By Mara Elana Burstein for EDRblog.com.
“We’re bureaucrats and we have tendencies,” but “when there’s a high level of collaboration, there’s trust and decisions can be made quickly and efficiently.” –ENR agency leaders
Environmental and natural resource (ENR) issues are scientifically, politically, culturally, and emotionally complex. Government agencies are tasked with navigating these complexities while non-government interests are increasingly demanding a “seat at the table.” The commonalities of success and failure in large and complex multi-agency projects in Utah are striking. Specific actions can radically increase the probability of success, and other actions, when not taken, result in limited success or unnecessary delays.
Collaborative efforts in Utah are occurring with increasing frequency, often providing low cost and creative solutions to ENR issues. The Stegner Center’s Environmental Dispute Resolution Program (EDRP), in coordination with The Langdon Group and others, are developing a three-part Utah Program on Collaboration.
1. Forum on Collaboration (1-day)
To be held in late fall 2015 to provide an opportunity for decision-makers at state and federal agencies to learn from each other and share experiences and challenges with collaborative problem-solving. The Forum will provide participants with the tools needed to identify opportunities for collaboration, implement best practices, as well as monitor efforts to evaluate effectiveness.
2. Dialogues on Collaboration (quarterly)
These dialogues will provide a broad cross-section of ENR stakeholders an opportunity for networking, education and training, and ongoing sharing of collaboration best practices and lessons learned. An informal multi-stakeholder planning group will be assembled to develop agendas for these dialogues.
3. Effective Natural Resource Collaboration Short Course
Currently being developed by the University of Utah and Utah State University, the course is for adult learners and will use a combination of lecture, case studies, peer-to-peer sharing discussion, simulation exercises, and keynote speakers. As a capstone project, students will design and implement a relevant collaboration project, putting the new concepts and skills into action in a real-life setting with peer and mentor support.
Following EDR best practices, we are currently interviewing key state and federal leaders (including agency officials, Governor’s Office staff, and state legislators) to identify their needs, interests, and experiences with ENR collaboration. The confidential questions explore what is and is not currently working in collaboration, as well as identifying future opportunities and challenges. This pre-assessment will inform the design of the one-day Forum and the Short Course.
A dozen interviews to date demonstrate strong support for the Utah Program on Collaboration, good examples of successful collaborative efforts (and some challenges), as well as the desire to train agency staff on how to collaborate more effectively. We look forward to using this input (and whatever we learn in the remaining 30+ interviews) to design an engaging and relevant Program to advance and support the use of collaborative problem-solving to address ENR issues in Utah.
For updates on the development of the Utah Program on Collaboration, sign up for the EDR Blog listserv here.
Mara Elana Burstein has nearly 10 years experience working on air quality, energy, and sustainability issues. She holds a Master in Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. Mara is a Research Associate and EDR Blog Coordinator at the Environmental Dispute Resolution (EDR) Program at the Wallace Stegner Center, S.J. Quinney College of Law, University of Utah, and owner of Natural Resource Strategies, a consulting firm that provides strategic planning, communications, and facilitation services.