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July 20, 2007

FS Manual and Handbook as Wiki

Suppose that the US Forest Service operated the FS Manual and Handbook System like Wikipedia, letting any and all edit Manual and Handbook materials to improve them on the fly. The result would likely be chaos, at least at first.

People like me would edit it all out of existence, echoing my long standing belief that the Manual and Handbook system is a big contributor to 'process gridlock' in the Forest Service. Others would dutifully build it back in, piece by piece. And so on.

But suppose we change the rules of engagement a bit. Suppose that instead of Wikipedia-like rules of engagement, the FS were to allow any and all to edit, but have the system keep unofficial 'competing' versions of the Manual and Handbook at it evolves (and not just keep such in the 'record' as does Wikipedia). In addition, let each group set up associated commentary on their Manual and Handbook versions and any other competing versions they see fit to comment on. Let the comments build on top of comments. Then find some means to deliberate and decide on what ought to be.

Finally, let each group develop a blog (weblog) if they so choose, to chronicle the development of their parts of the Manual and/or Handbook and any battles or alliances with other groups that occur.

In short, why not let folks defend their own work, challenge the work of others, and improve the process unfolds? To what ends:

More gridlock? Less?

More adaptation? Less?

More bureaucracy? Less?

More fun? Less?

Posted by Dave on July 20, 2007 at 02:55 PM Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 13, 2007

Agency Culture and Transformation

US Forest Service Chief Gail Kimbell recently sent a letter to Forest Service leaders, daylighting a report [PDF, "discussion draft", 46 pp] from Dialogos International on FS culture, transformation efforts, safety and more.

The report and accompanying studies show how all improvement efforts are grounded in and guided by organization culture and culture improvement. The studies were begun with an eye toward safety, but it soon became clear that safety could only be dealt with as part of a much broader organzaional transformation.

Noteworthy, the report highlights what I'll call 'Forest Service cultural impediments' that limit success in the short- and longer-run. The report, a "discussion draft", argues, among other things, that these "impediments" are "critical 'high leverage' points that must be addressed and transformed." They include:

  • Ceding Power — "[T]o the regions …[resulting in a] lack of a clear, central focus …"
  • Mission Confusion — "… [C]ompeting stories about the right and central focus of the Agency"
  • Family "Collusion" — "… [P]eople tend to use ["FS family"] as a defense, attributing that others do not understand as we do, and seeking to fend off positions of external stakeholders. …"
  • Lack of Straight Talk — "… People often seem to be unwilling to speak out and name difficulties that they see, and attribute that to do so is to run serious risks. …"
  • Capability Trap — "… [A] phenomenon where people are working increasing hard but where overall capability … is not improving and can in fact be deteriorating. …"
  • Impaired Learning — "… Errors are not generally embraced as opportunities for improvement, particularly now, in a climate where people fear that the admission of error may lead [to retribution] …. Many suggested that the Agency has been poor at reflection on itself, and learning from reflection. … [A] proliferation of rules and requirements … tend[s] to have the effect of creating compliance, but not internally motivated commitment to change and learn."
  • Physics of Accidents — "… Changing environmental settings … and budget pressures result in more demanding conditions that need to be faced with the same or fewer resources…. More intense circumstances, fewer people covering greater distances, simply icrease risks and chances for error.
  • Initiative Proliferation — "… [Tending] toward a fragmentation of focus.
The Chief asked that both the cover letter and study be distributed widely and that senior leaders in the Forest Service "hold and promote regional change dialogues, and report results" back to the Chief.

My question is whether the letter is being taken seriously, and by whom. It would be a mistake to think that the important conclusions drawn from the studies be limited to wildland fire and safety. We will keep an eye on this as various "transformation" efforts continue.

Note: For Chief Kimbell's letter and recent news from Transformation players, see this post in Adaptive Forest Management

Posted by Dave on July 13, 2007 at 03:49 PM Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack