Posted: Sep 16, 2010

Making sense of the field of collaboration is not easy.  While the word "collaboration" does not appear in any key land management legislation before 2000, the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act, The National Environmental Policy Act, the National Forest Management Act, and the Endangered Species Act provide for a variety of "public involvement" processes.  But these are not usually thought of as entirely collaborative in nature.  

"Cooperative Conservation," a phrase made popular by the Bush Administration, is defined according to the Executive Order on Cooperative Conservation to mean, "actions that relate to use, enhancement, and enjoyment of natural resources, protection of the environment, or both, and that involve collaborative activity among Federal, State, local, and tribal governments, private for-profit and nonprofit institutions, other nongovernmental entities and individuals."

According the the Forest Service's Partnership Guide, "collaboration increasingly refers to a process where groups with different interests come together to address management issues across a large geographic region such as a forest, watershed, or landscape.  Through collaboration, groups that may disagree explore their differences, identify common interests, and seek common-ground solutions.  The goal of collaborative groups is to build and promote a collective vision for how to manage the land."

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The BLM's 2007 Collaboration Desk Guide, the agency views collaboration as a "cooperative process in which interested parties, often with widely varied interests, work together to seek solutions with broad support for Federal, State, and county managed public and other lands.  Collaboration is all about building and maintaining relationships with communities of place and interest, partners, volunteers and cooperating agencies, and each other.  It is a tool for implementing and building Cooperative Conservation."

The truth is that collaborative processes are inherently difficult to define because they vary widely by scope, issues, participation, and purpose.  But many issues transcend variations-- figuring out how to best apply science and technology to the challenge at hand, determining how to make decisions as a group, and how to measure progress. 
There's no one "right" way to collaborate, but effective collaborations generally incorporate the following key ingredients:

  • The process is open, inclusive, transparent, accessible, and tailored to local needs.
  • Meetings are civil and safe.
  • Deliberations are thoughtful, frank, and never rushed.
  • There is an agreed-upon way to make decisions.
  • Commitments that are made are honored. Trust is built on that confidence.
  • It's a team effort. You win, you lose, you temporize as a team.

Guidance for Initiating and Maintaining a Collaborative Process

Much has been written about when, where, why and how to begin and maintain a collaborative approach to problem-solving.  Here is a collection of several comprehensive guides to the process.

Red Lodge Clearinghouse Collaboration Handbook
Provides common sense and practical advice about putting a collaborative effort together and making it work.  This Red Lodge guide provides guidance about when to collaborate, how to get started,  how to keep it moving in a positive direction, and avoiding pitfalls. 

Collaboration: A Guide for Environmental Advocates 
Written with environmental advocates in mind, this guide seeks to answer the questions:  When is a collaborative approach appropriate and useful, and when is it inappropriate and harmful?  How should individuals and organizations respond to invitations to collaborate?  When should they initiate such efforts?  How should collaborative processes be conducted?  The guide provides background and history on collaboration, arguments for and against the process, points to consider in deciding whether to participate, how to design an effective process, best practices during a collaborative process, the role of science, and tips on reaching agreements. 

Collaboration in NEPA: A Handbook for NEPA Practitioners 
The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) wrote this guide for the "NEPA practitioner" (resource management agencies).   The handbook introduces the general principles of collaboration, steps to integrate these principles into the NEPA process, and methods and recommendations for collaboration methods.  

Desktop Reference to Collaborative Planning 
The BLM and the Sonoran Institute developed this quick, easy-to-read reference guide on principles for effective collaborative, community-based planning.

Collaboration Examined

There are a variety of opinions when it comes to the costs and benefits of collaborating.  The extent, role, and implications of collaborative processes are frequently debated.   Is collaboration always appropriate?  What are common pitfalls?  What characteristics do successful efforts have in common?  The resources below tackle these questions and many others.

Arguing About Consensus 
In 2000, Doug Kenney, PhD and Senior Research Associate at the Natural Resources Law Center wrote an article synthesizing the concerns about collaboration.  The article concludes that the "experimentation" with collaborative groups should continue guided by a policy of "guarded optimism" and explicit scholarly critiques. 

Arguments for and Against Collaboration 
Primarily geared towards environmental advocates, this article summarizes the broader discussion surrounding the collective impact of resource management by collaborative processes. 

Getting Federal Land Management Agencies to the Collaborative Table: Barriers and Remedies
As federal land management agencies have become increasingly interested in collaborating with other stakeholders to address natural resource issues, a set of real and perceived barriers arise.  This paper examines the most commonly cited barriers and outlines potential remedies. 

Making Collaboration Work 
Lessons from a comprehensive assessment of over 200 wide-ranging cases of collaboration in environmental management.  Written by Steven Yaffee and Julia Wondolleck. 

Video: Deputy Secretaries of the Interior Talk About Collaboration


Patty Limerick asks Lynn Scarlett, Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior under 
George W. Bush and David Hayes Deputy Secretary of the Department 
of the Interior under Clinton about the role of collaboration in natural
resource management during the 2008 Natural Resources Law Center's
annual summer conference.  Click here if video does not appear. 

How to Measure Progress

After you have made some tough decisions and started implementing projects, how do you measure your progress?  How do you know if your decisions are having the desired affect on the ground?  Being able to quantify your success is useful for building legitimacy in the community, attracting funding, and building political capital.  The collection of resources below can help you assess your progress. 

Is Our Project Succeeding?
A manual written by Richard Margoluis and Nick Salafsky for the Biodiversity Support Program that discusses traditional approaches to measuring the impact of projects and introduce their approach-- the Treat Reduction Assessment. 

Muliparty Monitoring
A guide from the Forest Service for monitoring and assessing forest restoration work.

Evaluating Comprehensive Community Initiatives
Methods and rationale for evaluating community initiatives through the Community Tool Box.  

Measuring Progress
An evaluation guide for ecosystem and community-based projects through the Ecosystem Management Initiative at the University of Michigan.  The workbook includes instructions and planning worksheets. 

Check Your Success 
A guide to developing indicators for community based environmental projects from the Department of Urban Affairs & Planning at Virginia Tech and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

Additional Resources

Red Lodge Clearinghouse Stories 
Profiles of collaborative efforts across the West, including their history, accomplisments, and current challenges.

The Western Collaboration Stewardship Network promotes collaborative approaches to natural resource management by providing technical assistance, links to peer coaches, and a library of resources. 

Partnership Resource Center
A resource provided by the National Forest Foundation and the U.S. Forest Service to provide partnering organizations with information to build effective partnerships and collaboration. 

Ecosystem Management Initiative
Housed at the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan, the Ecosystem Management Initiative advances research, training, and outreach in collaboration, negotiation, and adaptive management. 

Center for Collaborative Policy
A research center at Sacramento State that works to build the capacity of public agencies, stakeholder groups, and the public to use collaborative strategies to improve policy outcomes. 

Red Lodge Facilitators Directory
A directory of Western third-party neutrals to assist in managing collaborative processes. 

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