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As part of The Ocean Project’s efforts to help our partner aquariums and zoos fulfill their role as centers for conservation leadership, we are pleased to announce a third round of funding for our Innovative Solutions Grants+ (ISG+) program.

For the ISG+ program, The Ocean Project seeks proposals from its aquarium and zoo partners in the United States that are interested in developing and testing innovative approaches to engaging their visitors in solutions to ocean issues. Specific criteria listed below.


The mission of The Ocean Project is to advance ocean conservation in collaboration with aquariums, zoos, and other organizations around the world. To support our partners, we have conducted public opinion research and provided communications guidance since the late 1990s, with an emphasis on helping our growing network of partners become ever more effective in engaging their audiences and achieving positive impacts for the ocean and society. Related reports, presentations, and other communications resources for our partners are all available online.

Thanks to funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), The Ocean Project also is supporting innovators in the aquarium and zoo community, helping them apply the lessons from the research and expand their capacity as leaders for conservation engagement in their communities. There are two major goals for the Grants+ program:

Provide financial, strategic, and technical resources in support of innovative efforts by aquariums and zoos to engage visitors, especially the key audiences of youth and/or minorities, in ways that provide meaningful and measurable benefit for ocean conservation and stewardship

Leverage the impact of these efforts by encouraging and enabling peer-to-peer sharing of success stories and lessons learned, with The Ocean Project network of over 2,000 aquariums, zoos, museums and other conservation and education organizations across the United States and around the world

Funding Available

In this third year of the ISG+ program, The Ocean Project anticipates providing a total of $100,000 in funding. A maximum of $30,000 will be awarded per aquarium or zoo in any given year. For additional details, please see below.


Eligible applicants are limited to aquariums and zoos that are partners in The Ocean Project network (see all partners listed here). NOAA funding also requires that applicants be based in the United States. We welcome applications from a variety of aquariums and zoos — inland and coastal, large and small — to demonstrate what is possible in all types of situations. Other organizations seeking funds through this grant opportunity must directly contact one of these types of eligible organizations.

Proposals may come in partnership with other aquariums, zoos, and/or other organizations that are located in our outside of the US, but must be submitted by the US-based aquarium or zoo.

2015 Innovative Solutions Grant+ Program Goals

Grant applications must demonstrate how the applicant’s project will address these goals:

1. Develop innovative ways that engage visitors for measurable conservation outcomes.
Proposals must explore new ways of engaging an institution’s visitors and/or community. This can be through a new approach to an existing program, an innovative local or regional community project, or any outreach program that leads to measurable benefit for the ocean by motivating visitors to help with solutions to pressing problems. We are seeking applications from aquariums and zoos that are willing to take risks in order to discover new ways to engage visitors for high impact. Because we are looking to capture insights from both successful and unsuccessful innovations, those who take risks and “fail” will not be penalized but instead highly encouraged to apply for an additional year of funding. We want grantees to continue to experiment and share those lessons learned, so all of us can avoiding reinventing the (broken) wheel.

More than “best practices” we are seeking “breakthrough practices” for the aquarium and zoo community, and looking to help our partners establish the capacity to keep innovating for environmental and social progress. As part of an ongoing iterative process to improve communications for conservation outcomes, The Ocean Project is interested in its partners integrating our research findings, and measuring the conservation outcomes as much as possible.

2. Ensure meaningful participation in conservation action by youth and/or minorities. 
Engaging citizens in conservation action is critical to the success of any long-term effort to find solutions to the many challenges facing our ocean. Our research has found young people (ages 13-25) are more interested and concerned about ocean and other environmental issues, and they are more willing than adults to take action. Furthermore, youth influence the opinions of adults, who tend to view their children as better informed on these issues.

Among minorities and other traditionally under-served audiences, Americans in households where English is not the primary language are of particular interest, as they express higher levels of concern about ocean and environmental issues and a higher willingness to modify their behavior. These are therefore two key audiences to target more specifically and intensely.

3. Share lessons learned and encourage best practices in online communications within the aquarium and zoo community. 
Grantees will be expected to invest in developing online communication skills and work closely with The Ocean Project share content and disseminate lessons learned to their peers – encouraging a “norm” of engagement in the online peer-to-peer knowledge sharing platforms available to aquarium and zoo staff. With this in mind, efforts that seek to compare and contrast the efficacy of different engagement methods and/or messages are strongly encouraged.

Specific Criteria for Applications

Project proposals must:

1. Be innovative (not necessarily in a technological sense) and demonstrate willingness to take chances, going beyond raising awareness of the problems to inspiring participation in the solutions. We are seeking proposals that focus on conservation outcomes and can result not only in “best practices,” but also “breakthrough innovations.”

In this context, an “innovative” project:

  • Sets out to achieve some measurable action on behalf of the environment
  • Breaks the education paradigm of “more knowledge and information will convince people to take action”
  • Asks visitors directly to do something, either during their visit or sometime afterwards
  • Uses the best psychological, communications, and marketing research and tools to develop outreach strategies
  • Leverages different institutional resources where applicable
  • Has a basic premise supported by some evidence (for example: previous experience or research makes you think your project may be successful?)
  • Keeps the bigger picture in mind: what will we learn that can help change the way ZAMs engage the public for change? Can this project one day be made bigger, better, etc.?


2. Specifically engage youth and/or minority audiences

3. Focus on ways to engage key audiences in solutions to one or more of the many issues facing our ocean, including ocean acidification and climate change

4. Demonstrate an understanding of The Ocean Project’s communications research findings

5. Provide a budget with enough detail to show whether proposed costs are reasonable and necessary

6. Explain how the proposed innovative solution project will address a need in your local community. Applicants must also be willing to work closely with The Ocean Project team to:

7. Develop an evaluative component that clearly demonstrates measurable conservation action impact on target audience(s). Awardees will work with The Ocean Project’s evaluation specialist at the start of their project to discuss and clearly state how project outcomes — the effects and changes that are a result of the outputs — will be evaluated. Awardees will work with the consultant throughout the grant period to ensure this grant is maximized for measurable conservation outcomes.

8. Share the results widely with peers. Throughout the grant period, awardees will work with The Ocean Project’s digital media specialist to help accelerate peer-to-peer learning. Awardees will work with The Ocean Project to widely share resulting new strategies and successes by developing case studies, blog posts, and actively participating on social media channels and platforms.

9. Commit to raising at least a 1:1 match in new funding related specifically to this proposed initiative (must at least show good faith effort in trying to match it during the grant period) to help expand or extend the effort. Staff time and other in-kind contributions will not count toward this match.

10. Participate at a special meeting of grantees at the AZA 2016 national conference (travel stipend will be provided for those who demonstrate need) and participate in a conference panel.

Proposal Process

The application is a Word file: click here to download.

Thank you for your interest in the Innovative Solutions Grants+ Program. Before you begin, please follow these instructions and carefully read the RFP.

  1. To be eligible for a grant, your institution must be a US-based aquarium or zoo partner of The Ocean Project (check here).
  2. Prior to completing this application, we suggest that you review the findings from The Ocean Project’s communications research. You may also want to explore the blog to get a better sense of what we’re interested in helping support.
  3. This Microsoft Word Document is a form – simply click where it says “Click here to enter text” to fill in your answer. For the longer answers, you can format text how you choose and break up your text into paragraphs. Save your document and email it to us when you’re ready to submit.
  4. Please be aware of the word limit when completing the application. You can easily check word count by highlighting a block of text. Click here for a step by step guide.

If you have any questions, please contact Bill Mott.
Click here to download the application.

For More Information

If you have any questions on The Ocean Project Innovative Solutions Grants+ Program, please contact:

Bill Mott, Director

* As we seek to match NOAA’s funding with additional sources we anticipate an increase in the overall amount in subsequent years and opening up this Grants+ program opportunity to our partner aquariums, zoos, and museums throughout the world. Anyone with suggestions on potential sources of matching funding and/or sponsoring opportunities, please contact Bill Mott at The Ocean Project.