Building Public Decisions
In the early 1990s a few of us — Hanna Cortner, Maggie Shannon, Larry Davis and a couple of us in the Intermountain Region — nudged the Forest Service toward an approach we called “Building Public Decisions”. Today we might call such adaptive co-management or collaborative stewardship, or ??.
In 1993 I ran a little thing by my Eco-Watch network titled Leadership and a Sustainable Future. In my intro to the post, I said, “Jeff Sirmon’s philosophy might be summarized as ‘building public decisions and public trust.’ It certainly seems like the right thing to do.”
In another Eco-Watch post that year — a book review of Dan Kemmis Community and the Politics of Place — I highlighted additional readings from contemporary ‘policy analysis’ arguing as Kemmis had for a return to the Jeffersonian engagement. These were:
The Power of Public Ideas, edited by Robert B. Reich, Harvard University Press, 1990.
Evidence, Argument, and Persuasion in the Policy Process, by Giandomenico Majone, Yale University Press, 1989. (Related to, and pushing forward, some of the ideas in The Power of Public Ideas.)
I said, “They are my personal favorites in policy analysis, synthesis, and governmental choice. It will be interesting to see what some of you think about these and the whole idea of shifting from federalism to more engaging, and participative, forms of government. To embrace Jeffersonian engagement (or public deliberation, as Robert Reich calls it) would transform ‘public involvement in decision making’ into ‘building public decisions.’”
Would that the Forest Service had embraced that future. But it didn’t. As usual there was (and is) a catch, Catch-22. (see also Catch-22 and Maladaptive Organizations).
For all its chatter about collaboration and collaborative stewardship or whatever buzz phrase of the moment, the Forest Service in its bureaucratic center simply doesn’t want to share enough power to collaborate. Look at the NFMA rule rewrite, for example. There is much discussion as to how the agency will collaborate to implement the “rule”, but when it comes to the rule itself, well that is another story.
On the Offical Planning Rule Website, the FS has thrown out a wee bit of material and said “comment by Feb. 16″. Then it has said that the comments are open to public inspection, but essentially blocked that effort by packing them into individual pdf files, rather than into a more easily accessible format. Finally it initiated a blog that isn’t really any more helpful than the comment gatherer.
Let me predict what will happen next. The FS will convene a few scattered meetings to gather yet more comments. Then it will issue a draft “rule.” Then it will defend that rule — a tweak on the 1982 rule — until Hell freezes over. 20 years from now, if any of us are still alive, we will be rehashing this once again—unless we’ve found better amusements.
I hope I’m wrong.