Category Archives: Vision and Strategy

Project Update – Are We Getting the Desired Future Or?

You know this pattern:  Lots of people spend tons of time and money developing a plan.  It finishes with a fanfare, then as times passed it is spoken about less frequently.  Eventually people forget about the plan.  Then work begins on a new plan, because, well, we don’t have one. So, with this post we are trying to add something different to the ADK Futures Project, a review of how we are doing vs the 2011-12 vision – remember the vision?

In 2011-12, the ADK Futures Project ran a series of scenario planning workshops.  The desired future was called the Sustainable Life, mixed with tourism and supported by the Forest Preserve.  This also turned out to be most attainable among the scenarios, largely because much of it was already underway.  The broad alignment supporting the vision was what surprised people.  Now it is February 2016.  What has happened since July 2012?  How does it compare to the desired vision?

We have been collecting data, news items, press releases, reports and such since July 2013 and now have roughly 1000 items. We associate each item to its related event(s).  Over time one begins to see trends suggesting what is getting done, and what is not. Some events have lots of news, on other events nothing has happened, and some are clearly never going to happen.

The short conclusion is, wow, we sure are making a lot of progress on a broad range of fronts. Historic expansions of the Forest Preserve have been made.  Realignment of the health care system has been done.  Building out broadband and cell service is ongoing, making progress each day.  The renewal of Champlain Valley farming is gaining momentum.  The State and private sector have invested a lot of new money in recreation and tourism facilities.  And on and on.  It is very impressive, especially given the fact that no one is organizing, coordinating, or leading all this work.   It is happening, it seems, with the willing collaboration and distributed effort of many people to get where they collectively want to go.  Maybe this is democracy in action in the most positive sense of the word.   It is actually quite incredible.

There is too much information for a post.  We have written an update that organizes recent developments by theme.  For example, Agriculture, Recreation, Energy, Transportation, Arts and Heritage, Healthcare, and more, are each separate topics, where news related to the events used in the 2011-12 workshops has been aggregated and written as a short narrative.

The update is based on data collected, organized and posted here.  You can check on the data, follow the links and find out more about the progress we have made. We try to keep ‘evidence’ to things that actually happen; not ongoing debates but how the debates conclude.  We try to keep it complete.  A grant is made.  A project is started, finished or abandoned.  The APA makes a decision.  Voters pass something.  You get the idea.  Even with this approach, we already have about 1000 items of evidence.   Let us know via email of missing data, including a link to the evidence we should cite.  Thanks!

Click here for the PDF file of the update document.

 

 

743 Items of Evidence, and Counting

If you have not seen it, please note we have been monitoring what our region is actually doing vs the ADK Futures scenarios.  You can see what progress is being made here where more than 734 items of evidence show substantial progress toward realizing the vision laid out for our sustainable future.  More evidence is added all the time.

Recall that we were surprised by the strength and depth of the aligned intentions of most people in the region?  Well, if you were surprised by that, the progress since then is actually astonishing, and I encourage you to take a look at the breadth and depth of actions already taken.  Encouragingly, no single person is organizing and driving all this activity.  The progress is made by by hundreds of people in a distributed fashion.  It is clear that the region is making real progress toward what it identified as its desirable and attainable goals.

It is a good news reading, you’ll enjoy it. Look here and click on the header called ‘category’. Then you can look through each category and see what’s been going on.

Summary of Results of First Adirondack Regional Responses to Climate Change Workshop

On December 11 and 12, 2014 a diverse set of 32 scientists, policy makers, government officials, non-profit leaders and concerned citizens mapped out different ways in which our region might respond to the threat of disruptive climate change. As we did for the ADK Futures project, we are using a scenario planning approach in which we consider multiple plausible outcomes for 25 years from now and map out pathways to get to them using events that could happen between now and the outcome horizon.  The full documentation of the workshop is available.  Here we present a summary of results.  Future posts will explore some of the issues raised.

The issues and options with regard to climate change are notoriously complex and because what we do will be affected by what happens elsewhere, we can’t just consider scenarios at the regional level.  Therefore, we set the context for our regional thinking with two sets of global scenarios.  First, we presented 5 scenarios for how the global climate system might evolve over the next 25 years.  These global climate scenarios are labeled:

  • C1: Gradual Change
  • C2: Faster Change
  • C3: Pause Ends
  • C4: Non-Linear
  • C5: Unpredictable

After some discussion, we asked the participants to rank order these climate scenarios from most probable over the next 25 years to least probable.  Here are the results:

global climate ranking table result

The result is pretty clear:  the most difficult to deal with climate possibilities (C4 Non-Linear and C5 Unpredictable) are the most likely (tied for first) and the most benign ones are the least likely.  Get ready for more bad weather.

Next, we presented 5 scenarios for the human race might respond to the threat of climate change at the global level.  Climate change is a problem whose worst consequences can only be prevented by global action.  These global response scenarios are labeled:

  • G1: Governments in Gear
  • G2: Bottom Up Progress
  • G3: Private Sector Leads
  • G4: The Oblique Path to Progress
  • G5: Panic!

Again, after some discussion, we asked the participants to rank order these climate scenarios from most probable over the next 25 years to least probable.  Here are the results:

global response ranking table result

This result puts most faith in the private sector(G3) and bottom up efforts (G2) and has the lowest expectations of success for top-down, national government-led efforts (G1).  This is realistic but it isn’t clear that we can avert damaging climate change without G1 and a truly global solution.

With this as context, the workshop focused on 6 scenarios about how the Adirondack Region responds over the next 25 years. These regional responses are labeled:

  • A: Minimize Our Carbon Footprint
  • B: Prepare for the Worst
  • C: Hyper-Green Human Refuge
  • D: Climate Change Laboratory
  • E: Don’t Panic
  • F: Reaching a Regional Tipping Point

After almost a full day of analysis and then a spirited half-day of plenary debate, we asked the participants to rank order these six regional response scenarios on desirability and attainability, just as we did with the Adirondack Futures endstates in 2011 and 2012.  Here are the results:

regional after ranking result

Unlike in the Adirondack Futures result (which we said at the time was highly unusual), the most desirable outcome here A, where we lower our carbon footprint, is the least attainable. Why this is so will be the subject of a future post. The scenario that got the most endorsement for action in the workshop is B, the one focused on proactive adaptation with the expectation of serious climate change in the future.  Scenario C, which says the region will be a winner on balance because of climate change, was viewed skeptically. The narrowly focused science and research scenario D was viewed as difficult to pull off and didn’t address enough of the region’s needs.   Scenario E that took a pragmatic, measured approach was seen as easy to do but undesirable.  Scenario F in which the region is badly wrecked by climate change was obviously undesirable but received a fairly high attainability score.

The end of the workshop was devoted to sketching out ways in which multiple endstates and layers of endstates might be integrated into a more complete roadmap for the next 25 years and beyond. One synthesis depicted change over time at both the global climate level (top), global response level (x-axis) and regional level (bottom).

adk cc synthesis diagram

The climate will worsen, eventually changing non-linearly.  The G2 (Bottom Up) and G3 (Private Sector) global responses predominate at first followed by more of a G4 (Oblique) approach and then finally as the climate worsens still, G1 (Top-Down) kicks in.  Regionally there is a lot of focus on mitigation and clean energy (A) especially as the private sector brings the costs down.  The intensity of our regional efforts will follow the triggers of the global scenarios with B (Adaptation) and C (Human Refuge) dominating over time. Seems likely that B and C will end up dwarfing everything else as the climate gets bad. In their view, D (Laboratory) is flat over time and so is E (Don’t Panic).  You continue to do smart, practical things (E) and you do great science although funding might be tighter in the future as money goes to adaptation.

In future posts we will dig into specific scenarios and their implications.

How Can You Know the Desired Future is Developing, or Not?

We are pleased to announce the release of our second website for the ADK Futures Project to support implementation efforts.  The first phase ended with the vision statement, but any sort of plan requires a way to know if you are making progress, or not.

This new site will be the public feedback loop allowing everyone to see if we are getting the sustainable future you said you wanted, or some other outcome. It will help regional leaders see where a lot of progress is happening and where things need a boost.

Of course, there is no manager of the whole Park, nor a management team, so implementation of the ADK Futures vision isn’t like any other project we’ve ever run.  It is not a corporate or political project.   You all are the team. This site will let you know how you are doing.

Each of the future events from the workshops now has evidence associated with it.  In almost all cases evidence items include links to the data sources, news stories, press releases or something more than just an assertion by us.  We also add comments, which are just observations, not evidence.

You do not have to create an account and login to see this information but there are benefits to doing so.  You can add evidence you know about including links to it and your estimate of the likelihood of each event.  You can add comments with your observations.  The site will keep track of what evidence you have read and what is new, so you don’t get confused.  There are hundreds of items of evidence already so knowing what you’ve read will be handy.  The data you add will be included in the various statistics going forward so please be serious about it and don’t add junk data.

The vision statement that was the result of all the workshops was sweeping in scope, but it wasn’t just a dream.  At the time we said that lots of work was already underway.  This site will keep you informed about what has actually been happening; more than 400+ evidence items are already in the new site.  Take a look, log in, and bookmark the site so it is easy for you to revisit and get up to date.

The address for the new site is: www.ADKfutures.net

The earlier blog site will remain here.  It has all the records of the entire original body of work.  The implementation section has been rewritten to link to this new site’s database.

We will only be posting here when we feel like something important can best be addressed in this blog format – likely to happen from time to time.  But most of our energy will go into keeping the evidence data on the new site as current as possible.

We hope you find this evidence tracking useful.  Go check it out.  www.ADKfutures.net

Jim and Dave

Feels Like Progress

In the past few weeks we have attended Local Government Day, Adirondack Day in the Capital, and the Adirondack Research Consortium.  In each case, we were left with the feeling that the Adirondacks is moving forward on many fronts.  There is a sense of optimism and progress.  Most importantly, collaboration and Park-wide thinking are the rules of the day.

Local Government Day

This is an annual event co-sponsored by the APA and AATV (Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages).  Usually this event happens in March when we are away but they moved it into late April this year and we were pleased to be able to attend.  The senior management from both DEC and APA were there listening hard to the large number of local government reps who came.  The Adirondack Partnership and its Director, Bill Farber, were front and center touting their new Economic Strategies development project that has been awarded to a group of consulting firms led by River Street Planning and Development of Troy.  This project will take the work of the ADK Futures project as a starting point to develop much more detailed strategies for economic development in the region and test them against market data.

The main focus of the day we attended was the economic potential of tourism. There was a presentation by Jim McKenna on the about-to-be-released Adirondack Park Outdoor Recreation Strategy, which is the product of a 25 person volunteer team comprised of public, private and non-profit leaders.  This effort has characterized the main factors that hold back better development of the Park’s resources to provide more economic opportunity to the towns and villages of the region.  The group made it’s initial priority the development of a web portal to bring together all information about recreational opportunities, facilities and visitor amenities across the entire Park.  This is aimed at what the team saw as a key problem: inadequate information available to prospective visitors about the diverse recreational opportunities in the Park and the poor distribution of activities and events across the entire area.  This web portal was recently funded in this years Regional Economic Development grants and its development has already started.

Next we heard about the potential economic benefits of better developing the recreational opportunities of the Park.  Most importantly, we learned how the five towns (Newcomb, Minerva, Indian Lake, North Hudson and Long Lake) affected most by the new NYS acquisition of Finch Pruyn lands are working together to come up with plans for developing recreational and visitor facilities to capture some local economic benefit.  The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has included a half million dollar grant to the towns to help in this effort.  DEC is working closely with the team, too.  This kind of partnership is a major step in the right direction and TNC, in particular, should be commended for their efforts to insure that all benefit from the biggest addition to the Forest Preserve in 100 years.

Overall we heard that there is great potential if we diversify the offerings to visitors, most of whom only want a 1 to 2 hour hike.  This means diversifying access and making it possible for the less fit or elderly to enjoy a portion of the outdoors. Others want something other than hiking, such as biking, boating, etc. Visitors also consider sight seeing, relaxing, dining and shopping an important part of their vacation.  Grassroots efforts to develop new activities are also key, such as the Cranberry 50 development of hiking trails.  In the end though, there needs to be investment in lodging if we are to unlock the economic potential of the region.  We need to think hard about the kinds of incentives and grants that can be put together to attract the necessary private investment.  Our relatively short visitor seasons and increasingly iffy winter weather make these kinds of investments very risky and they won’t happen if local and State government don’t sweeten the pot.

What struck us overall about the event was the lack of griping and pointing fingers.  Instead there was a refreshing sense of optimism and cooperation.  The ADK Futures project was cited repeatedly as one more sign that we are in a new era in the Park, one in which we are moving forward.

Adirondack Day

April 29 was the first Adirondack Day in the “well” of the State Legislative Office building in Albany.  Groups around the State use this space to promote their region or cause to legislators, their staff, and executive branch staff.  With an incredible outpouring of volunteer support, our region pulled together rich  displays about conservation, fighting invasives,  recreation, culture, history, and our successes on the economic development front.  Most prominent, though, were the displays and samples of our burgeoning local food movement.  It was great to see so many of our key organizations working together to promote the entire region.

It turns out that this very day the Governor announced his White Water Canoe Challenge.  The effort clearly paid off in terms of greater awareness in Albany to the many ways the Adirondacks are moving ahead these days.  At one point, Mr. Cuomo did make an appearance accompanied by Senator Betty Little and visited a number of the displays. Betty spotted us and steered the Governor our way for a brief introduction.

Jim and dave with Cuomo and Little

Adirondack Research Consortium

Last week we participated in the Adirondack Research Consortium (ARC) conference in Lake Placid.  The opening keynote speakers were Andrew Revkin author of “Dot Earth” blog on the New York Times, and Stephen Jackson, Director of the Southwest Climate Center.  Both held balanced views on climate change that emphasized the adaptability of nature and avoidance of extreme points of view.  Dr. Jackson showed fossil data that indicated fast and major swings in climate have hit the planet before and had nothing to do with humans.  Although we are clearly the major factor driving climate change now, we are not the only part of the system that can do so.  Mr. Revkin introduced the idea that all environmental thinking must now include humans as part of the system, part of the solution and he pointed to the Adirondacks as an example.  Getting to a pre-human wild state is simply not possible.  For better or worse we are like gods, but as Stewart Brand said, “we better get good at it”.  He made the point that climate change is a big messy problem with humans right in the middle of it and the Adirondacks are a big messy problem with humans in the middle of it.  Dr. Jackson also talked about the need for researchers to learn how to better communicate and engage with the public.  Scientists need to understand the public doesn’t react to data the way they do.  In general, data never changes anyone’s mind. We need more people and organizations that are boundary spanners, that can bridge gaps between researchers and stakeholders.  The Adirondack Research Consortium is one of those.

Bob Stegemann, DEC Region 5 Director, next stepped in for Joe Martens, DEC Commissioner, who had to be at a meeting with the Governor that day.  Bob’s message was that the Adirondack’s are doing better than they have in many decades.  We are completing the largest addition to the Forest Preserve in 100 years and all 26 town boards affected agreed to support it.  And in the past 20 years we have added nearly 800,000 acres of easement lands inside the Blue Line.  But, he emphasized, the towns and villages now need to thrive as the Forest Preserve has thrived.  We need to work harder to ensure that the State land benefits local communities.  We need stronger communities if they are going to be able to adapt to climate change and the more severe weather it is going to throw at us.

Bob also pointed out that as the Forest Preserve has grown (it is four times as large as it was when Article XIV was enacted) the issues for towns and villages with regard to the Forest Preserve have grown.  He argued for consideration of an expanded transportation land bank to cover county and town roads.  The current one only covers State highways, but they are not the only ones with bad curves, utility poles that are hazards, culverts that need upgrading, etc.  He also suggested that a utility land bank be considered to enable modernization of existing utilities where Forest Preserve prevents siting of power, communications, water and sewer lines.  We, too believe that carefully crafted and vetted versions of these ideas could be effective win-win modifications to the existing regulatory strictures in the Park.  He also encouraged passage of the Transferable Development Rights (TDR) bill before the legislature and that more towns use APA map amendments to implement community development proposals.  He ended by emphasizing the threat the invasive species pose to our great Park.

Next there was a panel of energy industry executives, but I must admit to not really learning much that was new, except that the big generators are concerned about the “threat” of distributed power production.  We are so reminded of the way the Internet threatened the old, stodgy telcos.

Day 2 of the conference was kicked off with a panel of Dave Mason, Steve Englehart of AARCH and Kate  Fish of ANCA.  In keeping with the theme of the conference, Dave presented the 25 year future vision developed by our project.  Then Steve provided the historical perspective on how the vision is rooted in our traditions and out landscape.  Kate then talked about all the projects and efforts that are moving us toward the vision, emphasizing the two big wins for the North Country in the Regional Economic Development Council process.

In response to some questions after the talk, the Futures Project with CGA agreed to compile suggestions for a research agenda for the region as input to the Consortium.

This was our third ARC and this one was very different in tone and substance from the first one we went to in May 2011.  We were just starting our research about the Adirondacks for the Futures project.  The final plenary presentation that year was about the APRAP report, all doom and gloom.  That effort provided an important baseline of data, but it didn’t point to a way out of the funk we were in.  When we were doing our strategic planning consulting back in the ’90s, we found over and over again that data, by itself, doesn’t usually change people’s minds or lead to action.  People use data to support what they already believe.  To make progress you need to get people to let go of past beliefs and assumptions, to unlearn them as we used to say.  Until you can crack open the current belief system or mental models of people, they can’t look afresh at a situation and see the possibility of positive change.  We may be seeing that happen now.

Adirondack Non-Profit Network

The varied non-profits of the Adirondack Region are critical to successfully moving toward a better future.  So we were pleased to have the opportunity to spend a day last week with the Adirondack Non-Profit Network (ANN), an informal network of leaders from organizations serving the Adirondacks that has been organized by the Adirondack Community Trust (ACT).  Non-profits in the arts, community development, healthcare, environmental research and advocacy, social services, tourism (e.g., museums), education and others were represented.  A major goal of the group is to foster more integrated, Park-wide planning and cooperation, which we endorse wholeheartedly.

ANN

The goal of the half-day workshop we organized for the group was to explore the ways in which the non-profit sector can contribute to progress toward the ADK Futures vision.  The group prioritized these top areas:

  • Adapting to climate change
  • Developing support services to better enable mid-career families to move here
  • Getting somewhere on the diversity issue
  • Developing a vision and strategy for public education in the Adirondacks
  • Making the Arts a growing economic sector
  • Dealing with a growing number of poor in the Park
  • Getting water quality efforts better organized, networked and coordinated
  • Getting all the tourism NGOs to strategize together (outdoor oriented but also indoor)
  • Continue the work of Main Street revitalization

The group thought most of this would be difficult, but some areas like getting the tourism NGOs to work together or developing a support system for mid-career families were seen as relatively easy. Large numbers of the non-profits represented could work on climate change, tourism and the Arts. There were fewer who would address water quality improvement, coping with a growing poor segment of our communities or addressing the lack of diversity in the region’s residents and visitors.

Some key ideas from the discussion were:

  • Climate change is still an education issue
  • In education, study the best schools in the Park and create a model of successful small schools
  • Create a Park-Wide Arts organization – conceive of the Park as an arts center; this is a major hole in the Park’s non-profit infrastructure.
  • Non-profits need to help a few key towns to revitalize that don’t have the local organizations and experienced people to pursue this.  For example, adopt Port Henry.

Overall, the big theme was thinking Park-wide, collaborating, networking and making connections all the time.

A New Blog on the Future of the Adirondack Park

We have been engaged in a scenario planning project about the future of the Adirondack Park in upstate New York under the auspices of the Common Ground Alliance (CGA).  The work has proceeded to the point where there is a vision and strategy for the region and now we are beginning to work through various implementation efforts.  With so much going on we are going to use this blog as a way to keep everyone informed and up to date.  We’ll be posting regularly on efforts we know of or discussions we are having with people throughout the Park.

Since the 2012 CGA Forum, we have prepared a document which summarizes the vision and strategy implied by the results of the workshop series.  We have also been starting to track and coordination the various implementation efforts underway.  The blog will report regularly and we will maintain the Implementation Status section of this site as well.