Spring 2019 eNewsletter

Director’s Corner: A Message from CIGLR’S Director, Dr. Bradley Cardinale

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I’ve been thinking lately about how we measure the impacts of our work. This has been prompted by several meetings I’ve attended where funding agencies want to know their Return on Investment (ROI). Agencies seem to be under some pressure to quantify the amount of economic development that is stimulated by their research programs.

I find the focus on economic investment and returns to be a pretty narrow view of impact. We not only invest our money, we also invest our time, expertise, and creativity into research and management of the Great Lakes. And the return on these investments extend far beyond their economic returns. They include returns on people’s health and well-being, their education and career opportunities, and even public trust in government.

Consider, for example, these Returns on Investment from the past year:

1) For every hour that CIGLR spent engaging with water resource managers in the Great Lakes, we helped protect 73 million gallons of drinking water for 1,460 people in coastal communities that rely on the Great Lakes for fresh water. How much is clean water worth to >3 million people influenced by our many hours of investment? And how much is it worth for those people to be able to trust their government to provide drinking water? I’m sure folks in Toledo and Flint think it’s worth a lot more than just dollars.

2) For every day we spent on social media, producing newsletters, or attending public outreach and education events, CIGLR got information into the hands of 2,432 people. What is worth to provide information to nearly 900,000 people annually so that we can have a public that is well-educated about environmental condition of the Great Lakes, and prepared to be stewards of this great resource?

3) For every Principal Investigator who worked in our institute, we trained 10 students and postdocs who will become the next generation of researchers who help the Great Lakes sustainably for the good of all who in inhabit them. How much is it worth to train 50 new scientists per year, ensuring that all of our efforts from the past carry forward into the future? And what is it worth to guarantee a workforce in the coming decades that will be qualified to deal with unprecedented environmental change?

ROI in environmental research and management is not just measured in dollars generated per dollar spent. ROI is measured by the number of people who are protected, and whose lives are improved per hour we spend working on a problem. ROI is measured by the trust we generate in the government with our work, and by the number of people who become more aware of, and prepared for, issues we face in the Great Lakes. And ROI is measured not just by how our work impacts people now, but how it impacts sustainable use of the Great Lakes for generations that will follow.

As we think about how to measure the impact of our work, and as we’re pushed to quantify ROI by funding agencies, let’s think more broadly and holistically than just economic returns.


Brad Cardinale
Director, Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research
Professor, School for Environment and Sustainability
University of Michigan