Leadership, organizations, and change (May 26)

May 26, 2010 3 comments

How to lead change is both a mystery and a science. People have been studying the phenomena of leadership and change for many years. There are many books on the subject; some using data; some using cases; some using stories. Part of the difficulty in describing leadership is that it comes in so many styles, from the great leaders like Alexander the Great who conquer whole worlds, to quiet leaders in a small community that galvanize people to work together. There is no easy way to learn to be a leader. The readings just represent an eclectic mix of ideas to get you to think about leadership, organizations, and change. We all spend our whole lives watching, doing, and learning about these things. Our hope as teachers is that you find the leader in yourself, and make change happen. Humanity will certainly need plenty of it to get through the 21st Century in respectable shape.


So reflect on what you’ve read; connect it to what you’ve been thinking about these days; and let us know what’s on your mind!

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Group Dynamics (May 24th)

May 24, 2010 3 comments

It’s official. In the opening of the 21st Century, getting environmental work done in the U.S. (and probably in most other countries) requires that the public sector, the private sector, and government work together. No more just doing your own thing, figuring something out (e.g., ecosystems provide valuable services to society and therefore saves society money, creates healthier lives, etc.), and then waiting for everyone to just take care of it on their own (e.g., conserving ecosystems). Our ecological connections are just too intertwined and our political and economic connections bind us all together.


Bottom line. Spend your whole life learning to work with other people. It is not easy, and there are many potential skills that can make this easier. Your reading and listening this week were selected to help convince you that groups are important and working in groups takes skill. Some of these skills you can learn from books and listening to others’ advice. Some of these skills you have to learn by trial and error.

What’s your advice? Comment below….

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Problem-solving Techniques (May 19)

May 19, 2010 3 comments

Taking an organized approach to solving a problem is a good thing. Involving more people in this process to create more options is generally always helpful. Just involving other people has proven to be very useful, especially if those people have some influence over the process/action needed.

Coming up with a creative and realistic solution is what problem-solving is about. Implementing that solution requires another whole set of skills, and like problem-solving, usually works better when lots of differently skilled and differently thinking people are involved. Taking this idea of solution implementation apart, we can come up with many of the same components as we would in implementing any project. Project planning is another whole world of ideas, e.g., see (http://www.projectsmart.co.uk/project-planning-step-by-step.html). Project management is the other side of the coin as it deals with the organization of the implementation, ranging from people management to resource management (e.g., money, raw materials, supplies, consultants, service providers, etc.). The take-home message here is that 1) solutions can be quite complicated from the start (figuring out the solution), through the middle (planning and managing the activity), to the end (evaluating the process and outcomes); 2) there are many supporting “disciplines” to deal with this complicated process (project planning, project management, scheduling tools, organizing software, database, financial tracking, etc.); and 3) there are many organizations that do this (architect/engineering, design firms, project management consultants, etc.). So there is a lot of experienced help out there to deal with complex social and scientific activities targeted at getting something done (landing a man on the moon, building a nuclear power plant, paying for health care for 100 million elderly people, feeding the world).


While this can be both intimidating and expensive, one important thing to keep in mind is that despite the complexity of the planning and implementation, the basic idea of the solution can still be very simple. Thus Wendell Berry’s critique of agribusiness is that despite the government’s $89 billion dollar USDA investment (2008), the hundreds of university research departments, the trillions of dollars of commercial and industrial dollars invested in agribusiness, and the huge consulting industry that has emerged to support agriculture — we still need to ask the simple question: Is the food and the land (= ecosystem) better as a result? The simple problem definition approaches that Professor Hughes leads us through are relevant to this question, despite the “sophistication” and complexity of the agribusiness system.

So in your comment here, think about a problem that you are interested in, think about DOCSKEYS, and reflect on whether you think that a solution that society has chosen is a good one.

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Problem-solving Frameworks (17 May)

May 17, 2010 3 comments

The next generation will have an accumulation of environmental debt that will hamper its ability to grow and develop economically as well as in terms of its quality of life. The financial debt that is also growing will contribute to the difficulty of dealing with making society work in concert with the natural systems that support so much of what civilization values (clean air, water, stable climate, quality environments to live and play in, etc.). To the extent that these future challenges represent PROBLEMS, figuring out what to do, is going to be a key element of many organizations — public, private, NGO, etc.


The work has been going on, but a greater and more comprehensive involvement of everyone will need to happen to make a difference. The approaches/frameworks that you read about are just some of the responses to the oncoming situation that people have thought of. What do you think of them and their chance of being applied successfully to our current suite of problems? What are some other approaches that should be adopted to help turn the tide on the accumulating debt? As an inheritor of this future, how do you feel about the situation? What do you want to do about it?

Hard questions that you and others will probably be thinking about for many years….

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The Impact Assessment Acts (May 12)

May 12, 2010 3 comments

Both NEPA and Act 250 require that assessment of impact be conducted prior to the implementation of a project OR a policy (in the case of NEPA). As you discovered, these assessment need to cover a wide variety of environmental aspects such a water quality, wildlife habitat, traffic, economic development, etc. While some of these topics are specified in the legislation, impact assessment is often not just limited to specified topics but can include many aspects of the concept of impact. If you look at actual Environmental Impact Assessments, the bulk of the assessments are about individual topics (such as impact on wetlands). Thus, these assessments are multidisciplinary in their approach. Much more difficult to achieve is an interdisciplinary and holistic assessment of the impacts of the project or policy. In addition, the really long-term impacts are also very difficult to assess.

The art and science of impact assessment is challenging, and not often agreed upon by all parties involved. Dispute then often moves the process to a adversarial one with mediation or court actions required. One outcome of all of this is that the project gets public scrutiny of some kind, possibly with press coverage. This takes the project into a political realm. So one major role of NEPA and Act 250 is just to make the project more visible.

In your comments, please comment on how available and helpful you find the information that you found (tell us what you found). Then, from the reading that you have done, reflect on how important you feel the Acts are and what you think they accomplish. If you didn’t look at an Environmental Impact Statement, the NEPA link goes to a selection of these often very long documents. You should just skim one or two to get a sense of what the document is like.

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Hello, let’s get started

May 12, 2010 5 comments

This entry is just for starting to use the blog. I’m just going to introduce myself and comment on the course. Please introduce yourself here by making a comment (below) in which you introduce yourself and share any comments you may have about taking this course.

I’m a professor here at the University of Vermont, and have been teaching at the Rubenstein School for 20 years. I’m an ecosystem ecologist and also have been doing work at the landscape-level and occasionally teaching Landscape Ecology. I’ve also been teaching Race and Culture in Natural Resources for almost two decades and believe that conservation and management of natural resources has to be more inclusive if it is going to be something that all the people in the U.S. care about.


(more informally…) I love all the seasons in Vermont starting with ski season, moving on to mud season, then river season (canoeing and rafting), and finally “leaf peeper” season (taking walks on the colorful leaves). If you have a volleyball, I’m game. NEXT INTRODUCTION …

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