through better fertility management.
- Increase in profitability for apple industry from a quicker return on investment and reduction in catastrophic tree losses.
- Reduction in the amount of organophosphate insecticides used to treat blueberry maggot fly in Maine.
- Increase in Maine’s clam catch levels.
- Increase in the fertility of marine broodfish (Atlantic cod and halibut).
Example Outcome Statement for a Full Proposal with Anticipated Outcomes
New Varieties of Eastern Oysters for Commercial Use in Maine
The oyster culture industry in Maine is poised for significant growth. Over the past century the wild fishery for eastern oysters has been in decline due to the effects of overfishing, deteriorating coastal water quality, and disease. The culture of eastern oysters provides a means to offset declines in the wild fishery, sustain a vital oyster industry in the northeast, and generate a product that is superior to wild-caught oysters. Hatchery-based production of seed for oyster culture has facilitated selective breeding programs seeking to develop domesticated oyster stocks with superior growth and disease-resistance characteristics. The proposed project will use selective breeding to develop lines of oysters well suited to cultural conditions in Maine, focusing on improved growth in the relatively cold temperatures and resistance to Roseovarius oyster disease (ROD). The project will also explore whether crosses between selectively-bred lines can be used to capitalize on hybrid vigor for growth and disease resistance and will seek to identify genes involved in growth and disease resistance. It is hoped that such information will help accelerate the gains realized by Maine’s selective breeding program.
Example Outcome Statement for an Annual Report with Actual Outcomes
New Varieties of Eastern Oysters for Commercial Use in Maine
The oyster culture industry in Maine is poised for significant growth. Over the past century the wild fishery for eastern oysters has been in decline due to the effects of overfishing, deteriorating coastal water quality, and disease. The culture of eastern oysters provides a means to offset declines in the wild fishery, sustain a vital oyster industry in the northeast, and generate a product that is superior to wild-caught oysters. Hatchery-based production of seed for oyster culture has facilitated selective breeding programs seeking to develop domesticated oyster stocks with superior growth and disease-resistance characteristics. Initial research has used selective breeding to develop lines of oysters well suited to cultural conditions in Maine with a focus on improving growth at cold water temperatures and resistance to Roseovarius oyster disease (ROD). Initial results show that our cultured oysters have improved disease resistance and a modest increase in growth compared to wild oysters and other selectively-bred lines when grown in several of Maine’s rivers. On-going work is exploring whether crosses between selectively bred lines can be used to capitalize on hybrid vigor for growth and disease resistance. Future work also includes identifying genes involved in growth and disease resistance. It is hoped that such information will help accelerate the gains realized by Maine’s selective breeding program. (Note: future annual reports will include descriptions of new accomplishments and potential or actual impacts of research results on the industry.)