How to do Assessments Under the Proposed Forest Service Planning Rule – Part 2: The Process

In an earlier post I offered some ideas for doing an assessment under the proposed Forest Service planning rule.  The essential purpose of the assessment would be to review assessment questions derived from the rule to determine what in the Forest Plan needs to change for the Revision.

In order to assess the relevant conditions of a forest, or the risks to a forest, two activities are often described in the planning literature: deliberation and analysis.  (See for instance the National Research Council’s guide to risk assessment.)  These two activities can be thought of as complementary approaches to gaining knowledge about the world.  Analysis uses rigorous, replicable methods to arrive at answers to factual questions.  Deliberation is any formal or informal process for communication and collective consideration of issues.  Together, the combination of deliberation and analysis serves as the synthesis process, required for assessments in the proposed planning rule (see definition at 219.19).

The Deliberative Democracy Consortium defines deliberation as an approach to decision-making in which citizens consider relevant facts from multiple points of view, converse with one another to think critically about options before them and enlarge their perspectives, opinions, and understandings.  Deliberative democracy strengthens citizen voices in governance by including people of all races, classes, ages and geographies in deliberations that directly affect public decisions.  As a result, a citizen influences – and can see the results of that influence on – the policy and resource decisions that affect their daily lives and their future.

The assessment process would contain analysis and deliberation steps, but the process itself must be designed collaboratively by the participants.  The principal reason is that the participants should have sufficient ownership in the process.  If participants have ownership in the process, they will see it as fair, and therefore willing to live with the eventual outcomes.  The steps and the sequence should be agreed upon by the participants at the beginning of the process.  The Forest Supervisor needs to be fully engaged, explaining to the participants the sideboards for the process, and that she/he will retain the discretion to determine the scope, scale and timing of the assessment (proposed planning rule at 219.6)

David Straus has described in his book How to Make Collaboration Work (amazon link) that a flowchart of the steps of a collaboration process might look like an “accordion”.  For a plan assessment, here’s what it might look like.

There are cycles between deliberation activities and analysis activities.  There are also cycles between large group activities and small group activities.  Each cycle refines the answers to the assessment questions, and may bring in new participants and new sources of knowledge.  The flow chart expands with concurrent activities, then contracts into deliberative meetings, then expands again, hence the description as an “accordion process.”

Again, the focus of deliberation and analysis would be answering the assessment questions.  One of the first questions on the list relate to the values that participants place on a National Forest, and what roles and contributions they see the forest providing now and into the future. 

One approach that can be applied is David Cooperrider’s appreciative inquiry methodology.  This process moves from (1) discovering what works well in the current forest management situation; (2) envisioning what might work well in the future; (3) designing, planning and prioritizing what would work well; and (4) executing the proposed design.

Another key step is looking into the future.  The next post describes the potential role of scenario planning in the assessment process.

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