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502.2 - Fundamental Science Practices: Planning and Conducting Data Collection and Research


Date: 12/16/2011

OPR: Office of Science Quality and Integrity

Instruction: This replaces Survey Manual (SM) chapter SM 502.2 - Fundamental Science Practices: Planning and Conducting Data Collection and Research, dated May 24, 2006.


1. Purpose and Scope. The USGS has a legacy as the producer of long-term datasets for multiple uses, many of which are geographically extensive. Part of the value of these datasets is dependent on USGS scientists describing and documenting the methods used to collect data and making these data accessible in information products. Proper documentation (including appropriate metadata) and broad dissemination ensure that USGS data and research can be interpreted appropriately, meet the highest scientific standards of excellence, and can be used broadly by the scientific community. This chapter updates the Fundamental Science Practices (FSP) policy for planning and conducting data collection and research to ensure that scientific goals are achievable and are appropriate to the mission of the USGS; the proposed methods have a reasonable likelihood of achieving the desired results; and where appropriate, methods conform to accepted standards and procedures.

2. References.

A. SM 502.1 - Fundamental Science Practices: Foundation Policy

B. SM 502.3 - Fundamental Science Practices: Peer Review

C. SM 502.4 - Fundamental Science Practices: Review, Approval, and Release of Information Products

D. SM 205.18 – Authority to Approve Information Products

E. SM 500.27 - Intergovernmental Cooperation Act Agreements with State and Local Units of Government  

F. SM 500.26 - Domestic Memorandum of Understanding 

G. SM 500.25 - Scientific Integrity

H. SM 500.20 - Cooperative Research and Development Projects with Private Sources

I. SM 500.19 - Contributions and Grants to USGS from Outside Sources  

J. SM 205.13 - Delegations of Authority to Enter into Agreements and to Accept Contributions  

K. SM 500.3 - Policy on Work for Other Federal Agencies  

L. SM 500.2 - Policy on Work for Non-Federal Agencies 

M. SM 500.1- Policy of USGS in Cooperative Work with States, Counties, Municipalities, and Other Political Subdivisions 

N. 305 DM 3 - Integrity of Scientific and Scholarly Activities

O. USGS Information Quality Guidelines (Web site)

P. Fundamental Science Practices of the USGS (Web site) 

Q. USGS Records Disposition Schedules (Web site)

3. Definitions.

A. Documentation. Data collected for publication in databases or information products, regardless of the manner in which they are published (such as USGS reports, journal articles, and Web pages), must be documented to describe the methods or techniques used to collect, process, and analyze data (including computer modeling software and tools produced by USGS); the structure of the output; description of accuracy and precision; standards for metadata; and methods of quality assurance. This documentation can be embedded in the information product or references can be provided to other published works.

B. Project. A project is defined as a body of work that is tailored to fit a well-defined scientific problem or support function that is focused on a specific subject, issue, and/or geographic region. A project should be of manageable size; have a well-constructed work plan or set of work plans (including staffing, budget, timeframe, and objectives); consist of a set of interrelated tasks that support the defined problem or function; and have specific goals, measures, and well-defined outcomes. Projects may have more than one funding source. Financial data for projects are accurately recorded. This definition also applies to administrative support services. Projects and their descriptions are entered into the current established project planning system.

C. Proposal. A proposal contains a detailed description of the problem, what issues will be addressed, interested parties or stakeholders, and objectives of the study and includes the relevance and benefit of the work to the mission of the USGS. Approval is handled through the Bureau science planning process.

D. Project Work Plan. Documents the timeline for the study, lists the discrete tasks that need to be completed to accomplish the objectives, and describes the relationship of discrete tasks to one another and the methods to be used (how they can be explained and defended, including exploring differences in performance, comparability of results, and so on). A project work plan also documents the budget for the study, staffing of the study, anticipated or planned information products (including the recommended review and approval process for these products), and the process for managing and archiving scientific records. A project work plan can be a component of a proposal that is handled through the Bureau planning process.

4. Policy. USGS data collection and research activities are documented in project work plans that are reviewed by appropriate experts and approved at some level higher than the project, generally at the Science Center Manager or equivalent level. This policy represents the minimum requirements for a project work plan, which can be a component of a proposal that is handled through the Bureau planning process. Individual organization units may put more stringent requirements in place as deemed necessary. In approving project work plans, responsible officials ensure the following:

A. Data collection and research activities are carried out in a consistent, objective, and replicable manner that have been vetted through a vigorous and open process of peer review to ensure that the best possible results are achieved and that there are no weaknesses or errors in data or conclusions (SM 502.3).

B. Standard USGS methods are employed for distinct research activities that are conducted on a frequent or ongoing basis and for types of data that are produced in large quantities. Methods must be documented to describe the processes used and the quality -assurance procedures applied. When scientific reason justifies the use of alternative or experimental methods, such methods are documented (see Documentation) and the rationale for their use is clearly stated.

C. Methods and techniques used to conduct data collection and research activities are published in information products (SM 1100.1 and SM 1100.3) that are easily accessed and available in a manner that enhances the scientific reputation of the Bureau and best serves the whole public, rather than the interest or benefit of any group or individual, exclusive of information developed through Cooperative Research and Development or Technical Assistance Agreements that may be protected from dissemination for up to 5 years (refer SM 500.20). Applicable requirements for scientific work performed and information developed through other agreements with non-USGS entities must also be followed (refer to Section 2. References).

D. The data collected and the techniques used by USGS scientists should conform to or reference national and international standards and protocols if they exist and when they are relevant and appropriate. For datasets of a given type, and if national or international metadata standards exist, the data are indexed with metadata that facilitates access and integration.

E. Anticipated information products that will result from data collection and research work are explicitly discussed in the work plan. For products authored by scientists from multiple USGS offices or in collaboration with outside entities, the question of how products will be peer reviewed and approved is addressed (SM 502.3 and SM 502.4), making clear the mechanism that will ensure the right mix of scientific disciplinary perspectives and the appropriate organizational alignment, which generally is that of the senior USGS author (SM 1100.5).

5. Responsibilities. Planning and conducting data collection and research in the USGS is the inherent responsibility of every individual engaged in these activities on behalf of the USGS. Specific responsibilities are as follows:

A. Associate Directors and Regional Executives. Associate Directors and Regional Executives set policy for the planning and conduct of USGS science and science support and have final authority for the establishment and publication of standard USGS methods and ensure that the methods adopted are based on a collaborative process.

B. Office of Science Quality and Integrity (OSQI). The Office of Science Quality and Integrity (OSQI) executes and maintains this and other policy documents and procedures that pertain to USGS FSP. The OSQI collaborates with Associate Directors and Regional Executives in establishing and publishing standard USGS methods in accordance with the requirements detailed in the chapter.

C. Science Center Managers. Science Center Managers or their equivalents (refer to SM 205.18) approve project work plans. They consult with one another regarding multi-disciplinary and multi-organizational information products that may be produced from data collection and research work and how these products will be reviewed and approved.

D. Scientists. Before beginning a project, USGS scientists develop project work plans that are consistent with this policy and ensure that work plans are reviewed by the appropriate experts and are approved at a level higher than the project, such as at the Science Center Manager level.


/s/ Karen D. Baker                                                                  December 16, 2011 


Associate Director

Administration and Enterprise Information