Webinar on Joint Fact Finding for Energy Resources Issues

Nov 8, 2013

RESOLVE’s webinar on Joint Fact Finding (JFF) illustrated, through case examples and a hypothetical scenario, the usefulness of this consensus-building process for real-world problem-solving in conflicted arenas of energy development, like the relatively new momentum in hydraulic fracturing for natural gas extraction. Sixteen participants – representing industry, government, NGOs, and academia – learned about RESOLVE’s work from Stephen Courtney, Director of Collaborative Science; Paul De Morgan, Senior Mediator; and Dana Goodson, Senior Facilitator. The webinar was managed very efficiently by Adobe Connect, with its visual and auditory interactive format.

As Dr. Courtney pointed out, science is often disputed or monopolized in complex, multi-party initiatives, creating stalemates. In the United States, such bottlenecks can result in regulatory agencies or the courts handing down decisions for action, perhaps after costly lobbying efforts and litigation. These top-down recommendations do not necessarily have buy-in from all participants and thus may be doomed to problematic implementation or even outright failure. JFF can make a huge difference in such cases, bringing divergent parties to consensus around the scientific or technical issues at stake. One example illustrated how a stalled project involving three government agencies moved from a ten-year standoff to resolution in seven months.

A very important aspect of the JFF process includes reaching out to all key stakeholders, large and small, and bringing them together for collaborative problem-solving on scientific or technical issues. This task force then defines the areas of disagreement amenable to JFF, determines how to find answers, jointly identifies experts who can conduct independent research if needed, and evaluates results in order to arrive at a roadmap for decision-making. RESOLVE, with their thirty-year history of conflict mediation and resolution, assures an unbiased approach to the team effort that is clear, orderly and respectful, and has buy-in from all participants. They also maintain a record of the proceedings and decisions, and ensure dissemination of these findings to all critical decision-makers, constituencies, and the public.

As a landowner in northeast Pennsylvania, living amidst the Marcellus shale gas play, I was very encouraged to hear about RESOLVE’s JFF resource and would encourage landowners, energy development companies, NGOs, and government regulatory agencies to consider this option if and when disputes arise around scientific or technical issues. Hydraulic fracturing for natural gas is fraught with uncertainties regarding environmental and health impacts, as well as complex financial and legal considerations. Landowners, as compared to large energy corporations, are not equally empowered as decision-makers and often operate in the dark, with a lack of transparency, scientific and technical understanding, and most importantly, trust, creating confusion about how to proceed. Therefore, it seems that all parties would be better served with a clear and consensual road map, so that the issues raised by this important bridge to energy independence and sustainability can be understood by all stakeholders, working together in a spirit of cooperation.

You can listen in to this informative webinar at http://www.resolv.org/site-collaborativescience/services/joint-fact-finding/#webinar.

- Kathy Arcuri, RESOLVE Volunteer

Kathy Arcuri is a RESOLVE volunteer. She writes blog posts on RESOLVE’s work from her own perspective.

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Did you know that RESOLVE can help with…

May 20, 2013

  1. 1. Strategic Assessment and Planning
    If you need a new strategic plan or want to assess opportunities to find new pathways and new partners.

  1. 2. Facilitation and Meeting Training (Including Integrating Technology)
    We’ve all participated in poorly planned and executed meetings that cost both time and money. RESOLVE trains staff (and/or stakeholders) to improve their meeting planning and facilitation skills. We emphasize pre-meeting planning, in-the-room skills, and post meeting follow-through.  We offer basic, advanced, and expert training.

  1. 3. The Use of Science in Decision Making
    Science and technical information is often politicized when there is a dispute or uncertainty at a site or policy level.  RESOLVE has deep experience with processes that use science to build trust and support effective decision making.  We can train your staff or provide direct support to design and/or implement an engagement process that utilizes science.

  1. 4. Leadership Coaching & Change/Transition Management
    Support for new leaders, and during periods of change, is essential to success.

  1. 5. Leading, Supporting (or Fixing) Coalitions
    RESOLVE can manage/facilitate coalitions, provide member training, or help put a coalition back on track.

  1. 6. Negotiation Support and Training
    We can help you plan to win and train you or provide support during negotiations.

  1. 7. Collaborative Technology—The best tools and training to integrate them seamlessly into meetings.
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Scientific Peer Review

Nov 27, 2012

On November 15th, Steven Courtney, Director of RESOLVE’s Collaborative Science Program, provided a webinar training for the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) on how to conduct peer review. His presentation, part of the Office of the Science Advisor Webinar Series, explained why open transparent science is in everyone’s best interest. Peer review is an important component of showing the public that the best available science is being used, and that there is a commitment to improved management and communication.

Steven is a recognized expert in managing a peer review process. He has led numerous scientific peer reviews for issues that are contentious and/or have national implications, including peer reviews on the Northern Spotted Owl, the Forest Service Land Planning Rule, and cases involving allegations of breaches in scientific integrity.

The FWS is directed by federal law to use the “best available science” in Endangered Species Act determinations and other regulations, and peer review is a powerful tool to ensure this is the case. In addition, peer review is just good practice. For agencies, good peer review can evaluate competing scientific opinions, support policy development, and strengthen the confidence of decision-makers and the public in a particular decision.

The peer review process and how it is managed is critical to a sound and defensible final product. In his presentation to FWS, Steven lays out guidelines the agency must consider when undertaking a peer review. Most importantly, the peer review must be seen as transparent, unbiased, and fair.

RESOLVE holds one of three nation-wide contracts to provide scientific support services to FWS (and the other Department of Interior agencies), and provides peer review and scientific support on an on-call basis. RESOLVE has a network of more than 1,000 scientists at academic and other institutions, who have committed to providing peer review to support the our mission of collaborative science.

A copy of his presentation is archived here. Steven has also co-written a report for FWS, “Overview of Scientific Peer Review”, which can be downloaded here.

Debbie Lee

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RESOLVE science sheds light, reduces heat

Jan 9, 2012

RESOLVE’s Collaborative Science program has been successful in calming one aspect of one of the more controversial water disputes in the nation – the diversion of Sacramento River water to southern California. Centered around the protection of endangered species in the San Francisco Bay ecosystem, and involving multiple lawsuits, the dispute had led to accusations of scientific malpractice against government scientists. Things were escalating with Congressional hearings, and potentially serious consequences for all involved. The US Department of the Interior asked RESOLVE to convene a panel of independent experts, and investigate the facts of the case. Our conclusion: there was no evidence of deliberate malpractice, but there was evidence of misunderstandings and lack of clarity.

The judge (who had initially leveled the accusations), and the Interior Department (who had been criticized), both welcomed the findings. You can read about the case and their reactions here (LA Times), here (Fresno Bee), and here (E&E News).

Here at RESOLVE, we are taking some lessons from the result too. We did not present our results in terms of one party being right and the other wrong: Science doesn’t work that way. We worked independently to gather the right information; identified the ‘best available’ science, and called on scientists who were credible with all parties. Such steps can be very helpful to managers and decision-makers. Rather than declaring winners and losers, independent science review can support collaborative settlements and productive next steps. Maybe lawyers should consult more with scientists?

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Sound Effects: Protecting Marine Mammals Using Acoustic Technology

Oct 17, 2011

In November 2009, RESOLVE facilitated a workshop in Boston, MA on the “Status and Applications of Acoustic Mitigation and Monitoring Systems for Marine Mammals.” The workshop was convened by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, and the 200 participants explored the capabilities and limitations of using passive and active acoustic systems to monitor and help mitigate adverse impacts of marine mammals in offshore environments.

Why was the issue of acoustic technology so important for an agency that focuses on offshore energy? The answer is not readily apparent unless one knows something about sound in water, and how it interacts with marine animals and ecosystems.

Have you ever dunked your head underneath the water at the swimming pool and just listened? Sound behaves so differently under water than in the air. It conducts better, and travels longer distances at a faster speed (particularly in seawater). While underwater sounds may be strange and unintelligible to our human ears an entire order of marine mammals, the cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises), have evolved to use underwater sounds through echolocation to learn information about their surroundings and communicate with others in their species.

Now imagine humans coming along and changing the marine acoustic environment through noise created near the water, on the water, and in the water. Anthropogenic sound can greatly affect these animals directly (through physical harm) and indirectly (by impacting their ability to echolocate and communicate). Some of the most extreme examples of this are beached whales after sonar tests.

Americans decided back in 1972, with the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), that these animals should be protected. The MMPA prohibits the “take” of marine mammals. Specifically, we cannot “harass, hunt, capture, kill or collect, or attempt to harass, hunt, capture, kill or collect” marine mammals. The Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) is given the task of protecting these animals while managing offshore energy development activities, which can create large-scale sound events. These events can result in the take of a whale or other marine mammal if within a certain distance of the sound. Examples of these events include survey companies using seismic blasts to locate offshore petroleum deposits and offshore wind turbine developers using pile driving to provide foundation support for the turbines.

BOEMRE has long required that those carrying out such offshore activities visually monitor for marine mammals and to stop work if an animal is spotted. But acoustic technology can complement and enhance visual monitoring and help ensure there are no marine mammals nearby at the time of a seismic blast or pile driving. To determine this technology’s capabilities and limitations, BOEMRE partnered with RESOLVE to hold the November 2009 workshop, which was attended by 200 regulators, researchers, operators, and conservationists from all over the globe to discuss how acoustic technology can monitor and help mitigate adverse impacts to marine mammals.

The official Technical Announcement and Workshop Proceedings are now available at the BOEMRE website.

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The Summer Intern Team; THANK YOU!

Sep 12, 2011

RESOLVE’s senior mediator, Martha Beanwho works remotely from her professional home in Seattle, WA had the opportunity to speak to RESOLVE’s four fabulous summer 2011 interns- Ana, Eric, Maheen and Maya- as they are getting close to the end of their time with RESOLVE and will be heading back to their undergraduate and graduate studies. Through this casual phone lunch with Martha they had the opportunity to ask her questions beyond the typical discussions around their projects. In her own words she describes her conversation and her experience with the interns at the EPA Community Involvement Training Conference in Washington, DC and remotely on a variety of projects throughout the summer.

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I had the honor of talking with our interns Ana, Eric, Maheen and Maya at a virtual lunch on Friday August 12, 2011. They asked me questions about my perspectives, profession and work life. And I held forth for much of the hour – they were generous with their time. Here are key things I would like to pass; things I learned in our lunchtime discussions:

RESOLVE’s work environment is one where people clearly *like* and respect each other. RESOLVE’s interns saw up close and personal how important this is, and will seek to work in places that exhibit similar camaraderie. RESOLVE clearly values its interns.

Each of RESOLVE’s interns had the opportunity to work on and learn about a variety of programs, people and issues. It has been interesting for them to watch real collaboration happen through the work of RESOLVE facilitators, mediators and program staff.

RESOLVE interns valued working on challenging, meaningful projects.  They were generally not given busy or clerical work. They noted this isn’t true for every internship out there, and they appreciated that RESOLVE took the time and trusted them enough to have them work on important, impactful projects.

The role of technology is changing how we do collaborative work. Our interns see that they can add value, be creative, and be entrepreneurial by being on the front end of this change.

While collaborative processes are the nuts and bolts of RESOLVE’s work, our interns see that effective collaborative practice has applications across a wide variety of professions and issues.

Might there be a position or another internship in Seattle? Not at this time, I answered. Someday, perhaps – they should stay in touch to be sure!

These folks are great. I heard their praises being sung again at a meeting I attended at EPA Region 10 last week. The lead community outreach person for the Port of Seattle http://www.southparkbusiness.org/contributors/view/34attended the conference session in DC and was particularly complementary of Maya, Maheen, Eric and Ana. I hope and trust that RESOLVE’s interns will take advantage of the good will and networks they have generated while with RESOLVE to find their future academic and professional ‘homes’.

With gratitude to RESOLVE for the experience of working with these fine folk,

- Martha Bean

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RESOLVE Completes Science Review in Record Time!

Sep 8, 2011

The Forest Service is engaged in developing a new Planning Rule for all National Forests including a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) of the Rule. The Service contracted with RESOLVE to act as a neutral third party and to conduct an external science review of the DEIS. Seven eminent scientists (in areas such as climate change, monitoring, and forest management) were selected by the RESOLVE Science Program staff. These seven then acted as reviewers to evaluate three key questions on scientific caliber, treatment of uncertainty, and comprehensiveness of the DEIS. In order to ensure the integrity and independence of the review process, the identity of the reviewers and the content of their analysis were kept confidential by RESOLVE, including from the planning rule team, until the review was completed. RESOLVE successfully completed the review in record time, resulting in improvements to the final Forest Service document.

For more information check out the Forest Service’s Planning Rule Science Review Website

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SERIOUS PLAY

Aug 16, 2011

Let’s do the numbers: One Tribal Nation. Two active, engaged communities of workers, artists and activists. Three major manufacturers and countless smaller businesses. Five languages. Six government agencies. Seven miles of contaminated river bed. And eleven options for cleanup of Seattle’s Lower Duwamish waterway.

Lower Duwamish Waterway

In this complicated situation with a multitude of languages, perspectives, technical challenges and cultures, how can all be engaged in decision making?

Those affected by the contamination – and by the cleanup – have the right to offer their thoughts, insights and ideas to those who will ultimately decide what will happen. But to be forceful and effective in providing input, people need information. Much of the information about the Lower Duwamish waterway is extraordinarily complex. The models are opaque; the clear answers few.

The scientists and engineers working on the Lower Duwamish cleanup want to be effective, thorough and gracious in their explanations of their work. They want to communicate in a way that allows real exchange and full discussion. All of us know this is very hard to do, despite the best of intentions.

Now throw language into the mix. The scientists and engineers working on solutions are, in many cases, already a decade into their work on the project. They speak their own particular technical dialect with ease. A broad range of languages are spoken in the communities affected by the contamination and the cleanup. And, like most of us, the community members largely don’t speak technical jargon at all.

Here at RESOLVE, we’ve come up with the notion of Serious Play. Pint-size building materials (think Legos®, Tinker-toys®, K’nex® and PlayDough®) are often the most beloved toys from the childhood days of technical professionals. With the advice and encouragement of local residents, we asked our dedicated scientists and engineers to use ‘play things’ to go about the serious business of describing clean up options. The technical professionals were immediately enthusiastic and ready to go with this new approach. Through Serious Play, our engineers and scientists simply, elegantly and accurately explained their thinking and perspectives. With toys as the intermediary, there was a familiarity – and even a bit of whimsy – that emboldened community members. Residents asked questions, probed, challenged and taught their scientist colleagues things they, as locals, knew about the beautiful Duwamish River, its legacy and its future.

Low Impact Development Scenario

Click here to see more pictures of Serious Play from the 2011 EPA Community Involvement Training Conference on RESOLVE’s Flickr account. A video of the demonstration itself will be available shortly.

Let’s do the numbers again: One small – but significant – step toward respect, engagement and understanding among people of different languages, occupations, perspectives and cultures.

- Martha Bean with Maya Breitburg-Smith and Eric Roberts.

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