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August 03, 2006

Deming and Leopold: Opportunities Lost

I have been browsing through an early draft of "USFS Monitoring and Evaluation Team Report: Monitoring Framework for Land Management Planning" (July 2006). I have been trying to put my fingers on why it just doesn't seem right. I see two main problems or fundamental opportunities lost (so far!). I call them the Deming Opportunity and the Leopold Opportunity.

To explore the Deming Opportunity, organizations need to build cultures that seek continuous improvement (as an adventure and as fulfillment), cultures that routinely and enthusiastically monitor and evaluate what they do as individuals, as teams, as divisions, and so on. Such organizations somehow instill a passion for improvement.

Part of the magic of the Deming Method is that it allows each individual and team to build and "own" their measures. It also encourages and empowers each individual and team to share a bit across the boundaries—to ensure that they are indeed part of the organization, keeping organizational betterment in whole and in part as an integral part of their thoughts and actions.

See also: A Simpler Way (Monitoring and Evaluation Edition)

The Leopold Opportunity is much different, but related in many ways. Here we are talking about a new relationship with the land and with others who inhabit the land. To explore the Leopold Opportunity requires that each of us learn to live in nature, to get back to the garden as Joni Mitchell put it. Leopold stressed that we need to become part of a "land community" rather than treating Nature (or forest) as a factory.

When we view Nature as a "factory" or a "supermarket," we fall into or what Jack Turner calls "Economic Nature," (from The Abstract Wild). Following "economic nature," we tend to abstract things into "resources," work up metrics of "commensurability in translatable units," and then price out the units in terms of money. Leopold describes the problem this way, "We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect." In our Forest Service monitoring and measurement compulsion, we tend at least to fall into the "resources" and "commensurability" traps, sometimes we also fall into the money trap.

Leopold's idea of seeing "land as a community to which we belong," provides a springboard from which we can adapt our thoughts and action so that we are more prone to "begin to use it with love and respect." Note that Aldo Leopold is linked in philosophy to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, and more.

Charles Romesburg argues that we need more John Muir Naturalists in the world. Many more! Without them, there is little hope to maintain appropriate bonds to land and Nature that have nutured us. Don't miss the opportunities to keep tabs on Romesburg's wisdom (always available as a sidebar choice at Forest Policy—Practice).

For more on the Leopold Opportunity, see, for example:

  • Neil Everden –The Social Creation of Nature
  • Robert Pogue Harrison – Forests: The Shadow of Civilization
  • Max Oelschlaeger – The Idea of Wilderness: From Prehistory to the Age of Ecology
  • Simon Schama – Landscape and Memory

Posted by Dave on August 3, 2006 at 02:41 PM Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack