So you’ve hatched a great idea; pulled together a strong team; written a compelling proposal; beat out some worthy competition, and gotten funded. Congratulations! Now what?

Don’t panic. The LTER Network Office is here to help with every step of the working group process. The information on these pages will give PIs and participants an overview of the process and the information you will need to get started. But if you don’t find your questions answered here, don’t hesitate to write or call.


timeline for synthesis working groups, indicating alternating periods of meeting and independent work

Synthesis working groups involve regular collaboration to collect, integrate and analyze existing data and generate fresh insights. Meetings may take place in person, online or both.
Credit: LTER LNO CC BY-SA 4.0

Working Group Award

Shortly after the working group decisions are made, the LTER Network Office will make a public announcement of the selected working groups. A short, accessible summary of the proposed synthesis will be posted on the LTER Network web site and disseminated via social media. We encourage PI’s to share the announcement with their deans, department chairs, and professional networks.

Planning for Remote Meetings

Remote meetings may kick-start planning, maintain momentum between in-person meetings, be your group’s primary mode of operation. Even a small amount of planning, such as completing this remote meeting checklist, can improve the quality of virtual meetings and reduce the facilitator’s stress level.

This a set of resources to improve virtual meetings will take your meetings to the next level and we are also able to offer a short workshop on interactive facilitation, if desired. Just ask us.

NCEAS can provide access to Zoom accounts to hold large working group meetings. Whether or not you use an NCEAS Zoom account, please aim to keep the LNO informed about planned meetings so that we can track progress, spending, and survey participants.

Planning for In-Person Meetings


Several months before you anticipate meeting, contact LTER Travel Coordinator Ginger Gillquist at gillquist@nceas.ucsb to reserve meeting and hotel space. Check the calendar of NCEAS working groups before polling your participants to be sure which dates are potentially available.

Inviting Participants

About 10 weeks before your working group is scheduled to occur, provide Ginger with a confirmed list of participants (both in-person and remote). The Network Office sends official invitations, which will contain all the necessary travel information for your participants to arrange their trips to Santa Barbara (e.g. hotel reservations, guidance for booking flights, and information regarding visas for international travelers).

Synthesis group PI’s will have an opportunity to review the draft invitation and provide a final list of participants with their contact information. Each participant is asked to confirm his or her reservation with the hotel at least one month in advance of the meeting date. The hotel will bill the Network Office directly for the cost of the rooms unless we have discussed an alternative arrangement with PIs beforehand.

As the first meeting approaches, please notify Ginger ( of any cancellations or additions.

NCEAS provides coffee and tea throughout the day and snacks for morning and afternoon breaks. Typically, groups eat their lunches and dinners together at one of the many near-by restaurants. NCEAS staff can make group reservations and arrange food delivery for working lunches, but please be considerate and provide as much notice as possible. (But remember, breaks and changes of scene improve creativity and problem solving!) Additional information on local attractions is available on the NCEAS web site.

Analytical Support

As the group begins to frame and structure their analysis, the LNO analytical team is available to offer advice on data structures and handling; workshops on collaborative coding tools; and limited direct assistance with analytical tasks. See our LTER Network Office Computing Resources web site for complete details.

In addition to a brief discussion at the kickoff meeting, PI’s and technical liaisons are encouraged to schedule a meeting with Julien Brun, LTER/NCEAS Scientific Programmer, to develop a plan for data gathering, storage, cleaning, analytical workflows, and archiving of derived products. Experience with previous working groups suggests that data cleaning and harmonization is the most time-consuming component of the synthesis process and identifying potential bottlenecks early helps keep the group moving forward.

In addition to direct support from the LNO scientific computing team, NCEAS offers computing support and online resources in reproducible data science for synthesis through the NCEAS Learning Hub. The LNO supports three participants from each full synthesis group to attend a 2- or 5-day training early in the working group process. Training for additional synthesis group members may be included in the synthesis group budget.


About one week before each meeting starts, please plan to share a draft agenda with Ginger Gilquist and Marty Downs. This allows NCEAS technical and administrative staff and LTER program staff to plan your support. As you start to develop your working group agenda, there are a few items to bear in mind.

Day 1:

Sometime on the first day, plan time for the following presentations:

  • NCEAS logistics (5 min)
  • Introductions to admin and computing staff
  • Introduction to the LNO by Director Marty Downs or Synthesis Lead Jenn Caselle, including a brief presentation on the role of diversity in effective collaboration and a pre-meeting survey (20 min)


  • At least once during each synthesis group, we request that one or more participants present at the NCEAS Wednesday Roundtable, organized by the NCEAS community of early career researchers. Interaction between the visiting synthesis groups and the NCEAS resident community is a source of energy and ideas for both. The presentation can be an introduction to the work of the synthesis group or a time to present new research that is also relevant for the synthesis group colleagues.

Before you go:

  • On the last day of each meeting, please set aside 15 minutes for participants to complete a post-meeting survey before they leave Santa Barbara.

While You Are Here


NCEAS has a large conference room that can accommodate 16 people, with a maximum of 20 as well as a wide variety of indoor and outdoor meeting spaces. Conference rooms are equipped with LCD screens, white boards, high speed internet access, and videoconference capability. Please contact our IT staff  in advance of your meeting for further details or to plan for remote participants.

Fun and Community

Santa Barbara is a great destination, with fine restaurants, museums, historical sites and many outdoor activities. The welcome site for first time visitors and residents give a brief overview or just ask any of the staff or residents. We love sharing our city with newcomers.

After you go

Budget Guidelines

The offer letter accepting your synthesis group proposal outlines the budget for your meetings at NCEAS and offsite. You will be responsible for monitoring spending and ensuring that your group stays within this approved amount. Working group leaders will receive quarterly updates on remaining funds available.

Allowable expenses:

  • Travel, including: flights, parking, taxi, ride-share or public transportation. Rental cars require pre-approval.
  • Subsistence: Lodging and per diem for the days of the synthesis group meeting and necessary travel days.
  • Modest expenses for room and technology rental when groups are scheduled at an alternate location. NSF does not consider these to be participant support, so they will incur additional overhead.
  • Training in collaborative and reproducible research techniques for synthesis group members.
  • Open access charges for publications resulting from the synthesis

Not allowable expenses:

  • Salary, either for PIs or hourly workers
  • Expenses incurred at other institutions
  • Travel or registration to present synthesis results

Reimbursement Policies and Procedures

NCEAS sends personalized reimbursement forms to all expected participants by email about a week before each meeting. A generic reimbursement form can also be accessed on the NCEAS web site. Unless your budget has other restrictions in place, participants will receive a maximum of $62/day to cover food (no alcohol) expenses. The hotel charges will be directly billed to the LNO. Participants should record all meal expenses and save any miscellaneous travel receipts during their stay. NCEAS requests that reimbursement forms be submitted within 15 days after the conclusion of each meeting.

Publications, Outputs, and Acknowledgements

Derived datasets must be archived in a publicly accessible database that is indexed by DataONE. The Environmental Data Initiative is likely to be the first choice for LTER-related products, but investigators may choose other repositories to improve access by specific communities of researchers. For instance, the Arctic Data Repository for Arctic data in or GenBank for genomic data.

Funding Acknowledgement

Please use the following acknowledgement for both data and publications resulting from synthesis group efforts:
“(Insert your Working Group Title) Synthesis Group supported through the Long Term Ecological Research Network Office (LNO) (NSF award numbers 1545288 and 1929393) and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, UCSB.”

As groups begin wrapping up work and planning publications, please include LNO Director Marty Downs and LNO Communications Officer Gabe de la Rosa in conversations so that they can anticipate outreach opportunities and assist in framing and communicating results for diverse audiences.

Every three months, NCEAS Deputy Director Courtney Scarborough will also ask lead investigators for information on upcoming publications and outputs. Please respond to Courtney’s inquiry in a timely way. This information helps NCEAS track the long-term results of synthesis groups.