For those who might just drop by for a visit, this forum is a place for us "Social Science Coordinators" to visit, to coordinate policy and program matters, and to share what we are working on.
Some of what we have been discussing, on the Social Assessment front is found in Guidelines For Conducting Social Assessments Within A Human Dimensions Framework. Another site containing both a prototype framework and database is currently only on the USFS intranet (apologies to those who can not go there). It is found at A National Human Dimensions Framework and Database for Conducting Social Assessments, a prototype including the "SEELA database."
I am also very impressed with Patterns of Demographic, Economic and Value Change in the Western United States: Implications for Water Use and Management, by Pamela Case and Gregory Alward, August 1997; recently made available through the USFS Inventory and Monitoring Institute's intranet site. Again I have to apologize because this is only available right now to folks inside the USFS on our intranet. Maybe somebody can help me understand why access is restricted for this and the "prototype" mentioned above? In short why they are not on the internet? It seems to me that we might get some useful pointers for improvement if our net were more widely cast. And we might provide some useful information to those who hold a stake in outcomes of important public lands issues.
Since USFS Social Science coordinators are spread across the nation, I hope that this forum will prove to be a place where we can share ideas, agreements, disagreements, and more. Have fun with it... Dave
The A National Human Dimensions Framework and Database for Conducting Social Assessments, has a new URL. For now, the one hyperlinked in the previous message forwards you to this new site. But just in case "forwarding" is discontinued sometime in the future I thought I'd repost it with the new URL.
I thought some of you might be interested in a list of emerging Social and Economic Trends and Trend-breaks in the West that we put together. Since the list is brief, it might serve as a touchstone for folks beginning to look at what is going on in the West. Let me know if you find gaps or if you disagree with the findings. Dave.
|Dave, have you seen any socio-economic trends for the eastern states, particularly the great lakes are?|
For years I have tried, here on Eco-Watch and elsewhere, to get folks in the Forest Service to begin a dialogue about Economics directives. Last year I sent both a policy appraisal and a policy proposal to a few folks to see if we could begin a dialogue. Like so many times in the past, that effort fell on deaf ears.
So I'm posting here my appraisal of our economics policy and a proposal to make it better, along with a compendium of references cited in the former. If anyone is interested, they are:
Embedded within the first two are references to other Economics Policy suggestions I have made through the years. I wonder if ever we will search our souls and ask the hard questions about how well (how poorly) our Economics Directives support our new found agendas in Collaborative Stewardship and Ecosystem Management.
The other day I was rereading Ronald Coase's classic, "The Problem of Social Cost," (in Readings in Microeconomics, second edition, William Breit and Harold M. Hochman, 1968) and discovered an interesting aside in the text. In the conclusion, Coase says: "As Frank H. Knight has so often emphasized, problems of welfare economics must ultimately disolve into a study of aesthetics and morals" (p.516).
It is interesting to note that both Coase and Knight were Chicago School "market economists," yet they admit that "the problem of social cost" is beyond the domain of micro-economic reasoning. Why is it that government economists still use theory and practice based in the main on an arcane concept of "consumer sovereignty?" It seems to me to be an ill-conceived field of dreams approach: "If we market it, they will come." I don't buy it and certainly don't encourage field practitioners to follow extant directive as I mentioned in my earlier message as well as in a 1995 three-part series on economics in Eco-Watch:
For a very good review of some of what is wrong with "economic analysis" and "economic accounting" see the Atlantic Monthly's October 1995 article titled "If the GDP is Up, Why is America Down.".
GDP, for the unwashed, is Gross Domestic Product, and this article chronicles the life-long, failed quest of Simon Kuznets to get the US Government to quit focusing narrowly on Gross National Products Accounts -- which Kuznets developed -- and to broaden its focus to include qualitative concerns for human rights and the environment. Kuznets' life-quest has been taken up by a few folks working under the banner Redefining Progress who have been developing what they call Genuine Progress Indicators. I wonder how long such a notion will take to sink into US Forest Service directives? Or for US Forest Service economists to even begin to discuss the merits and drawbacks of such an approach and how it relates to existing economic analysis directives.
Those of us who continue to plea for a "different focus" for economics should remember that we must be in the chase for the long haul. Nothing changes fast when paradigms are at stake. Thomas Kuhn (The Structure of Scientific Revolution) quoted Max Planck that,
"A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die."
Unfortunately for Kuznets, proponents of new ideas die too. But the ideas live on, and sometimes others pick up the pieces and continue the work. I'm jazzed about the prospects for something like "Genuine Progress Indicators" to eventually replace our current focus on Gross Domestic Product accounting and spin-off Cost Benefit Analysis. But as the Atlantic Monthly article aptly points out, resistance to change is strong both among powerful special interests and among disciples of the older order.
In Dick Dorworth's "Capitalism with honor and ecology in the 21st century" (Idaho Mountain Express, 9/15/99) we see a new a philosophy for business practitioners and economic theorists, based on an upcoming book: Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution by Paul Hawken, Amory B. Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins. Such ideas, based on recognition that "natural capital" must be factored into theory and practice for business and governance, are not new to Eco-Wathers but they would be new to extant capitalistic cultures. The lingering question is whether or not such behavior modification is just wishful thinking, a possible 21st Century rallying-cry for business interests, environmentalists ,and governments, or something entirely different. Take a look..
Here are "snippets" from a review (by the authors) of Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins' new book Natural Capitalism. Find the entire review at: http://www.gristmagazine.com/grist/books/books022200.stm.
|It's called "Matrix." It is about a future where humans are
produced in factories, and immediately have their nervous system connected
to a central computer. This computer makes them see, feel, taste, touch,
and smell a "virtual" world where everything is rosey. The software is so
sophisticated that they don't realize their bodies are kept alive in pods
where they are fed recycled waste and the remains of the dead. What do the
machines get out of it? The humans produce heat and electrical energy that
keeps the system functioning. There is no pollution, no waste, economic
inequities are leveled, and concentrating people in "city" factories to
increase productivity and efficiency leaves more of the natural world
available to do it's thing. |
Sorry, guess I should read the book first. I'm not sure such a system is anywhere near possible, much less desirable.
Here's a favorite quote to keep in mind. I've had a copy posted on the walls of my cubicle for years:
"The purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready-made answers to economic questions, but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists."
|I have to admit to more than alittle cynicism and morbid glee over the administration's and FS leadership's renewed emphasis on managing using the best science available, as if the best science available was not used in the past. Natural sciences at best can only predict outcomes, and management's role is to balance the trade-offs against the common good as defined by specific objectives. The sciences that will control natural resource management into the future are social and political science. And those are driven by psychological science -- the squeeky wheel gets the grease. IMHO|
I beg to differ, Bruce, about social and political sciences controlling natural resource management in the future.
Social science is still science, and when dealing with complex phenomena (including complex social systems) predictablity is often hard to come by.
You say, "Natural sciences at best can only predict outcomes, and management's role is to balance the trade-offs against the common good as defined by specific objectives." Even here, science is better at explanation than prediction. When dealing with complexity, science can help us craft believable stories about nature (including human nature) but falls woefully short in terms of predictability. In terms of simple mechanics, on the other hand, science has been very helpful in terms of predictabilty. Still, thoughtful practitioners always warn about how very little we know about complex phenomena. See, for example Uncertainty, Resource Exploitation, and Conservation: Lessons from History, Donald Ludwig, Ray Hilborn, Carl Walters, Science 260(2):17, April 2, 1993
I suspect that what you meant to say was more along the lines that "Social Values and Politics are--always have been--primary drivers of policy, including natural resource policy. Science plays an important, but secondary role in helping to better understand systems."
|I'm sort of belaboring what I think is obvious, but the authors of
the paper you cite felt needed elaboration.|
The problem of the unknown. Like the Dilbert cartoon - I need a list of all the problems we are unaware of and the budget needed to fix them.
Given an objective (a result of social and political interaction), we can use the best available science to attain the objective realizing there is uncertainty. But that uncertainty can be dealt with through scientific quantification and qualification, and through implementation monitoring. For example, if we clearcut and burn lodgepole pine, we can be pretty darn sure we will get lodgepole regeneration based on what is known about the ecology of the species and previous experience. Some sites have a lesser likelyhood which we address as an uncertainty based on past experience and scientific knowledge. If we do the same treatment on ponderosa pine, we are almost guaranteed a regeneration failure. These examples apply only to my small part of the world.
All of that scientific uncertainty can be dealt with, especially over time, through adaptive management and scientific inquiry.
The biggest uncertainty, and the one most likely to make all the science in the world a moot point, is whether socially or politically we can even plan to clearcut that stand.
All we can do is the best we can with the information and objectives we have. Fretting over the unknown is an interesting exercise for philosophers (how many angels can dance on the head of a pin), but we will never know everything we need to know to make a perfect decision (New Coke).
So --- I think we agree in principle if not in semantics??
Yep. I think we might be close to agreement, at least with regard to adaptive management. I do not share your apparent disdain for philosophy. In fact I believe that our "natural resource culture" is quite blind regarding the need to undertand and use humanities in general in our decisionmaking. Watch for more on that in Eco-Watch during the next few months. But maybe you agree with me on that too and only said, "Fretting over the unknown is an interesting exercise for philosophers (how many angels can dance on the head of a pin), but we will never know everything we need to know to make a perfect decision (New Coke)," to make the point that we can must "confront uncertainty" in decision making.
I certainly champion adaptive management, as used in concert with what Kai Lee (among others) calls "civic discovery" in trying to decide culturally what we might do and not do with ecosystems -- with nature. We have huge problems with semantics right now, which isn't all bad because it might in the long run help us discover what it is we find so troubling about what we used to call forest management, forest science, and so on.
In my counsel to the NFMA Committee of Scientists, titled The Forest Service as a 'Learning Challenged' Organization" I offered two sources of inspiration. The first was Kai Lee's book Compass and Gyroscope wherein he talks through "adaptive management" (the compass) and "civic discovery," (the gyroscope) in the specific context of the Columbia River Basin. The second source of inspiration is the idea of "working politics" through sustainable development planning, what the Resource Renewal Institute calls Green Plans.
Earlier, in 1992, when Eco-Watch was a listserv, I sent out a little thing called Interrelated Ecosystems Management:The Case for Adaptive Management. And later, in 1993, commissioned a book review of Lee's Compass and Gyroscope at Jack Thomas' request.
So you might say that I've been preaching the gospel of adaptive management for some time. Still, I continue to be troubled at our understanding and use of adaptive management in the Forest Service. And if anything our use, or lack of use, of "civic discovery" is even more troubling to me as an indicator of an organizational blindspot. That is not to say we are not making progress on these fronts. Hanna Cortner, a political science professor at the U. of Arizona and co-author of The Politics of Ecosystem Management counseled me years ago to be patient in these matters. She said, in essence, "When you get despondent, think back ten years and then ask yourself whether or not we are moving in a direction that makes any sense." I have to keep reminding myself of that almost daily, as cultural pressures move us further down the track of growth and development with only the beginnings of awareness that we must change the topic of conversation away from "growth" and toward "sustainability."
In Whither Humanity in US Forest Service Policy-Making?" I take a look at William Cronon's Humanist Environmentalism. I also look briefly at four books that probe deeply into questions of value, questions of being and becoming, questions of belonging.
These books, alongside Cronon's Humanist Environmentalism, probe into ideas of self, culture, and humanity derived from our experiences with and thoughts about nature and culture.
As I was revisiting all this I wondered, "Why is so little of this -- of humanities in general -- woven into our discussions of ecosystem management, of Nature and the Human Spirit?"
Throughout my inquiry I wondered what drives people to think so deeply about forests, about nature? I wondered whether or not we are poorer as a culture when such thought is absent from policy discussion?
My belief is that "Yes, indeed we are poorer as a culture when such thought is absent from policy discussions."
As I said in my review of Nature and the Human Spirit, we need to find betters ways to allow "spiritual" matters -- humanitarian matters -- to enter into our policy discussions.
Finally, I ask "How often do we 'natural resource professionals' think deeply about the interrelationships between science and humanities? Do we need to infuse our ecosystem management discussions with 'a sense of place,' a 'sense of history' (perchance subsumed in 'sense of place'), and a 'sense of purpose'?"
Do we need to recast our policy and planning processes to reflect such? I think we do, but I'm not sure that we have much chance to get there as long as we continue to pretend that policy/program/project work is "science driven" and about "managing resources" rather than about living as humans in culture and in nature.
Are others interested is seeing such a shift? Is such a shift of consciousness possible anytime soon?
|Nature and the Human Spirit is a mainstay on my bookshelf. So is the NEPA handbook. Talk about a dichotomy of inspiration. As you expressed, typically in the FS we treat systemic problems as though they were operational and thus seek more data to explain or impose additional regulations. We have yet to learn the "problem" is an expression of different values. There's nothing wrong with that nor will additional statistical numbers solve the differences. Only through a more open decision process will changes be made. No decision will endure over time without strong local involvement and understanding. Political positions and lobbying strengths will change yet it tends to be these opinions we try to accomodate. Why because there is some recognition in this approach - even if it is short lived. Success should be measured not by appeasing some preservation interest or some commodity interest, although that gets votes. Success needs to be measured in long term sustainable decision - that's sustainable values as well as resources.|
Here are some recent trends affecting forests in the Midwest.
If you are starved for some good insight into Ecosytem Management and/or Risk Assessment and want to see some work that highlights the import of "social values and priorities" take a look at Robert T. Lackey's "Seven Pillars of Ecosystem Management," "Radically Contested Assertions in Ecosystem Management," "Ecological Risk Assessment: Use, Abuse, and Alternatives, and "If Ecological Risk Assessment is the Answer, What is the Question?" These and more can be found at Robert T. Lackey's "Recent Publications" webpage.
In the abstract of"Seven Pillars of Ecosystem Management," Lackey says:
Seven core principles, or pillars, of ecosystem management define and bound the concept and provide operational meaning: (1) ecosystem management reflects a stage in the continuing evolution of social values and priorities; it is neither a beginning nor an end; (2) ecosystem management is place-based and the boundaries of the place must be clearly and formally defined; (3) ecosystem management should maintain ecosystems in the appropriate condition to achieve desired social benefits; (4) ecosystem management should take advantage of the ability of ecosystems to respond to a variety of stressors, natural and man-made, but all ecosystems have limited ability to accommodate stressors and maintain a desired state; (5) ecosystem management may or may not result in emphasis on biological diversity; (6) the term sustainability, if used at all in ecosystem management, should be clearly defined -- specifically the time frame of concern, the benefits and costs of concern, and the relative priority of the benefits and costs; and (7) scientific information is important for effective ecosystem management, but is only one element in a decision-making process that is fundamentally one of public and private choice.
Last night I stumbled into a couple of puzzles while re-reading Daniel Quinn's book Providence.
There is much talk about the "human dimensions of ecosystem management" and "collaborative stewardship" (of natural resources or ecosystems) in the US Forest Service these days. But as Quinn points out, such talk is problematic. Take "human dimensions" for example. Is there a clean way to separate "human dimensions" from other dimensions of EM? I suspect that there might be, as I point out below, but there are dissenting opinions. Here's one:
.... Nature is a figment of the Romantic imagination, and a very insidious figment at that. There simply is no such thing as nature--in the sense of a realm of being from which humans can distinguish themselves. It just doesn't exist.
I argue in "Whither Humanity in US Forest Service Policy-Making?" that we have culturally defined such a radical separation between ourselves and the human-created category "nature," that it might be better for now to address both "humans as a part of the world" and "humans apart from the world." But I have to agree with Quinn (and others) that such a self-created radical separation is troubling and likely threatening to our species survival as well as the survival of many others species on earth.
Now let's look at "stewardship." Quinn doesn't have much good to say about it either.
Ah yes, our "stewardship." People with good intentions often tell me we have an obligation to be "good stewards" of the earth. I must ask, who gave us this stewardship? Those who believe Genesis contains actual words spoken by God will say He gave us this stewardship when the earth was created, and I wouldn't dream of arguing with them. But people who know that the earth got along just fine without man for three billion years have no such excuse for believing in our stewardship, which is again nothing but arrogance and vanity and anthropocentic tomfoolery. We have as much business being stewards of the world as infants have being stewards of the nursery. It's we who are dependent on the world, not the other way round. (pp. 144-5)
So when we talk about "stewardship," we need to wonder just what on earth we are talking about. How about "ecosystem management?" Do we manage ecosystems? Are we managed by ecosystems? YES! to both, but we need to be very cautious in making claims about the worth of our management when dealing with such interrelated complex systems as are found both in what we call nature and what we call culture. Similarly with "stewardship," except that the word "stewardship" is caught up in the puzzle that Quinn rails about. Likely we will not drop our phrase "collaborative stewardship." But at least we ought not to let the phrase slip from our lips without a momentary pause to think about "sense" and "nonsense." d.
|The only nonsense I read here, is that spouted by Daniel Quinn: "There simply is no such thing as nature...", "It just doesn't exist." Well, gee, there goes another "false" dichotomy we can add to deconstructionism's trash heap. Spare me. It is anthing but nonsense to consider the distinctions between humans and nature. The "nature" of which most people speak, is simply the rest of the earth's biota from which we feel so estranged. Hence, the reality of "nature" as a non-human separate preceeds its naming, Mr. Quinn, not the other way around: there is a nature, precisely because we say there is. And a useful notion it is. Though spoken of in the language of science, anthropogenic disturbances in the natural world have become a yardstick of our estrangement. With bad news around every corner, small wonder that we have sought refuge in such foolish notions as stewardship. Perhaps stewardship is not granted from on high, but it is certainly an improvement over the depredations of "multiple-use". Stewardship instills a healthy dose of love and responsibility for the natural world, and does this without relegating humanity to the status of a metastasizing tumor. (I even suspect that this love extends to deconstructionists whose specious ramblings would define away all categories, all meaning, and all mystery!)|
I take it from your note that you don’t much like “deconstructionism,” Jeffery. I noticed a similar dislike in E.O. Wilson’s latest book Consilience. I was as puzzled by it then as now. Personally, I’m not inclined to be so critical of the postmodernist deconstructionism. My “read” is that at least some of critics of “modernism” have been trying in the main to deconstruct the myth that things can easily be separated into either/or categories, in this case “humans” and “nature.”
Recently I’ve been delving deeper into the myth that things separate easily into Capitalism v. Communism, or individualism v. collectivism. Particularly fascinating, to me, is Elizabeth Anderson’s 1993 book Value in Ethics and Economics, which begins with the question, “Why not put everything up for sale?” But that is another story for another time.
Right now let’s stick with Daniel Quinn. When I read Quinn’s works, Ishmael, Providence, The Story of B, and My Ishmael, I find a common theme woven throughout which is to desconstruct the moderinistic myth that we are apart from nature and therefore not subject to natural law. I don’t find Quinn’s ideas to be much different from what I read into David Orr’s Earth in Mind or David Ehrenfeld’s books Beginning Again and The Arrogance of Humanism.
I doubt that Quinn, as a writer, thinks for one minute that we are no different from other species who inhabit Earth. Language separates us, and writers probably know that better than the rest of us. Maybe I shouldn’t have grabbed his quotes out of context. Or maybe you had some other reason to be so quick to criticize Quinn.
If the use of the word “stewardship” really “instills a healthy dose of love and responsibility for the natural world,” as you suggest it does, I don’t believe Quinn or Ehrenfeld or Orr would have many problems with our using it as platform for discussion to move forward. But I suspect that all three writers are fearful that most of us don’t differentiate between “stewardship” and “dominion,” also that our “stewardship” will likely not be practiced with enough humility--e.g. use of “precautionary principles,” recognition of how little we really know--to make it a useful starting point. If we stay with "stewardship" it will be up to us to prove them wrong. Assuming, of course, that they would agree with what I’ve alleged on their behalf.
Does this mean we ought to throw away science or management, or even abandon the word “stewardship?” No, at least "no" with regard to science and management. I still wonder about our choice to use the word “stewardship.” Mostly I’m OK with it, but only if we take time to work through the baggage it carries. Mainly, though, we need to challenge theories, assumptions, and try to make sure they are grounded.
“Grounding” theory and practice in pluralistic reality is what my favorite postmodern writers seem to be challenging us to do. But herein hides a problem. My problem. Perhaps the writers I am referring to – Anderson, Borgmann (Crossing the Postmodern Divide), Ehrenfeld, Merchant (The Death of Nature, Ecology: Key Concepts in Critical Theory), Orr, Quinn and others – don’t fit the label “postmodern deconstructionists.” Or maybe some of them do and some don’t. Help me out here. Quinn is different in one sense from the others – he isn’t a traditional educator or practitioner. But his stories do have something in common with the other writers: they place a punctuation mark on our tendencies toward “individualism” and “domination of nature.”
|True, Dave. The deconstructionism of post-modernism has always been
irritating to me, like a snake that's "deconstructing" its own tail and
telling the world that it has found the answer to hunger. I am unfamiliar
with the authors you mention, and probably shall read some of Quinn just
to reconstruct the context from your quotes.
I see the post-modernist rejection of absolute reality and their crusade to deconstruct all meta-narratives as culturecide. Paradoxically, however, I must admit that I agree in principal with some of their assertions about the "unknowability" of reality and the necessity of deconstructing, or at least critiquing, the more virulent of humanity's "meta-narratives" such as racism. Along with racism, however, the snake's tail also holds democracy, religion, freedom, science, and stewardship! And as it cynically chomps along, I fear it may soon encounter an indigenous world view that holds more keys to our survival as a species than all the undiscoverd pharmceuticals in Amazonia.
I agree with the post-modernists and Kant, that we can never know "ein ding an sich" (a thing-in-itself) - we are cognitive islands having no absolute certainty about the absolute reality from which we are cut off. Such a realization should be enough to temper our hubris and arrogance when dealing with other cultures or with nature; there are, however, few philosophers in the halls of power.
With the post-modern claim of absolute certainty that there is no absolute reality, or "foundation", it seems that the snake has consumed its tail and self nearly to the vanishing point. Now we await one just post-modernist who will deconstruct the post-modernist meta-narrative itself, who will remind us that you can never prove a negative, and who will finally preside over the burial of this most absurd and insidious of philosophies.
Deconstructing the "Science Wars"
Some postmodernists want us to better understand the deeply contextual nature of our existence and admit that either/or reasoning has driven us into some pretty narrow thinking (see Albert Borgmann’s Crossing the Postmodern Divide). In particular, these postmodernists believe that “modern” thought overemphasizes 1) the sovereignty of the individual, 2) the primacy of method – focusing too intently on means toward ends without questioning enough “ends” themselves, and 3) human domination of nature. In this, Borgmann and others aren’t taking much differently than Stephen Jay Gould in a recent Science article titled “Deconstructing the ‘Science Wars’ by Reconstructing an Old Mold,” and E.O. Wilson in Consilience.
In Science (14 Jan 2000) Stephen Jay Gould addresses the problem in an article titled “Deconstructing the ‘Science Wars’ by Reconstructing an Old Mold” (pp.253-261). Gould believes we need to be both “realists” and “relativists” in our science practice and in our history of science.
In Consilience E.O. Wilson says, “Enlightenment thinkers believe we can know everything, and radical postmodernists believe we can know nothing” (p. 40). But Wilson doesn’t go so far as to say that postmodernists, even radical ones, serve no useful role. Instead he says, as a “salute to the postmodernists”:
“As today’s celebrants of corybantic Romanticism, they enrich culture. They say to the rest of us: Maybe, just maybe, you are wrong. Their ideas are like sparks from firework explosions that travel away in all directions, devoid of the following energy, soon to wink out in the dimensionless dark. Yet a few will endure long enough to cast light on the unexpected subjects. That is one reason to think well of postmodernism, even as it menaces rational thought. Another is the relief it affords those who have chosen not to encumber themselves with a scientific education. Another is the small industry it has created within philosophy and literary studies. Still another, the one that counts the most, is the unyielding critique of traditional scholarship it provides. We will always need postmodernists or their rebellious equivalents. For what better way to strengthen organized knowledge than continually to defend it from hostile forces? John Stuart Mill correctly noted that teacher and learner alike fall asleep at their posts when there is no enemy in the field. And if somehow, against all the evidence, against all reason, the linchpin falls out and everything is reduced to epistemological confusion, we will find the courage to admit that the postmodernists were right, and in the best spirit of the Enlightenment, we will start over again. Because as the great mathematician David Hilbert once said, capturing so well that part of the human spirit expressed through the Enlightenment, Wir mössen wissen. Wir werden wissen. We must know, we will know” (p.44).
Like Wilson, I believe that we should be rightfully fearful of those who would “radically deconstruct society” of all its institutions. But I don’t wallow in fear that they are soon to be successful in any attempts at “culturecide.” Still, we must not forget lessons from recent history where cultures have fallen victim to pretty bizarre thinking (measured by standards of bounded-rationality that many of us share, or at least think we share, in pluralistic, democratic cultures). Amid our fear, I believe we must honor what Wilson calls enduring “sparks from firework explosions” that “last long enough to cast light on unexpected subjects.” Robert Pirsig, in Lila called them “vectors of dynamic quality,” if I’m not mistaken. And those sparks “that last long enough to cast light on unexpected subjects” can not happen unless they derive from “firework explosions” that send up a multitude of sparks, most of which will not shed light and will contribute to confusion. Perhaps some of the “firework explosions” from postmodernists helped both Gould and Wilson frame the thoughts that guided the works cited herein. If so I rest my case to champion the role of social critics who rail against extant institutional rigidity.
When I read materials bashing postmodernism from folks that I otherwise admire, like Ernest Partridge’s ”NO MO PO MO” I continue to be puzzled. On the one hand I agree with them that we need to be very careful not to abandon science and reason. On the other hand I don’t share their apparent disdain for postmodernism. I would rather characterize the trend that Partridge dislikes so much as “naive romanticism” instead of postmodernism. Perchance we could call it “radical postmodernism” as Wilson does. Incidentally, I like the what Partridge serves up on his website generally and particularly under “NO MO PO MO.” I just don’t’ like the label.
Maybe we shouldn’t quibble over the words “modern” and “postmodern.” Gould, for example studiously avoids use of the word “postmodern” in the article cited above. Instead, he goes right to the root of the problem: too narrow, non-contextual, framing. That problem is real enough, I believe, and deserves more attention from all of us.
Here's an inquiry question I ran into sometime back:
Ignorance is always correctable. But what shall we do if we take ignorance to be knowledge? —Neil Postman
It would prove interesting from an organizational psychology perspective to ask whether or not the Forest Service or any other bureaucracy ever admits to mistaking "ignornance" for "knowledge."
It would prove equally intersesting to see whether or not "decision framing" even allows for owning up to organizational ignorance. In Managing Organizational Ignornance Michael H. Zack identifies four facets of ignorance: "uncertainty, complexity, ambuiguity, and equivocality."
Zack suggests that we can begin to better understand these facets of ignornace if we approach them as "knowledge problems." He says that uncertainty and complexity can be approached through more traditional problem solving for "convergent problems." Convergent problems "deal with distinct, precise, quantifiable, logical ideas that are amenable to empirical investigation. Convergent problems are solvable problems; as they are studied more rigorously and precisely, answers tend to converge into a single accepted solution."
Ambiguity and equivocality on the other hand require much different techniques designed for "divergent problems." Divergent problems "are not easily quantifiable or verifiable and seem not to have a single solution. The more rigorously and precisely they are studied, the more the solutions tend to diverge, or become contradictory and opposite." (convergent and divergent problem quotes are from E.F. Schumacher, A Guide for the Perplexed as referenced in Zack's article)
Zack begins his "Managing Organizational Ignorance" with:
"The value of managing organizational knowledge has been widely discussed. I propose that it is more important for organizations to manage their ignorance. Knowledge management strives to locate, map, collect, share, and exploit what the organization knows. Ignorance management, on the other hand, recognizes that it is never possible to know everything, or even a lot of things, well. Acting from an assumption that the organization knows enough may represent hubris at best and bad management at worst.
Sound familiar? Anybody willing to bet when, if ever, such thinking will begin to filter into USFS decision framing? Wouldn't it be refreshing to have Forest Service practitioners admit to the depths our our collective denial, even blindness as to our ignorance? Wouldn't it be refreshing to see it clearly identified as a management, or "business need"? dave. PS. Although the topic for a different message, I have no patience for ceaseless chatter about "business needs" when our organizational needs should rightfully be framed as "governance."
SOCRATES: THE THIRD WAY
--Peter Vernezze, Philosophy
Vista 6(1): Winter 2001, p.7
"There are really four branches of government, Executive, Judicial, Legislative, and the Forest Service." --Supposedly said by Earl Butz, former Secretary of Agriculture under Reagan
As amusing as it might be to think of the Forest Service as a fourth branch of government, there is serious talk that government agencies have indeed become a fourth branch of government. More recently a fifth branch of government is seen to be emerging: "science advisory boards."
In The Fifth Branch: Science Advisors as Policymakers,, Sheila Jasanoff gives us thoughtful commentary about the theats and realities that will soon be part of Forest Service culture if the new NFMA regulation sticks and science advisory boards become a prominent feature on the planning landscape.
Jasanoff argues that some time ago administrative agencies set themselves up (were granted tacit permission by traditional legislative, administrative, and judicial branches of government) as a fourth branch of government, distinguishable from the other three.
Using the EPA and the FDA as examples, Jasanoff gives the rest of us things to think about with regard to science advisors. Jasanoff leaves little room to maintain the myth that "science will provide the answer" to policy issues.
Jasanoff concludes her book with these words:
...The notion that scientific advisors can or do limit themselves to limit themselves to addressing purely scientific issues, in particular, seems fundamentally misconceived. Other common myths--that scientists are always fundamentally conservative in assessing risks or that advice is merely a pretext for delaying decisions--also seem exaggerated. Rather, the advisory process seems increasingly important as a locus for negotiating scientific differences that carry political weight. Scientific advice may not be a panacea for regulatory conflict or a fail-safe procedure for generating what technocrats would view as good science. It is, however, part of a necessary process of political accommodation among science, society, and the state, and it serves an invaluable function in a regulatory system that is otherwise singularly deficient in procedures for informal bargaining.
If you want a treat, get and read Robert Jervis' book System Effects: Complexity in Political and Social Life.
If we could talk about the games we play, socially and politically, in efforts to grapple with so-called (mistakenly called) natural resource problems, we might spend a bit less of our time "mistaking the finger pointing at the moon for the moon" and coincidentally less time gathering data, and spend more time working with people to try to create meaning and understanding of both the complex systems that enfold us and also about our own behavior as actors within those systems.
About a year ago I sent five policy recommendations to Chief Dombeck and others. Let’s restate them here for the incoming Chief and to talk about them, if anyone is interested.
Five Policy Recommendations for the US Forest
Responding to my list, then Regional Forester Dale Bosworth suggested that maybe a “controlled burn” would be a better approach to deal with the manual/handbook problem. Dale worried, tongue in cheek, that we might cause a pollution problem if we dumped that much material into the Potomac.
Many people questioned my recommendation for more social science/humanities practitioners. In my opinion we need to begin to better understand real "human dimensions" of ecosystem management that are found in cultural development viewed in relationship to the environment not apart from it. If you believe as I do that there are no “natural resource issues,” apart from “social value formation and transformation issues” then you’ll begin to see how we have erred in our policy choices, assessments, planning, monitoring and more. We have attempted to frame them too narrowly as science-based natural resource issues rather than science delimited social value issues. If I am correct, I see no reason why we don’t seek to balance the interdisciplinary playing field by adding more social science/humanities practitioners.
Some years back Roger Fisher and William Ury’s Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (1981) was the rage among Forest Service collaboration enthusiasts. Building public agreement looked easy to many then. Later Fisher collaborated with Scott Brown on a sequel titled Getting Together: Building a Relationship the Gets to Yes (1988). Among other things, Getting Together helps us understand that we get nowhere good without building relationships since the same actors meet over and over again in decision making arenas. Every moment spent building relationships yields dividends for many years to come.
William Ury’s Getting Past No: Negotiating with Difficult People (1991) is the third book in the series and gets closer to the heart of the problem faced by the Forest Service. As we enter the 21st Century, trust is so low that often the problem faced by Forest Service managers is in proposing “anything” that will not be vetoed by someone through appeals and litigation.
If we were to frame our collaboration as “Getting Past No” we might get beyond what I like to call “simpleton collaboration strategy” wherein practitioners believe that if they just ask people to come into their sand pile to play, stakeholders will gleefully begin the journey toward “yes.” Or the shadow side of this strategy that says that if practitioners go through the motions of attempting collaboration as dictated by “regulation,” then they are free to make power plays via “politics as usual,” make tough stands in court, etc. If we would take to heart Ury’s advice in Getting Past No, we might begin to better understand the need for building both relationships and understanding in the face of diversity of thought.
In Getting Past No, Ury acknowledges Ronald Heifetz’s work. As you are working up your list of collaboration classics don’t forget to include Heifetz’s book Leadership Without Easy Answers (1994). I’d also recommend that practitioners be familiar with Robert Keagan and Lisa Laskow Lahey’s How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation (2001). In addition to helping us better understand the importance of language, Keagan and Lahey help us better understand how our defense mechanisms keep us from changing our behavior toward building better relationships. All these books can help us better understand why relationships are overwhelming important and help us begin to build better relationships on the path to collaboration.
Now if only we could find a way to help Forest Service folks learn that reading is as important as the many training sessions they attend, perhaps more important. Twenty years of my prodding have yielded few results on that score. Dave Iverson
|In my own musings on collaboration, I can't help but think that
the Forest Service wants dessert before it has had the meal. I hear and
read about the agency's efforts to collaborate externally, and wonder when
it was we built an organization capable of such activities. Many of our
own policies thwart our efforts. These thoughts are echoed in the message
delivered by Brett KenCairn to the National Leadership Conference last
October and captured in his article "Public Agencies in Collaboration: A
Panacea to Gridlock or the Next Big Debacle". He concludes that the Forest
Service must improve in the areas of commitment, communication (external
and internal), competence, and credibility to become an effective partner.
No small tasks. |
The agency has since chartered a Service-wide Collaboration Support Team to recommend solutions to the problems hindering collaboration. It is encouraging to see such an effort sanctioned, and I suspect the team will arrive at many of the same conclusions as KenCairn. Even if that does happen, it doesn't mean it will translate into change.
I agree with your assertion from an earlier posting that the Forest Service does not face science driven natural resource issues, but instead science delimited social value issues. Your recommendation to infuse the agency with social science/humanities practitioners is a sound one. It reminds me that many of the good folks who populate this organization were born and raised in a Forest Service much different from the one they know today. The mission was simple, well defined, and most people liked what they did.
Of course that has all changed. Unfortunately, the skills that allowed employees to be successful in those earlier times are not the skills necessary to be successful today. Many I encounter, who remember better days, eagerly await retirement, and are not racing to embrace a paradigm of collaboration. Yet, the alarmingly large proportion of employees in the near-retirement cohort means they must be engaged in any near-term change efforts. The impending exodus may one day lead to more widespread organizational change, but the agency is at a crossroads right now.
It is here that I invoke the wisdom of the late Donella Meadows. In her article "Places to Intervene in a System" she ranks paradigms and the power to transcend them as the two most powerful system leverage points. I interpret this to mean that unless the lion’s share of our organization embraces a paradigm of collaboration (from top to bottom), it ain't gonna happen.
The challenge then becomes how to re-engage those who have grown disinterested and disaffected through the past two decades of agency tumult. Their absence has contributed to a growing impoverishment of our organizational spirit, and a loss of community. We must look inward before we look outward. I believe the path to sustained collaborations will have its start in rebuilding community within the Forest Service. The “good old days” may be gone, but the good feelings do not have to go with them.
How then do we rebuild community within this increasingly heterogeneous organization? It may not be as insurmountable as it first appears. Revealing and exploring the diversity of thought within the organization by promoting an ongoing dialogue among its members offers the promise of hope. It is through open and honest dialogue that we can restore a commonality among the members of the Forest Service community. Eco-Watch does this to a limited extent. But it lacks the face to face interaction that nourishes human relationships. A supplement is required. I offer Jim Rough’s conception, the Wisdom Council, as a plausible means for building community within our diverse and dispersed organization (http://www.wisedemocracy.org/papers/wisdom.html). In Rough’s words…
"A Wisdom Council is comprised of twelve to twenty-four people who are randomly selected to act as a microcosm of a larger population. The pool of possible participants generally includes everyone - managers, hourly employees and salaried people. Like a jury, they seek an unanimous view. Unlike a jury, the group itself determines what they will discuss. It's like a "time-out" --the members of an organization ask themselves how things are going and how they might go better. With the aid of a facilitator, these people enter into a high quality dialogue seeking collaborative breakthroughs. At its conclusion, the group issues an unanimous, non-binding statement that articulates the informed wisdom of the people. This particular group then disbands, but each year, or each quarter, a new group is randomly chosen.
The Wisdom Council creates change the same way a crisis transforms an organization. It is the kind of time-out that happens in a game when a player gets hurt. The game stops, the energy shifts, and everyone remembers that we are all connected in ways that go beyond who wins and who loses. Caring and concern are shown, where only a moment ago there may have only been competition and self-interest. With a Wisdom Council, an organization symbolically enters into this structured, limited kind of time-out. People are encouraged to respond with creativity and open-mindedness so the organization is elevated to a new level of trust and capability."
The Wisdom Council concept has a powerful allure, and it would require modest funding compared to other agency investments. The payoff may just be a healthier organization, and one better suited to the work of collaboration.
|I think I understand and appreciate where you guys are going, but
I would like to offer a little reality check.|
Here in Missoula, MT, --aka "Weed Capital of the West" -- we firmly adhere to collaboration. Everyone is invited to the table to voice their opinions, and generally nothing is done without a decent consensus. Heck, this is the liberal, socialist center of Montana. Thus, over a decade ago the county weed board essentially gave up after many years of trying to collaboratively develop a weed control plan. Now, with every acre of publicly owned open space a veritable herbarium of noxious weeds and big game grazing on lawns in town because their winter range doesn't grow anything palatable, some folks have said "enough is enough." There is a renewed emphasis to collaboratively seek a solution. Guess what -- stalemate again. There are folks who strongly argue for keeping all those pretty flowers on the hill -- knapweed, sulfur cinquefoil, hawkweed, purple loosestrife, tansy ragwort, and leafy spurge. There are folks convinced that any herbicide use will result in a rash of three-eyed children, but we won't care because we will all be fighting cancer while panicking over the mutations in our sex organs. So we go on feeling good about the school kids plucking a few square yards of weeds on Earth Day and the fenced enclosure on Mount Sentinel with the demonstration of weed-eating goats. Collaboration is great, but it is a process not an end in itself. At some point a leader needs to make a decision and act on it.
I agree with you Bruce. Collaboration isn't a panacea. We are stuck in a space where we don't have time to engage every issue in collaborative learning and problem solving, even if we believed it worthwhile. Still, we find the current game of administrative policy, plan, and project development frustrating and divisive. What are we to do? I suggest that we begin by learning more about collaboration in the context of governance.
My view is that collaboration is one tool that fits into a toolbox we might title "Governance." Decision making and decision framing are important topic areas that we need to talk about too as we decide what other tools ought to reside in the toolbox. I like James March's work on decision making as “sense making” as well as “problem solving.” His little book A primer on Decision Making: How Decisions Happen ought to be required reading for forest managers. So should his book Democratic Governance.
My reading list for would-be collaborators includes books on topics other than collaboration including: Dialogue and Learning, Decision-Making, Governance, Leadership, Collaboration, and General Context Setting. You can find "readings for would-be collaborators" at: http://www.fs.fed.us/newcentury/collaboration_readings.htm. On newer versions of that list I've included Machiavelli’s The Prince and Saul Alinski’s Rules for Radicals.
|Just a message to let you all know about the Sociopranos. A new Forum
for those interested in Sociology, Social Psychology, Philosophy and
General non academic chat (ie movies, music, tv etc). All Welcome!
|Hello, i'm studying sociology in Brussels. I need everyone who could help me for a big big question... There is something fundamental in our favourite science that is not clear for me: what is society ? :) Could you send me a real definition of this so important concept? Merci d'avance, Nicolas.|
(For more literature cites, see my “Critiques of Cost Benefit Analysis, http://www.fs.fed.us/eco/eco-watch/econcritiques.html)
1. Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) favors the whims of
economic analysts over moral judgments of society. Some claim
that CBA replaces moral judgment with a “scientific method” for
calculating individual preferences. I put scientific method in quotes,
because in common practice, CBA often seems more akin to sorcery than
(See also my “Economic Advice for Forest Managers,” http://www.fs.fed.us/eco/eco-watch/ew950209.htm.
2. Community and public interest do not show up in the CBA calculus. Instead, public interest is reduced to the sum of private interests.
3. CBA treats “consumers” as sovereign, and “citizens” as absent. Even if we were to ignore communal responsibilities and think only about individuals, there is more to life than markets. All substantive human and/or environmental issues have roots at least as deep in who we are as in what we want. “Citizenship issues” must be entertained in public deliberation alongside “consumption issues.”
4. Values are not “out there” for the plucking like fruit from trees. Social values are developed, shaped, and reshaped through public inquiry and deliberation as well as through direct experience in nature and society. In common CBA practice, by contrast, analysts take values as “given.”
5. There is no straightforward way to weigh and balance what is “external” to the CBA calculation — so-called externalities — relative to what is included. Despite disclaimers, CBA in practice tends to ignore things external to the calculation. At a minimum there is seldom any explanation as to how phenomena internal to the calculation relate to phenomena external to it.
6. Equality, fairness, justice issues are ignored
or given short shrift in CBA. Instead “trade framing” honors
characteristics such as egoism, acquisitiveness, shrewdness,
7. Discounting downgrades the importance of environmental regulation—it “discounts” the future. Despite disclaimers, the norm in CBA analysis is to discount at least some aspects of the future, rather than just to present “opportunity costs for capital,” etc. (See also, "Pricing the Priceless: Cost-Benefit Analysis of Environmental Protection" http://ase.tufts.edu/gdae/publications/C-B%20pamphlet%20final.pdf.)
8. Unwillingness to pay must be addressed alongside willingness to pay. “Unwillingness to pay” (and particularly unwillingness to even allow markets to be constructed) must be addressed alongside willingness to pay and willingness to set up markets. CBA analysis does not allow for such.
9. In CBA calculations for public choice settings, we can never figure out who is supposed to be selling what to whom. “Willingness to pay” and “willingness to sell” (or “willingness to be compensated for”) inquires lead to dramatically different numbers due to our psychological makeup. Normally risk adverse people, for example, will sometimes enter into high-stakes gambles to avoid big losses in what they now have. This dilemma remains even if we decide that markets are the name of the game and CBA that tool of choice.
10. Surprise and uncertainty are too profound to be reduced to futuristic numbers. How are we supposed to guess what the “future” is likely to be, and weigh and balance all in deterministic spreadsheet format? CBA requires such no matter how improbable or surprising the future may appear to us.
|Mark Blaug's "Disturbing Currents in
Modern Economics," Challenge, May/June, 1998 is only one plea for
economists to "get real." A Snippet:
Modern economics is "sick." Economics has increasingly become an intellectual game played for its own sake and not for its practical consequences. Economists have gradually converted the subject into a sort of social mathematics in which analytical rigor as understood in math departments is everything and empirical relevance (as understood in physics departments) is nothing. If a topic cannot be tackled by formal modeling, it is simply consigned to the intellectual underworld. To pick up a copy of American Economic Review or Economic Journal, not to mention Econometrica or Review of Economic Studies, these days is to wonder whether one has landed on a strange planet in which tedium is the deliberate objective of professional publication. Economics was condemned a century ago as "the dismal science," but the dismal science of yesterday was a lot less dismal than the soporific scholasticism of today. To paraphrase the title of a popular British musical: "No Reality, Please. We're Economists."
Another plea to "get real" comes from another British economist Paul Ormerod, in his book Butterfly Economics: A New General Theory of Social and Economic Behavior. 1998. As noted in a "2000" Business Week article about Ormerod's book, titled "Is the Dismal Science Dazed and Confused?"
Ormerod hasn't cracked the code of economic forecasting. But at least he and his fellow nonlinear thinkers are looking in the right place. Economists who stick to linear models because they're more tractable are like drunks who look for their car keys under the street lamp because the light is better there.
I suspect that we economists had all better study-up on the science of complexity, wicked problems, and more holistic framing, no?
|Forest Policy - Forest Practice, at http://forestpolicy.typepad.com/|