Submitted to: Journal of Soil and Water Conservation Society
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 9/29/2018
Publication Date: 5/1/2020
Citation: Sadler, E.J., Steiner, J.L., Hatfield, J.L., James, D.E., Vandenberg, B.C., Tsegaye, T.D. 2020. STEWARDS, a decade of increasing the impact of ARS watershed research programs. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation Society. 75(3):50A-56A. https://doi.org/10.2489/jswc.75.3.50A
Interpretive Summary: In the age of big and open data, ever more attention has been put toward access to data, particularly data obtained with public funding. One such database, STEWARDS (Sustaining the Earth’s Watersheds–Agricultural Research Data System), houses more than 16 Million records of weather, hydrology, and water quality data collected in watersheds by Agricultural Research Service locations in 12 states. Since public release in 2007-2008, it has delivered, directly and through a second portal, something in excess of ¾ billion data points to the public at large. At its decadal anniversary, the question arises how much impact STEWARDS has had on the scientific community, conservation programs, and the general public? Unfortunately, metrics for impact of databases don’t exist and analytical data to build those metrics are not often collected and those that are have only recently started. The authors, all scientists and program leaders involved with STEWARDS development and operations, set out to build a case for how much impact STEWARDS has had. Conventional indicators of scientific impact, i.e., citations, provided mixed results. Ultimately, the apparent best indicators are web download analytics for the data themselves, with a second possibility that of downloads of journal articles documenting the data. At some point, there may well be citations thereof, but such numbers are not yet visible. While the results may not be as definitive as some had hoped, the results obtained in this work should benefit research scientists obtaining data, data scientists working around it, other researchers using it, and public agencies who fund such databases.
Technical Abstract: STEWARDS (Sustaining the Earth’s Watersheds–Agricultural Research Data System) houses and delivers weather, hydrology, and water quality data to the public. Since public release in 2007-2008, its holdings have grown to more than 16 Million records of data collected in watersheds by Agricultural Research Service locations in 12 states. At its decadal anniversary, the question arises how much impact has STEWARDS had on the scientific community, conservation programs, and the general public? Unfortunately, methods and data to measure impact of databases are not always available. There are question of whether STEWARDS met expectations of the CEAP project, of overall public policy, and of the scientific community. Some more quantitative measures might include citations or downloads of the papers documenting STEWARDS, or the same for papers documenting the data contained in STEWARDS. Further indicators include whether the visibility of STEWARDS generated additional exposure to ARS data, whether STEWARDS received scientific recognition through awards, whether STEWARDS informed other databases, or whether STEWARDS informed public policy. The objectives of this paper are to examine these measures to describe the impact of STEWARDS. Results were mixed. Generally, one can say STEWARDS met most expectations. Indicators through citations of scientific articles about STEWARDS or the data contained within were not compelling. Downloads of the data, which are considered most important as the first indicator of future use, are impressive, with >20 Million records downloaded directly from STEWARDS and about 2-3 times that amount of data through an additional portal for the water quality data. Results of other means to determine impact were mixed but on the whole, positive.