NSF ISE Online Project Monitoring System

September 1st, 2011

By Gary Silverstein and Hannah Putman

While some of us are all “aTwitter” about our favorite social networking site, another website you might consider getting excited about is the freshly redesigned Informal Science Education (ISE) Online Project Monitoring System (OPMS). As many readers already know, the National Science Foundation (NSF) ISE program expects all ISE-funded projects to enter data into the OPMS on an annual basis. If you are currently a principal investigator or have worked on ISE projects in the past, you may have completed an OPMS survey before. If you had previous experience with the OPMS, the next survey you complete will look and function differently than the old system. Westat, a contractor to NSF, has been integrating feedback from NSF and ISE projects to update the OPMS to make the site both more responsive to NSF’s needs and more flexible for the wide array of projects the ISE program funds. The revised OPMS boasts improved navigation and flexibility, as well as a new structure that enables projects to provide detailed information about how they will engage and educate public and professional audiences.

The data you enter into the OPMS provides the NSF with detailed information about the strategies that projects are using to engage STEM learners in informal settings.  The revised structure and response options give NSF a more complete and nuanced perspective of its portfolio of projects.  Furthermore, the OPMS enables NSF to provide Congress and other stakeholders with more timely and comprehensive information about what federal funding for informal science has accomplished. Data collected by the OPMS also enhances NSF’s capacity to share practical information about best practices and what works (and under what conditions) with other grant recipients.  In addition, the system tracks lessons learned, thereby enabling future projects to profit from the experiences of ISE veterans.  Because the OPMS is used to fulfill these information purposes, it is important that projects provide accurate and honest information. When NSF shares findings from the OPMS, data will be aggregated so that individual projects cannot be identified.

Many PIs, co-PIs, and project staff have asked why they are required to complete the OPMS in addition to their FastLane reports.  The reason is that the FastLane system primarily collects narrative information and the resulting reports cannot be easily sorted or searched.  The questions in the OPMS directly pertain to the ISE program, and all of the narrative and numerical data can be easily sorted and aggregated across projects. Westat is currently in the process of transitioning to the new OPMS system. Projects funded between FY 2006 and FY 2008 have already provided baseline data under the original system; they will use the old system to provide closeout data at the end of their grant award. All projects funded in FY 2009 and beyond will use the new OPMS to provide their baseline, annual, and closeout data. Please note that the following types of ISE projects will not be required to complete the OPMS: Pathways, Conference, EAGER, and RAPID. Westat will use information from existing documentation (e.g., applications) to provide NSF with basic information about these project types.

All NSF ISE-funded projects will receive emails from NSF and Westat alerting you as to when your OPMS report will open and how to log in. Most projects funded in FY 2009 and FY 2010 will start their OPMS reports this September.  Projects funded in FY 2011 and thereafter will start their reports in January of the year following their funding date (e.g., FY 2011 projects will complete an OPMS in January 2012). Projects will then complete an annual report in February of each year (for the previous calendar year) until their project closes, at which time they will complete a closeout report.

Westat is taking steps to make the OPMS process as efficient as possible. When you complete your OPMS report, you may notice that some information has already been entered. That’s because Westat staff used your proposal and project abstract to fill in some basic information to reduce the amount of time you spend on the OPMS. Please update, add to, or remove any information that is inaccurate. To expedite this process, it is recommended that you gather your proposal, evaluation plan, and any other relevant project materials before you begin working on the OPMS. Westat has also developed “help” materials to assist you with various components of the OPMS—most notably how to identify impacts and indicators for your project deliverables.  Westat can further provide you with a set of screen shots of the survey upon request if you would like to familiarize yourself with the questions before you begin the survey, and Westat staff will be available during business hours to help you with any questions that may arise.

f you have any questions about the OPMS or would like any of the help materials or screen shots, please email Westat personnel at isehelp@westat.com or call Hannah Putman at (301) 212-2119. To provide further assistance, Westat will host a training webinar on Tuesday, September 20th, 2011 at 10am EST.  You should have received an email from Hannah Putman with login details.  If you cannot attend, CAISE will post a recording of the webinar that you can access at any time.

Look for future articles in the CAISE newsletter that will focus on findings from data submitted by projects into the OPMS.