What happens when you establish a task force, get it going, support it, and then change the ultimate decision? Is there a “trust envelope” that political decisions can exceed? Personally, I can see both sides. Elected officials have the authority to make decisions. So they can’t just hand over decision-making authority to another group. At the same time, why would people spend years working on something just to have some higher-level people change it or change the “must-haves”? What happens when key decision makers change positions (in this case it was Secretary Salazar, but it could be your local district ranger).
This Lessons Learned From the Greater Sage-Grouse Collaboration was well done (with great photos) and talks about some of the same themes we’ve discussed for smaller collaborative efforts.
Ironically, many of the limitations mentioned by respondents were also the same things that made the sage-grouse collaborative response so unique in the first place. Time was mentioned by most as the biggest limitation – the fact that there was a firm deadline for appreciable action, the number of hours required for meetings and planning, the time required to establish relationships and trust – all of these elements played in to the challenges faced during the collaborative efforts. In addition, the challenge of the scale and the variety of perspectives was seen as a limitation while also being essential for the collaboration to work.
Beyond these broad themes, other specific limitations mentioned include:
• Adequate technical capacity to provide services to landowners.
• Maintaining consistency across states with disparate challenges faced in different states; associated with this was expectations of “one size fits all” requirements when using federal funds for conservation projects.
• Maintaining agency staff continuity for work on the landscape and in planning negotiations.
• Regulatory process required through the National Environmental Policy Act (for implementation of restoration projects).
• Endangered Species Act interpretation that had typically focused on regulatory limitations, but lacked a way to measure voluntary conservation partnerships
• Politics (between states and federal agencies; between Washington DC leadership and field staff, etc.) and egos that impacted negotiations and undermined trust.
• Last minute changes and lack of transparency that undermined long-term negotiations because they were not part of the discussion throughout the process. As one person mentioned, 11th hour “gotta haves” will prevent durable long-term solutions in a collaborative process.
• Reverting to top down decision-making and not listening to comments and recommendations from the collaborative teams that had worked together to develop solutions
Two quotes from the Lessons Learned paper:
“I’ve learned to recognize that there is a wide spectrum of collaborative processes. What I’ve experienced and witnessed these past twenty-plus years is a process of creating deeper more meaningful communication by cultivating respectful listening, which leads to respect and trust among participants. It’s a deep human need to be listened to, valued and to feel a sense of purpose and belonging. Collaboration creates community in a larger context, it can bring people together and give them the opportunity to build the trust that is required to hone durable solutions for resource issues. It is an example for the broader world.”
–Robin Boies, Stewardship Alliance for Northeast Elko
“Maintain transparency and work on trust every day – that’s easy to say but it takes a lot of energy. Benefits are collaborative outcomes that are durable. Top down solutions are only good as long as you’re there to enforce them. Solutions that are collaborative and durable are supported by the communities that have to live with those outcomes long after decision makers are gone.”
–Tim Murphy, Bureau of Land Management Idaho State Director (retired
So decision makers who ask for collaborative efforts have a problem. How best can they negotiate ever-changing political currents, with ever-changing personnel at all levels, while maintaining trust? I’m hoping TWS readers will have examples of collaborative leaders and decision-makers successfully at doing this, and perhaps we could contact them and ask them their thoughts.