Operations-driven R2O with science-integrated training

The ideas that initiate a research to operations transition cycle need not always originate as part of the research process. Some suitable concepts for research development can and, with the right governance structure in place, do come from operations. This constitutes operations-driven R2O. Operations can serve as a strong driver for R2O in cases where practitioners proffer an idea because the potential application and need is understood. Therefore, early adoption of byproducts or techniques resulting from operations-inspired research is easier.

Arguably, well-founded ideas—those formulated with a preliminary “how” to accompany the “why”—for R2O projects that originate in operations have the potential to be more successful and more impactful than those that come from the normal progression of research projects because they escape an improvement sequence. However, the challenge is that operations may not have a sufficient knowledgebase to fully appreciate how certain observations and derived research byproducts could be combined, improved, incorporated, or refined, even if the approximate nexus between research and an operational application is evident. Well-intentioned practitioners desire to assist R2O efforts at the “ground floor” to shape the nature of the eventual application early in the process. Ensuring the proper scientific background of partnering practitioners in such efforts is important to forming a mutual working relationship between research and operations.

The best way to accomplish this is through training. Though training approaches are diverse in their approach and reach, routine training on new observations and derived research products is important in establishing operational functions that are performed with the greatest possible capability. Training enables an evolution of the workforce and an enterprise because the end result is personal and organizational potential for higher performance, through individual abilities and collaboration.

With proper training methods, the amount of learning is directly proportional to the amount of training. When there is more training, there is more generally more learning, as long as the training approach is designed appropriately for its purpose. There are two general purposes for training: (1) developing and/or assuring familiarity with set applications and (2) building expertise to envision potential additional applications. The latter case for training, which is generally more comprehensive, involves a greater inclusion of scientific principles and studies in those fields with an academic component. Training of this nature can support operations-driven R2O. It can also ensure that a workforce is ready to fulfill an organizational mission with high-quality services in complex scenarios.

Learning growth with science-integrated training. Figure developed by Jordan Gerth.
Figure: A greater fraction of training activities for building expertise must incorporate scientific principles. In comparison, smaller applications-based training efforts are designed to meet current operational needs but do not ready a workforce for an expansion or improvement of services.

This concept is illustrated with the learning growth scale. The learning growth scale depicts a growing fraction of science-integrated training relative to a training battery. In order to develop expertise, practitioners must not only engage in a high degree of training, but also a large amount of science-based training. This contrasts to training toward an application, where a training program can minimize scientific background and advanced theories.

Training to applications focuses on the “what”, “when”, and “where”, while the science-based training focuses on the “how” and the “why”. All are important, but the “how” and “why” position the practitioner beyond a common set of scenarios. Consider an example from meteorology: a tropical cyclone, or hurricane. An applications-based training approach would provide the practitioner with several examples of tropical cyclones and explain their time and space characteristics. A science-based approach would explain why tropical cyclones form and how they are sustained, with a greater amount of explanation of the water temperature and wind shear contributions to a tropical cyclone lifecycle.

Some practitioners may scoff that they “don’t need a Ph.D.” to succeed at operational tasks. But comments like this are misplaced, unless the training program truly does have practitioners completing entire graduate-level courses, which is probably ill advised. Comments like this most likely result from limited or no training content to connect the science back to applications. Science-based training should not lack applications. An advanced and thorough training program should be comprised of scientific lessons that are related the operational setting. Operational interests should still dominate the training, though a large amount of introductory material may be rooted in science. The training should be presented in a way that creates an opportunity for discussion, which can only occur with a suitable time allotment for training.

Successful R2O requires a time investment, especially for operations to drive the transition. Science-integrated training not only benefits R2O process, but also increases the capacity of a workforce. This, in turn, improves and evolves services.

Jordan Gerth

Jordan Gerth

is a research meteorologist with a decade of R2O experience, interacting with academia, the federal government, and the private sector on weather satellite and software projects.
Jordan Gerth

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