Improving Group Problem Solving in Endangered Species Recovery: Using the "Decision Seminar" Method. (Applications)

By Wallace, Richard L.; Clark, Tim W. | Endangered Species Update, July-August 2002 | Go to article overview

Improving Group Problem Solving in Endangered Species Recovery: Using the "Decision Seminar" Method. (Applications)


Wallace, Richard L., Clark, Tim W., Endangered Species Update


Abstract

Endangered species recovery requires the confluence of technical skills, most often represented by biology and ecology and their many adjuncts, and social and organizational skills. Over the history of endangered species protection, the social and organizational skills necessary for successful species recovery have often been lacking in recovery programs. As a result, these programs often exhibit weaknesses involving coordination and cooperation among program participants. We discuss and propose the use of methods to improve recovery programs by focussing on and augmenting social and organizational aspects of program implementation and evaluation. The methods we promote fall under the rubric of the "decision seminar," developed by Harold Lasswell and used successfully in many contexts over the past half century. We discuss two examples of endangered species programs which utilized aspects of the decision seminar--one unsuccessfully, in the United States, and one successfully, in Australia. Using these examples, we illustrate the benefits and utility of adopting the decision seminar in endangered species recovery programs.

Introduction

Endangered species recovery programs require collaboration and effective problem solving among participants--government agencies, landowners, conservation organizations, industry groups, resource users, and others. The best way to achieve this is by participants agreeing on what the recovery problem is, its context, and how to solve it. Optimizing recovery means using old methods better and adopting new ones as needed. In fact, the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA), Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (MMPA), and other laws and administrative rules for protecting species and habitats all seek to enhance coordination and collaboration as one means to improve recovery. However, in the 30-year history of the ESA and MMPA no formal approach has been adopted in this regard, other than use of recovery plans as mandated by the ESA. Recovery plans are often technical documents aimed at directing biological research and management. They are not designed to take a complete, problem oriented look at the recovery challenge or address its full context in any single case. Rarely do recovery plans offer guidance on how to effectively manage the organizational complexity involved in recovery efforts, for example. In reality, diverse participants with competing values and perspectives can and do impede recovery, unintentionally or otherwise. This makes solving recovery problems that much harder. As a result, collaboration in recovery programs is often ad hoc or haphazard, even in cases where a plan clearly delineates the roles and responsibilities of program participants and where lead agency staff make deliberate efforts to bring participants together. Clark and Westrum (1989) have written on the need for guidance in the formation and operation of high-performance teams in endangered species recovery.

Here, we describe, illustrate, and call for the widespread use of a proven method--"decision seminar"--to improve success of recovery efforts. Burgess and Slonaker (1976) give a clear and thorough description of how to carry out a decision seminar. To date the decision seminar method has been little used in species recovery, but it promises to significantly improve conservation.

I. The Hawaiian monk seal case

This case, although it did not use the decision seminar method, illustrates its benefits, in part by counter (negative) example. The Marine Mammal Protection Act created the federal Marine Mammal Commission (MMC), a small independent agency of the executive branch charged with overseeing and providing recommendations on federal and state marine mammal programs under the ESA and MMPA. Over its history, MMC has undertaken a number of meetings fashioned after the decision seminar method, with varying levels of success. In 1989, while on the MMC staff, one of the authors (RLW) helped to organize a meeting of participants in the Hawaiian monk seal recovery program to address problems in program implementation and evaluation. …

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