WIYN Strategic Planning Retreat Report
June 14 & 15, 1997, Baltimore, Maryland
In the past year the WIYN Telescope became fully operational. With this transition the attention of the WIYN Consortium has turned from construction to planning for the future, and especially for new generations of instruments. However, as we entered into this process it became clear that we needed a better understanding of what vision we, the Partners of WIYN, have for this facility. As a consortium, the WIYN partnership also faces challenges; for example, how best to achieve a consensus to start along any particular path towards providing new capabilities and how to raise the necessary funds. A second objective of WIYN is therefore to develop a strategic plan to help guide our development. The WIYN Strategic Retreat provided a forum for the discussion of WIYN planning issues and the drafting of a provisional mission statement.
The Workshop took place at the Space Telescope Science Institute on the campus of The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Meeting planning was coordinated by representatives from WIYN consortium members via a teleconference. Arrangements for use of this facility were made by Ms. Lorraine Reams of AURA, Inc. and we are also grateful to Dr. Robert Williams, Director of the Space Telescope Science Institute for allowing us access to his building. Jay Gallagher (Wisconsin) organized the meeting, and Ms. Sue Rohan (Office of Quality Programs, National Institutes of Standards and Technology) was the Facilitator. Ms. Rohan's presence tremendously enhanced the effectiveness of this meeting. The meeting attendees were treated to a crash course in strategic planning, ranking of priorities, and group decision-making. All of the institutions in WIYN were represented, and a list of participants is attached, as is the initial version of the agenda.
Objectives of the Workshop
The Workshop had three objectives:
The WIYN Telescope serves different functions for different partners. For example, at NOAO it is one of a large complement of telescopes maintained for competitive access by astronomers. For universities it is a combination of an educational and research tool that looms large as a primary astronomical facility. All of the partners are united in their desire to see WIYN continue to perform at a world-class level. But they are also constrained by funding, and we recognize that WIYN has a very modest operating budget relative to other telescopes in its size class.
In developing a draft Provisional Mission Statement for WIYN, the Workshop did not try to produce an final words, but rather described the components from which the Mission Statement should be constructed:
WIYN is a consortium of public and private educational institutions which seeks to:
The stakeholders and users of WIYN were identified as:
WIYN and the Astronomical Environment
4.1 Current Successes of WIYN
Although the WIYN Telescope has not been in operation for very long, it has already achieved substantial successes. Three groups made independent lists of WIYN successes, and here are some highlights from these lists:
Telescope and Instrument Performance:
WIYN produces the best wide field images of any telescope in operation on the North American continent. Its image quality is also highly competitive with the best imaging ground-based telescopes in the world (such as the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on Mauna Kea or the European Southern Observatory's New Technology Telescope on La Silla in Chile). The HYDRA continues to be an effective instrument for a range of programs requiring spectra of multiple objects over a 1 degree patch of the sky. The DensePak fiber array provides an example of an instrument originally developed by two partners that is now a WIYN ``supported'' instrument. It is opening a new era of imaging spectroscopy, and is an effective means of achieving integral field spectroscopy. University instruments such as HPOL (spectrograph that measures the spectrum and polarization of astronomical objects--Wisconsin), coronograph (to detect faint objects next to bright ones--Indiana), or speckle interferometer (obtains diffraction-limited angular resolution for measuring binary star pairs--Yale) are adding specialized capabilities.
WIYN is carrying out research programs in many fields of observational astronomy, ranging from studies within the Solar System to extremely distant galaxies.
Examples of ongoing programs include:
WIYN has provided a platform for experimentation with new observing styles. NOAO has run an observing "queue" for its users. In this system astronomers request certain observations which are then carried out in an optimized way by NOAO staff. The Universities are using remote observing as a means to make time-dependent observations, share nights, and enable graduate students to experiment with small independent research projects. Our experience also indicates the importance of exploring modes that allow the effective coordination between WIYN and other instruments on or beyond Kitt Peak.
Many WIYN research programs add significant value to observations made with other facilities. WIYN supports all of the current NASA astronomy missions, and its list of support for telescopes outside of ground-based optical instruments includes:
4.2 Current Trends
Astronomy is in a period of rapid growth at the same time that society is changing its expectations for returns from science. Thus we find that WIYN is a mid-sized telescope in an era of 8-10-meter diameter giants. Education and outreach are of increasing importance. Remote transfer and control of information is becoming routine, including remote observing with astronomical telescopes. And funding is growing tighter. These and other themes made the lists of the 3 groups that looked at trends in astronomy:
The Longer Term Vision for WIYN
An initial visit was made to the ten year vision for the WIYN Telescope.
In a decade we would wish for WIYN to be recognized as a world-class scientific facility having made outstanding contributions to specific areas of astronomy, and which is efficiently operated with advanced technology instruments.
Other concepts for the future of WIYN include:
Strategies to Meet the Future
A series of exercises allowed us to define several key strategic priorities for WIYN:
Strengthen the administrative effectiveness of WIYN:
Establish a well-defined process for WIYN instrument development:
Seek to exploit targeted capabilities of the WIYN Observatory:
Expand the horizons for WIYN to include new opportunities beyond the current telescope:
Achieving these strategic priorities will introduce forces within the WIYN organization. These were analyzed via the attached interrelations diagram. The results demonstrate several important points for WIYN's organization:
A process for defining and assessing new instruments for WIYN exists, and is centered on the SAC. Unfortunately this process has not worked very well. The possible causes for this difficulty were discussed. Major issues include communications, matching of resources to projects, the critical need to involve instrumentally talented scientists, and the lack of a proven procedure for approving instruments. This is a frustrating problem. Members of the SAC who have devoted a great deal of time and attention to this matter were disturbed that many others in WIYN felt that no procedure was in place. This is another area where an executive in WIYN would be helpful, and where the WIYN Scientist is already acting to improve the situation.
A brief discussion of specific instrumental possibilities took place. Action items were the exploration of an adaptive optics project for WIYN and the possible development of a Cassegrain Port guider/instrument rotator that could be used for DensePak. Both of these projects are now being proposed. Further work on these projects have revealed another issue for WIYN to address: our categories for instruments do not appear to be sufficient to accommodate the actual breadth of instrument development paths.
Sue Rohan, NIST
Art Code, WIYN Observatory Scientist
Dave Sawyer, WIYN Site Manager
National Optical Astronomy Observatories
University of Wisconsin-Madison
John Hoessel (Day 1)
Bill Van Altena