For a few years now some of us have been trying to hammer home the point – based on our actual experiences – that not all Forest Service “collaborative” processes are created equal, and in some cases, lead to even greater feelings of mistrust and frustrations.
One such recent example of a questionable “collaborative” process has been on the Flathead National Forest in Montana, concerning the Forest Plan revision process, which has been highlighted on this blog with the following posts:
Swan View Coalition Shares Perspective on Collaboration
The following letter from Keith Hammer of the Swan View Coalition was provided to the Flathead National Forest leadership and the private Meridian Institute, which the USFS has contracted with to help run the “collaborative” process on the Flathead’s forest plan revision process. The letter is shared with Hammer’s permission, as it is part of the public record.
Dear Folks at Meridian Institute and Flathead National Forest;
While we appreciate being involved in the Jan 20 conference call discussing problems with the Flathead Forest Plan revision collaborative process, we are very disappointed in the outcome. It seems at most every turn this process has turned into more sub-groups, more meetings, and less transparency – making it increasingly difficult for folks to be meaningfully involved and to provide informed input.
At the Sept 25 Process Workshop, Connie Lewis made it clear that folks “Encourage transparency and accessibility throughout the process.”
More meetings and more groups do not provide more accessibility or transparency. Well facilitated meetings faithfully recorded in written form and posted publicly in a timely manner does provide better accessibility and transparency.
We appreciate that Meridian has begun posting written summaries of the meetings on its web site and has begun sending emails with links that go directly to those summaries and other recently posted materials.
The summaries, however, do not provide an accurate record of who said what at the meetings. This makes it impossible for people to determine what differences or common ground exist between who, or whom to turn to if they would like to know more about what they have said. Recording and associating the names of the people with their comments is absolutely essential to providing accountability and the building blocks necessary for any progress to be made in common understanding of the issues.
Having people keep their name placard on the table in front of them at the Jan 22 meeting was a step in the right direction, but we are at a loss why, in the summary, those names were not then recorded in association with comments being made. It should be standard practice that folks state their full name before commenting – for the benefit of the record keeper and all others in the room.
From an accountability standpoint, folks should be required to provide their first and last names when commenting at meetings or in the forums provided on the Meridian web site – for the reasons provided above and to keep things from running amok in an unaccountable manner. In this regard, we found it troubling that one person speaking at the Jan 22 Vegetation group had only what we assume to be a nickname on his pre-printed placard – something along the line of “Boomer.” Are you allowing folks to participate in this process without firstly identifying themselves, or is this person’s full given name actually “Boomer” or whatever?
We offer these criticism after having attended all of the collaborative meetings thus far, but having also been promised full transparency and accessibility via eCollaboration and other means for when folks can’t make the meetings. Can you imagine not being able to attend these meetings and trying to track who is involved and what is being said via the meeting summaries you have thus far provided?
We ask that you follow up on your promise to make this process transparent and accessible to everyone. We urge you to put yourselves in the shoes of someone that can’t make a single meeting and then conduct this process accordingly.
Keith Hammer – Chair
Swan View Coalition