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Jeff Gunderson

Our program recently experienced a site review by the National Sea Grant Office its third in a dozen years. During this review we showcased our university administration backing and the rapport we have with our advisory committee members, our stakeholders, our partners, and our collaborators. Wow, did all these groups come through for us! It was an outstanding day and a half.

Compared to the 32 other Sea Grant programs, ours is fairly small. However, as described by our staff, partners, and collaborators, we have an impressive array of connections in Minnesota, the Great Lakes, nationally and even internationally. Since individual staff members don't necessarily see the totality of the connections our program has, I think even they were impressed with the results. The six-member National Site Review Team also made the review an enjoyable experience by being knowledgeable, personable, interested, and engaged.

Site reviews are important to show that programs are performing up to Sea Grant's national mandate. Looking back, the Minnesota program has fared well, with relatively less stress, compared to many other state Sea Grant programs.

In our first "modern era" National Site Review (1998), former director Mike McDonald volunteered Minnesota to be one of the first Sea Grant programs reviewed. At the time, we thought he had gone daffy, offering us up as a guinea pig for the site review process. In retrospect, it was a smart decision. Given that every Sea Grant program was to be reviewed over the next four years in a competitive way that would determine merit-funding increases, the amount of preparation for the reviews escalated almost exponentially. Minnesota Sea Grant earned an excellent rating while putting in considerably less time and money than the last programs in the cycle.

Our next National Site Review again, happily, occurred in the first year (2003) of another four-year cycle. The escalation of time and money spent in the previous review cycle prompted the National Sea Grant Office to attempt to limit and standardize the amount of materials submitted, but still, the review was grueling.

Thankfully the review process underwent another metamorphosis bringing us to the National Site Review we hosted in November a very different experience. The new evaluation model responded to recommendations made by the National Research Council in a 2006 report. This time the National Site Review was designed to help improve the Sea Grant program and not rate or rank the program's performance. The focus of the review was three-fold: 1) program management and organization, 2) stakeholder engagement, and 3) collaborations with other Sea Grant programs, agencies and organizations.

By the time you read this newsletter, we will have our site review report. Based on the review team's exit summary, we expect that this report will support our ongoing activities and offer suggestions designed to improve our efficiency in these lean economic times. It has taken three iterations over 12 years, but we finally have a site review process that left us feeling uplifted, rather than gasping for air.

There's no resting on our laurels, however. Our next task with respect to National Sea Grant is to demonstrate that we have accomplished what we described in our implementation plan. This will take the form of another review to determine our merit funding within the next year or two. The National Sea Grant Program takes accountability seriously, and so do we.

For all of you that helped us in our November review, we sincerely thank you!

By Jeff Gunderson
December 2010

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