The Frame Game

There is power in “framing” political discourse and policy development: Those who control the frame, control the content, the context, and more. In short, “He Who Sets the Frame Controls the Game”.

What just happened in the NFMA Rule Development game? The comment period closed yesterday. The frame was set by rehashing experience in planning, then constructing five “Substantive Principles for a New Rule” and three “Process Principles” (each with a battery of related questions). How many people, do you suppose, chose to respond outside that frame? How powerful was the frame?

In my formal comment I said that I wish the Forest Service had simply established a blog, and begun with a simple question, like: “Given the noble ideas embedded in RPA/NFMA (Wikipedia link) and other principal laws related to the Forest Service, how might the planning/management process of the USDA Forest Service be improved?” Then I said that I hoped someday the FS would indeed engage the public in meaningful inquiry as to its operations and the management of the national forests. Not yet, though. I added:

Unfortunately but not unexpectedly given the RPA context, these regulations have been dubbed a “planning rule.” If one looks at RPA/NFMA through the lens of adaptive management, the process outlined in Section 6 looks much different than if one views it through the lens of comprehensive rational planning. Unfortunately, all previous “NFMA rules” (and associated forest plans) have been developed under the “comprehensive rational planning” frame.

We must remember that the Clinton era Committee of Scientists recommended that a forest plan be viewed through an adaptive management lens — viewed, figuratively, as a loose-leaf compendium of all assessments, decisions, monitoring and evaluation efforts, etc. that affect an administrative unit of the national forest system. …

If so-called “planning rule” development is viewed, once again, as yet-another comprehensive, rational planning exercise, the agency will be mired again in analysis paralysis and process gridlock. If viewed as a mandate for adaptive management with a heavy dose of collaborative engagement on the part of other agencies, other governments, and citizens, then a whole new world of opportunity and challenge opens up to the Forest Service.

Please do not fall into the ‘planning trap’ again.

Now we wait for “next steps” and for a “Draft Rule.” And we hope that we — all of us, both the Forest Service and the public — won’t be trapped in an inappropriate “frame.” It is not that I believe that the Forest Service deliberately manipulated the “frame” in this case. Just the opposite. I believe the Forest Service fell into common decision traps: “frame blindness”, “lack of frame control”, “plunging in”, others?

Adaptive Forest Management blog
Earth to FS Planning: Get a Blog!
The Forest Service as a ‘Learning Challenged’ Organization, (1999)

6 thoughts on “The Frame Game”

  1. Or my framing would be:

    1) Should forest planning exist (except as Andy has articulated, the direct legal requirements)?

    2) Is there anything useful that gets done in forest planning?
    If so, please articulate what and to whom it is useful.

    3) Given that we agree on the utility of some action, what are the pros and cons of doing it in a forest plan compared to some other mechanism at a larger, smaller scale, or in another decision document at the forest scale?

  2. I just added this Wiki comment to the “official blog”:

    Wiki Challenge to Wicked Problems: Why not set up a Wiki for the NFMA Rule? That way, folks could see (and comment in real time) on developments. If the FS wants to get wildly collaborative, allow for competing (and/or complimentary) NFMA rules to be developed simultaneously on the Wiki and let folks start and join-in those efforts as they choose. That way the agency can keep control of its rule development but might learn for what others are doing. Is it finally time for true collaboration?

    Note: I choose not to call it a “planning rule” since Planning is far too narrow a “field of vision” for what is at stake in national forest management.

  3. No. At least I don’t think so. Neither Typepad. But Wikipedia does. If the FS doesn’t grab my “challenge”, I am now looking into how we can use Wikipedia to fulfill that dream.


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