Evaluation of the Marine Microbiology Initiative

Client: Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

Published: January 2018

This report presents the results of the Evaluation of the Marine Microbiology Initiative (MMI), prepared for the Measurement, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) Unit of the Moore Foundation. Specifically, Science-Metrix was mandated to provide an external, objective assessment of Phase II of MMI. This report encompasses a brief program profile and evaluation methodology, followed by detailed findings and conclusions on three evaluation themes: (1) initiative design and implementation, (2) initiative achievements, and (3) the potential path forward.

Phase II of the Marine Microbiology Initiative covers the period 2011–2019 and was approved by the Moore Foundation in May 2011. Upon approval of Phase II, MMI’s allocation increased by $105 million. MMI’s stated overall goal for Phase II is “A new paradigm will be established by uncovering the underlying principles that govern inter- and intra-domain microbial interactions and that influence the flow of nutrients in representative marine microbial ecosystems.” To achieve this goal, MMI defined a set of 10 time-phased outcomes to be reached by 2015 and a related set of follow-up outcomes to be reached by 2019.


The purpose of this evaluation was to provide (1) an objective assessment of the critical factors that have supported or impeded MMI’s achievement of desired outcomes; (2) an analysis of the design and implementation of the initiative’s strategies, and associated lessons learned; and (3) an analysis of the “gestalt of risk-taking” across MMI’s interventions (level of risk, type of risk taken, and associated lessons learned).

Six lines of evidence were used to collect data for this evaluation: a document and administrative review; bibliometric analysis; an e-survey of principal and co-principal investigators who received an MMI Phase II grant; interviews with internal stakeholders; grantee consultations and site visits; and an expert panel appraisal of MMI’s progress toward outcome achievements and future opportunities. Using an evaluation matrix that was validated by the MEL team at the foundation, the evaluation coded and triangulated data from all six lines of evidence using qualitative data analysis software.

A group of five strategic advisors was engaged to provide feedback on selected indicator data collected for each line of evidence and to review the technical reports. The strategic advisors were also called upon for other tasks, including identifying and selecting bibliometric search terms; reviewing the draft survey questionnaire and performing the external pre-test for the e-survey of principal investigators; and reviewing the draft protocol for site visits to grantees.

A set of four conclusions was developed, grounded in the findings on initiative design and implementation, outcome achievement and the potential path forward for MMI. The conclusions in turn led to four recommendations, which informed the Moore Foundation’s decision-making process regarding its future support for MMI.

Read the report [PDF].

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