With the latest funding cycle, Michigan Sea Grant supports three types of research, including graduate student research fellowships, core research that follows a traditional research model and an Integrated Assessment (IA) approach. Because the IA approach is somewhat unique, we’ve explored it more in detail below.

An Integrated Assessment Approach to Research

Science that Supports Communities

Michigan Sea Grant supports research that follows an Integrated Assessment approach. Research teams develop new information, create tools and build partnerships that help people better address challenging coastal issues, such as fish contaminants, stormwater runoff or wind energy conflicts.

The Integrated Assessment process is different from traditional research because researchers work closely with stakeholders to examine an issue from many perspectives, identify challenges and evaluate feasible solutions. The aim is to create results that are trusted, accessible and useful to those in decision-making positions.

A Collaborative Process

A multidisciplinary team of researchers leads each Integrated Assessment, with support from outreach specialists. The team focuses on a complex environmental issue and then conducts a comprehensive analysis of natural and social scientific data and information. Rather than running additional experiments, experts summarize what is known and offer an assessment of how the science could be interpreted and used.

Throughout the project, researchers incorporate feedback provided by stakeholders via meetings, workshops and surveys. Sea Grant promotes participation in each project, raises awareness about the issue, and supports the implementation of new ideas after the project ends.

Useful Results

Research results are intended to help decision makers identify, compare and ultimately put solutions into place, e.g., a new ordinance, regulatory change, business initiative or coordinated approach to resource management. For more information on results, see Reporting Guidelines. Each Integrated Assessment follows a unique trajectory, but most focus on three goals:


1. Clarify the history, causes and consequences of the issue.

Example: One research team used a variety of data sources to look at the distribution of contaminants in the Detroit River and developed a model to evaluate the most likely sources of PCBs in fish. See: Detroit River Fish Consumption Advisories


2. Identify and evaluate potential options for addressing the issue.

Example: Researchers created a computer model of run-off water in the Spring Lake watershed to examine how better managing stormwater could improve water quality in streams and lakes. They also compared the costs and benefits of using specific techniques, such as installing constructed wetlands and rain gardens. See: Rein in the Runoff


3. Develop information and tools that can guide decision making.

Example: Researchers developed a series of maps and inventories to guide land use planning, including maps of underwater wrecks, coastal cultural assets, potential ecotourism sites, and sites likely to be impacted by current zoning regulations. See: Northeast Michigan Integrated Assessment


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Integrated Assessment Research Process

IA Outcomes and Benefits

Catalyzing Partnerships
MDNRE had been looking at planning for three undeveloped coastal properties individually, not necessarily as a component of the region. The Sea Grant project encouraged planning from a regional context, collaboration and building partnerships. This regional philosophy was the most beneficial and important aspect of the project for us.” — Paul Curtis, Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Generating New Ideas
The sharing of notes along the way with other participants led us to increased use of leaching basins when we re-do streets and parking lots (a major stormwater improvement) and the public input has led to more favorable citizen feelings about their local government.“ — Ryan Cotton, Village of Spring Lake Manager

Leveraging Resources
“MDCH had a small pot of money for fish advisory education and outreach work. It would have been very difficult to realize the maximum potential of those funds without the support of the stakeholder group. There was much in-kind funding in terms of staff time dedicated to the project [developing and posting signs].” — Sue Manente, Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH)