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National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis

Our Approach to Scientific Discovery

Solutions-oriented science, grounded in big-picture thinking

Bigger data, more perspectives, faster science.

Our approach accelerates the transformation of large amounts of data into knowledge that can inform environmental policy and management.

Synthesis Science

We don’t collect new data from the field or lab, but unleash new insights from the wealth of data that already exist through an approach called synthesis science. 

Our research teams pull together datasets from many sources and use their diverse expertise to answer large-scale questions. This approach generates results efficiently and at a scale needed to inform solutions for managing our natural resources sustainably.

We pioneered the practice of synthesis research in ecology and the environmental sciences, and we continue to innovate in this approach, especially through the computing tools we create to make storing, accessing, and analyzing “big data” easier and more efficient.

Team Science

The strength of our science rests in multitudes. Recognizing that environmental challenges are complex and their solutions require diverse perspectives, we facilitate scientific collaborations between researchers from across disciplines and the globe through calls for proposals.

Called working groups, these teams include researchers with diverse expertise and, sometimes, practitioners from agencies and organizations who can help translate the science into on-the-ground solutions. They typically come together at our headquarters in Santa Barbara for focused and intensive working sessions around their research questions.

Our team approach enables greater productivity and problem-solving capacity. With diverse individuals and data sources, our working groups can connect otherwise disparate dots, discover key gaps in knowledge, and tap new opportunities in the evidence.

In addition, we partner with leading nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and foundations on initiatives and projects to leverage our strengths and ensure decisions and actions are informed by the best available science.

Open Science

As innovators in and advocates of open science, we aim to make research more transparent and reproducible, which enhances the credibility, utility, and accuracy of the science used to solve global challenges.

Open science is the philosophy and practice of making data and methods accessible, replicable, and free to use, typically through computer programming tools and techniques. It helps researchers compile and analyze data more efficiently and identify solutions more quickly.

We are committed to supporting an open scientific culture through training opportunities and data science solutions that build the capacity of researchers in this emerging field. 

We employ our approach through our three pillars of work

The power of synthesis is that it is proactive, not reactive. Synthesis brings together knowledge to produce the big picture perspective that is useful for societal response.

Stephanie Hampton, National Science Foundation, Director of Environmental Biology Division