RESOLVE Senior Advisor receives award for environmental protection through conflict resolution

Sep 3, 2013

The Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR) has just selected RESOLVE Senior Advisor John Jostes to receive the 2013 Sharon M. Pickett Award for Environmental Protection through Conflict Resolution. The award recognizes “significant and important” contributions to environmental protection for a project or over the length of one’s career.

John deserves this award and the recognition it brings. He has helped stakeholders work through such dicey issues as sharing water and protecting species, and beyond conservation to issues like homelessness. As a Senior Advisor to RESOLVE, John focuses on water and climate.

Check out the award announcement here.

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RESOLVE acknowledged for outstanding facilitation of Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee (MRRIC)

Jan 10, 2012

“Good facilitators are priceless,” says John Thorson, retired judge and former chair of the ABA Water Resources Committee, in the most recent issue of the ABA’s Section on Environment Energy and Resources (SEER) Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee newsletter. Describing the Missouri as the “river of controversy,” Thorson’s article on the consensus building efforts authorized by Congress in 2007 puts these efforts in historic context and describes insights for how to make large scale consensus building efforts work. Facilitators from RESOLVE and the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution assist the process.

Thorson reminds us that the Missouri River “is synonymous with western history,” noting the Lewis and Clark expedition, the Native Americans of the Great Plains, and the six mainstem dams authorized by the 1944 Pick-Sloan Plan to provide hydro-power, water supply, navigation, and protection from the rivers’ epic floods, among other authorized purposes. These dams also had the unintended consequence of significant alteration to the river’s ecosystem, resulting in three species being listed as either threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act and many more in serious decline. In the Water Resources Development Act of 2007, Congress authorized the Corps of Engineers to prepare a studyin consultation with MRRIC to determine the actions required to mitigate losses of aquatic and terrestrial habitat, to recover federally listed species, and to restore the ecosystem to prevent further declines among other native species.

MRRIC operates by consensus – a challenging but important decision making process that requires members to articulate their interests, listen to one another, and engage in creative problem solving. Thorson, who served as MRRIC’s first chair, acknowledges the important role of the facilitation team in the consensus-building process, helping to “carefully plan, moderate, and document every meeting and call.” He also highlights the creative use of technology that RESOLVE uses that allows members who live along America’s longest river to communicate effectively across the large distances involved! Webinars, web-based meetings with real time work on documents, a members-only web site, and video conferencing are among the tools that are being employed.

The restoration of the Missouri River in harmony with the eight authorized purposes of the mainstem dams and other human needs is a challenge worthy of everyone’s best efforts. We at RESOLVE are honored to work with our facilitation partners at the USIECR to help the federal and state agencies, tribal governments, and stakeholders succeed.

- Gail Bingham

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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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Serious Play Demonstration [Video]

Sep 7, 2011

Martha Bean narrates a demonstration of Serious Play.

Get the full story here.

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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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