July 01, 2005
Boots on the Ground
Recently I've heard a number of Forest Service leaders comment on a trend that they find disturbing - that when they visit district offices, they aren't finding employees spending as much time in the forest as they used to. They would prefer employees to get their "boots on the ground" to increase visibility with the public, increase our awareness of what's going on, and generally do what we assume Forest Service employees are paid to do. When pressed to explain why Forest Service field employees aren't in the field, the usual excuses are mentioned - too much paperwork, not enough technical support, too many meetings, etc.
Much attention has recently focused on the trend in the Forest Service for employees to do their own administrative work on the computer - timesheets, travel reservations, training scheduling, budgeting. etc. There are stories of employees taking an hour to make a travel reservation when they were told it should only take five minutes.
Other employees cite planning processes as a culprit - that employees take too much time planning things and not enough time doing things. Taken to an extreme, this attitude may lead to a philosophy of shooting before we aim, but the point is that the execution of a plan needs a greater focus than its original development.
One can also wonder if what we're seeing is a reflection of a Forest Service organization that is in decline, where the biggest cuts are occurring at the field level.
I expect we'll be hearing more about this perceived problem in the future. It will be important to ask the question why we want a greater field presence, because we certainly don't need employees just driving around looking at the scenery. If all we want is to survey what's going on, we could always think about technological solutions (how about a camera along the main roads entering a forest?) But if the Forest Service really wants a customer-focus, the field-presence of its employees is probably an area that needs attention.
April 25, 2005
Forest Service Centennial Film
The Forest Service Centennial Film called "The Greatest Good" is being screened in a number of location. See this link.
It's a feature-length documentary film intended to document the 100 years of the Forest Service. Produced in high-definition, it has beautiful landscape footage, rarely seen archival photos, documents, old TV commercials and shows, and extensive interviews of historians, Forest Service Chiefs, employees, and academia. It succeeds best in describing the history of the Forest Service in the first 75 or so years. The film is also great in capturing the views of retired Forest Service employees about the changes to the agency. The film is somewhat less impressive in describing the history of the Forest Service from the 1970s on, (particularly for someone who has worked in the organization during this time) leaving out major topics such as RARE II, the sagebrush rebellion, or internal issues such as how computers and networks have flattened the organization. It curiously never mentions Forest Planning or the culture within the agency with a bias toward rational planning. The film spends considerable time on fire and fuels management, as well as timber harvest. But it omits the importance of mineral development to settlement of the West, and Forest Service policies on mining, energy development, and other activities such as water diversion. For someone who grew up in the West, it also seemed to miss the point of the intense local vs. National tension that has characterized the history of the agency.
Of course, it's been called propaganda by some:
However flawed, it's a great film, and an excellent chance to relook at the historical perspective of today's issues.
March 31, 2005
Here are some links to learn more about Environmental Management Systems.
Here is the Forest Service website that introduces EMS. http://www.fs.fed.us/emc/nepa/ems/
Here is the Forest Service sponsored public forum which contains several references. http://www.ecosystem-management.org/forum/
Here is the Office of the Federal Environmental Executive (OFEE) website about EMS. http://www.ofee.gov/ems/ems.htm
Here is EPA's website about EMS. http://www.epa.gov/ems/
Here is one of the self-assessment checklists that is used to determine if you have met the requirements of the ISO 14001 standard. http://www.gemi.org/ISO_111.pdf
March 19, 2005
A Planning Model and a Planning System
When the new planning rule was in it's early stages of development, I was in a small group of planners who got together to figure out and prototype what a Forest Plan should look like. This is what eventually evolved into a couple of "concept books" about a three-part articulated (and integrated) plan and some adaptive principals about planning. You can find them at this link:
Although our group of planners weren't researchers, we tried to review how planning is done in large organizations, as well as how the profession of land planning is used in other contexts such as county planning, urban planning, and community planning. We found several themes that seemed to be repeated. Plus, I keep coming across this stuff in many different places over and over.
For instance, we looked at some of the work of Michael Chandler, who is retired from Virginia Tech, about community planning. He said that instead of beginning a planning process with a listing of issues, you should begin with a visioning exercise to craft a picture or image of what the community intends to make of itself. This vision then becomes a rallying point or goal to be achieved.
The idea of an articulated plan matches the urban planning model, that starts with a comprehensive master plan, follows with a zoning plan (although recent models tend to be less precise with their mapping), and finally with specific plans such as historical preservation, parks and open space planning, building codes, etc.
The nice thing about this model is you start to think about "levels" of plans that have different purposes, different shelf lives, and different approaches in how they can be developed collaboratively. In application to forest planning, it provides accessibility to different audiences, and may help situations where we've got some people in the room wanting to draw maps where the campground should be while others are debating whether camping should even be a permitted use in the particular forest, while others want to talk about what color to paint the outhouses.
Finally, the entire system is intended to be flexible and adaptable, which is another important theme in this model.
March 18, 2005
Analysis vs. Evaluation vs. Assessment
As planners start to develop work plans implementing the new rule, we're thinking of the major "cost centers" of activities we're engaging in. One thing we're struggling with a bit, and I'd like some feedback, are the differences between "analysis", "evaluation", and "assessment." Although the 1982, the 2000, and the new rule all contain these technical processes, they are emphasized in different ways. In the 1982 rule, early steps focused on "analysis" while "evaluation" was the seventh step. For most planning efforts, I think people were too exhausted as they stumbled toward the end to really do a good job with "evaluation." In the 2000 rule, we put a lot of emphasis on "assessments" in the early steps - (we even had to change some words - one of the authors told me once that we changed the name of "local assessment" to "local area analysis" to make it appear less dominant.)
The new rule I think properly emphasizes a planning system, and uses evaluation as a way to look at the recent past as a springboard for making changes to the plan. The draft directives also mention elements of analysis and assessment, and I wonder if it will be important to make a distinction in how we develop planning processes.
Here's my understanding. Evaluation is a process of looking for meaning of monitoring data and detecting early warning signs. In an adaptive management approach, evaluation is sometimes used to review information according to an original design. Assessment is a process to obtain information through surveying, characterizing, synthesizing, and interpreting primary data sources. I think most of the sustainability requirements of the new rule and draft directives might be met through assessment processes. Finally, analysis, is a process to search for understanding, by taking things apart and studying the parts. Analysis is problem solving - you develop a question, and try to figure out an answer.
There may be important differences in these processes. They may need different expertise. They may differ in how the results are communicated and used in the process. For some phases of planning, it might not be important to separate a technical process this way. But when we start to think about the "rigor" of a process, that probably means different things depending upon whether you're looking at analysis, evaluation, or assessment.
March 10, 2005
Forest Planners Gone Wild
Although not perfect, to a certain extent, the new Forest Service planning rule is an attempt to move Forest planning closer to the latest thinking in the planning profession, organizational psychology, and the management literature. Those of us in the Forest Service planning business have for years seen forest planning as essentially broken. A typical planning team will cost a little over one million a year, and we typically take five, six, seven, or more years to complete a plan. Meanwhile, we were seeing the final product becoming less and less relevant to managers, while being less and less accessible to citizens who care about forests. At the same time, those who cared enough about National Forests that they expected plans to actually be implemented quickly learned that they never could really be followed.
So the new rule and our new model of a plan is so exciting! I'm hoping to share our hopes with everyone on this forum. It's not about streamlining planning or that those of us in the planning profession are lazy and don't want to do a thorough job. Rather, we want to do planning that matters, that informs managers and those who wish to collaborate. We want planning that is relevant and useful in guiding the Forest Service in using scarce federal dollars wisely. We want planning that helps to reestablish trust. We want planning where those who get involved can really make a difference.