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Finding Consensus: The Future of the Adirondack Park

Author: David Mason and James Herman Back to Table of Contents >> From Feature - Volume 18 (2012) (2012)

This article details the methodology and results of the ADK Futures Project.  The original intent of the project was to spur a new conversation about the Park, both broader in scope and more inclusive.  The debates since the formation of the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) had, in our opinion, gotten stale, were narrowly focused, and involved fewer and fewer people, mostly drawn from the paid staff of various interest groups and NGOs.  War metaphors were often used – hardly the basis for a healthy discussion.  Zero-sum behavior (i.e., if you win I must lose, so I cannot let you win), often involving lawsuits by losing parties, was the norm.  We saw a need to have a broader conversation about public and private land use but also about relevant economic sectors, the impact of climate change, and social systems like health care, government and education.  In short, what we thought was missing was consideration of the Whole Park as a complete system. 

Our intention was to write different endstates (snapshot views of the future Adirondack Park) and a set of events (hypothetical future news headlines) and then hold a workshop with a diverse sampling of people.  Working in small teams, the attendees would get to pick a subset of the events associated with an endstate (a scenario) and then try to sell their ideas to the rest of the workshop.  At the end of the team presentations, we would ask everyone to rank order the six scenarios based on two criteria: desirability (what a person would like) and attainability (what is most doable).  Attainability, which is different than probability, means easiest to achieve if we set out to make a scenario happen.

When we first conceived of this effort, we expected to hold only one or maybe two workshops each lasting two days.  But the response to the process was very positive and in the end we produced and facilitated 13 workshops involving over 500 participants as well as numerous other presentations.  While we only sought to begin a richer conversation about the future of the Park, what we found was a clear consensus. The desirability rankings of every workshop and group were very similar.  In addition, what the groups found desirable matched what they thought was attainable.   If the scenario that is broadly deemed most desirable is also deemed most attainable, then a basis for forward movement is created.  It is quite remarkable for alignment among desirability and attainability in a place so known for conflict.  The clear consensus supports both preservation of the Forest Preserve and rejuvenation of local economies based on a move to a more sustainable and localized regional economy.  Healthy communities and healthy ecosystems can be mutually supportive and coexist in balance.  Now the consensus vision that has been derived from the results of the workshops is being used to align the myriad implementation efforts occurring throughout the Park.  It has been input to the North Country Regional Economic Development Council strategy as well as the North Country Sustainability Plan. 

 

Methods

The scenario planning approach (called future mapping) used in this project was developed by the authors in their careers as management consultants and was used for 25 years to develop business strategies for Global 500 multi-national corporations (see Mason, 1998; Mason, 2003; Mason & Herman, 2003).  In this methodology, a scenario is divided into two parts: 

  • Endstate: An endstate describes the Park at the planning horizon (25 years from now). The endstates describe different points of view about the future of the Park.  They are not mutually exclusive, but are often treated that way. 
  • Planning Horizon: Events are spread over time between today (2012) and 2037, the planning horizon.  They read like newspaper headlines – someone or some group does something or some milestone is reached, such as the population in Hamilton County dropping below 3,000 year-round residents.  In the process, participants identify the series of events that must occur or must not occur to get us from today to each endstate.  Events typically describe an action related to a single issue making it easy to tell whether or not the event has happened.    

 

A scenario is a series of discreet, measurable events that lead to a clear endstate (Figure 1).  For this project, we wrote six endstates labeled A through F (Table 1).  The complete endstates (Appendix A) and 120 events are based on over 150 interviews and a selection of published and web-based material (see http://adkfutures.org/workshop-series/sources/).  These events and endstates constitute a kit for building and analyzing scenarios in workshops.  The endstates describe the Park in 2037, largely as a snapshot, and do not say much about how they came to pass.  The events each describe a single action or condition at various points in time between now and 2037.  Event timeframes are described as 5, 10, 15, or 20 years from now.

The endstates are not mutually exclusive and each does not address all the issues facing the Park.  Each endstate represents the point of view of some constituency of the Adirondack Park regarding what the main focus of a strategy should be going forward.  These form the structure for a debate among workshop attendees.  In the final stage of the scenario building process, participants can blend elements from more than one endstate to create their desired future state. 

 

Figure 1. Two-Part Scenarios: Events leading to Endstates. The endstates, shown as A-D, are the outcomes.  The events are shown spreading outward over time.  Note the arrows point backwards.  The scenario building exercise simulates hindsight by participants answering the question: If the world looked like endstate A, what must have happened for that to be true?

Figure 1. Two-Part Scenarios: Events leading to Endstates. The endstates, shown as A-D, are the outcomes. The events are shown spreading outward over time. Note the arrows point backwards. The scenario building exercise simulates hindsight by participants answering the question: If the world looked like endstate A, what must have happened for that to be true?

 

The original goal was not to seek alignment or agreement, but to spur a new and broader conversation involving diverse types of people.  However, as more and more groups reached similar conclusions, we began to have them work on finding the best combination of elements from all the scenarios.  We compared the scenarios events and determined where the scenarios overlapped and where they diverged.  For example, events common to all the scenarios emerge as high leverage points for the future of the Park.  We will not get anywhere without addressing the common events.

The result of the whole effort is a ‘future map’ comprised of a list of events leading to each of the six endstates.  By matching real world developments to this map, we can provide the region with advanced insight into where we are really going versus what we say we would like in the future.  Such feedback, in our experience, has been a powerful motivator for change.  This ‘tracking of the future map’ will be updated regularly via the Internet and will be presented in museums and schools.

We conducted two types of workshops for this project:

  • Two-day workshops were held for 35 people organized into five teams of seven people each.  We held five of these in different locations around the Park and invited specific participants to get a diverse set of people in attendance.  Participants read the endstates and then rank ordered them on desirability (most to least desirable) and attainability (most to least attainable). We used this ranking information to assign each person to a team –we tried to put people on teams defending endstates they felt we most desirable.  Only with specific permission did we put someone of a team they thought was a bad idea.

During the workshops, teams completed the following tasks: 

  1. Participants read each of the 120 events and voted on whether the event was highly likely (75% or more probable) or highly unlikely (less than 25% probable) to occur or whether it was uncertain (anything in between 75% and 25% probable or participant did not know).  This exercise captured the participants’ current expectations about the future, which we would feed back to them at the end of the first day.  At this point in the process, the participants were not yet trying to associate events with an endstate so this polling done by each group reflects their opinions of each event independent of any endstate. 
  1. Groups analyzed their assigned endstate and decided on how to explain and promote it to the rest of the participants.  Then participants selected events that must happen or must not happen in order for the respective endstates to come about.  We asked the team to imagine that the endstate had occurred and to ‘look back’ at what must have happened or not happened to get to their endstate. We limited each team to selecting approximately 50 of the 120 events in order to find the events that are most important for a scenario’s development.  This series of events represents the scenario’s critical path.                                                          
  1. Each team presented its scenario and answered questions about it in a role-play, which involved positively pitching its scenario regardless of their personal opinions.  Role-play allows people to explore ideas they otherwise would dismiss.  This fosters a good exploration of key issues.  When a team completed its presentation, each team member had the opportunity to tell the other participants what they really thought about the scenario so no one would confuse the role-play with real opinions.  What people said they had learned through the workshop process was often eye opening.  After all the presentations were finished, each participant rank ordered the endstates again on the measures of desirability and attainability. 
  1. The facilitators processed the voting results and announced the results during the workshop.  The results from all workshops are summarized in the results section. 
  1. At this point, participants typically called for time to explain how parts of the scenarios fit together into a good strategy and that no single scenario sufficed.  Therefore, on the second afternoon, participants were reassigned to new teams.  Each new team had at least one member from each of the previous scenario teams.  These new teams were challenged to find ways to blend the best elements of the scenarios into a composite scenario or to explore how the different scenarios might unfold together over time.  

 

Table 1. A summary of the six endstate characteristics of scenarios A through F.  Participants were asked to rank each endstate in linear order from most desirable to least desirable based on personal opinion.

Table 1. A summary of the six endstate characteristics of scenarios A through F. Participants were asked to rank each endstate in linear order from most desirable to least desirable based on personal opinion.

 

  • Half-day workshops satisfied a need to reach more people – not that many can afford to spend two full days in a workshop.  These half-day sessions were open to the public and designed to accommodate a variable number of participants.  We held eight of these and did not require preregistration.  They were held in many different locations around the Park to ensure participation by different groups (e.g., Champlain Valley farmers, Old Forge snowmobilers and Paul Smith’s College students) and one was held in New York City.  We made no effort to compose broadly representative groups; in fact by moving workshops geographically, we expected to attract groups with different perspectives (e.g., farmers, seasonal residents, loggers, guides, students).  This format involved the following tasks: 

1. The facilitators presented summaries of the scenarios and answered questions about them.  Then the participants rank ordered them on the same desirability and attainability criteria as the two-day workshop groups. 

2. Then the facilitators discussed approximately 25 of the most important events (as determined by critical path selections in the two-day workshops).  The participants voted on the likelihood of these events occurring, thus providing a snapshot of their current expectations about key issues. 

3. At the end, we showed participants how their endstate rankings and opinions about event probability compared to those of prior groups.  We had expected to show that different groups held different opinions about what was desirable, but it turned out they were all largely the same.

 

Results

Who Participated?

We worked to get diverse participants in the two-day workshops, and we expected more like-minded groups (e.g., students) in the half-day workshops with diversity gained by holding workshops in different locations.  Participants were characterized based on residency status (Figure 2) and on sector (Figure 3).  If there is any sector over represented it is education, which includes students and teachers.

 

Figure 2. All workshops by residency.  About 2/3 of the participants were residents and 1/3 non-residents.

Figure 2. All workshops by residency. About 2/3 of the participants were residents and 1/3 non-residents.

 

Figure 3. All workshops by sector. Participants were from all sectors and backgrounds.  Education was over-weighted because of two youth workshops, one a class at Paul Smiths and the other high school students from central Park districts.

Figure 3. All workshops by sector. Participants were from all sectors and backgrounds. Education was over-weighted because of two youth workshops, one a class at Paul Smiths and the other high school students from central Park districts.

 

Two-Day Workshop Participation 

A total of 169 people participated in five workshops.  We attempted to get the widest participation from private and public organizations, as well as from individual citizens (Figures 4 and 5).  We did not allow, for example, 6 people from a single organization.  Detailed lists of the participants and their organizational affiliations can be found in the report documenting each workshop on the project website (http://adkfutures.org/workshop-series/workshop-reports-2/).  All workshops were similar in composition except for the one at Blue Mountain Lake, which was comprised of 19 people from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and 15 people from the APA.  The results turned out to be largely the same in all 5 of these workshops, regardless of who attended.

 

Half-Day Workshop Participation

A total of 214 people participated in eight workshops and were characterized by residency and sector (Appendix B).  These workshops were open to the public so who attended depended upon where they were held.  For example, the Paul Smith’s College workshop consisted entirely of students and the Whallonsburg Grange event attracted area farmers and contractors.  We held a workshop in New York City specifically to get the views of seasonal residents, many of who serve on boards of the major environmental NGOs.  In Long Lake, we held a workshop for young people from high school-aged students to those in their late 20’s.  All who attended were either students or teachers.   The results for all of these groups, while not identical, were largely similar. 

In addition, at the Common Ground Alliance (CGA) 2011 Forum we presented the endstates as a speech and asked the attendees to rank order them.  This group was very large and diverse.  We also delivered a similar presentation at a meeting of the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages (AATV), which was comprised almost entirely of local government officials.  These also produced similar results. 

 

Endstate Ranking

In both types of workshops, and the two presentations, the participants rank ordered the endstates based upon desirability and attainability.  Including CGA 2011 and AATV, there was a total of 15 sets of ranking data collected for a total of 515 individual rankings (Table 2).  The number next to an endstate letter (A through F) is the normalized score that determines the ranking position and indicates a degree of agreement.  For example, if everyone ranked an endstate first, it would score 100.  If everyone ranked an endstate last, it would score a zero. When the scores are in a narrow range (e.g., from a high of 61 to a low of 38 for attainability, such as from the half-day workshop at Paul Smith’s College), it indicates lack of agreement.  When the scores are in a wide range (e.g., from a high of 98 to a low of 18, such as at the Long Lake half-day workshop), it indicates strong agreement on what is most and least desirable or attainable. 

 

Table 2. All endstate ranking results. (‘F’ and ‘H’ represent full and half-day workshops, respectively).   In the top line of this chart, participants ranked endstate C, the Sustainable Life, as most desirable. The Sustainable Life endstate was the same across every workshop group and was most often followed by endstate B, the Usable Park.  The lower section of the chart shows that in terms of attainability, participants ranked endstates C and B among the first and second rankings.

Table 2. All endstate ranking results. (‘F’ and ‘H’ represent full and half-day workshops, respectively). In the top line of this chart, participants ranked endstate C, the Sustainable Life, as most desirable. The Sustainable Life endstate was the same across every workshop group and was most often followed by endstate B, the Usable Park. The lower section of the chart shows that in terms of attainability, participants ranked endstates C and B among the first and second rankings.

 

What is striking is the degree of agreement, especially on desirability across all of the workshops.  The C endstate describing a sustainable, more localized economy was the favorite in all workshops and overall shows a considerable margin ahead of second place B about recreational tourism.  Together C and B are the most desirable and most attainable.  Endstate E concerning bottom up efforts was considered attainable largely because it is close to what we are doing now, but was always ranked less desirable than D which calls for government consolidation. 

Endstate D about centralization of government services was considered fairly desirable and was always ranked higher than E, but endstate D was also considered very unattainable.  A discrepancy between what is desirable and what is attainable is a normal result of this kind of exercise; what is considered desirable is also very hard to attain.  What is unique about this project is how the most desirable outcomes (endstates C and B) were also the ones that were viewed as attainable.  Together with the degree of agreement, this is an extremely positive result because it suggests what is widely desired is also considered very much within our grasp.  Even though endstate C was the clear favorite, the histogram of rankings shows that it was only ranked number one 56% of the time (Figure 4) but that was far more number one ranks than any other endstate and almost everyone who did not rank it first, ranked it second.

 

Figure 4. Histogram of ranking results. Desirability: 56% of participants ranked C first, and almost everyone who did not rank it first, ranked it second. Combining the first and second rankings for C yielded  86% of participants.  If everyone ranked C first or second, this would have totaled 100%, so 86% is considered excellent.  Endstate B totaled 49% by comparison.  The remaining endstates ranked very low. Attainability: The data for endstates B and C are close and E is not too far behind because it is close to current conditions; therefore, it was regarded as easy to attain by default.

Figure 4. Histogram of ranking results. Desirability: 56% of participants ranked C first, and almost everyone who did not rank it first, ranked it second. Combining the first and second rankings for C yielded 86% of participants. If everyone ranked C first or second, this would have totaled 100%, so 86% is considered excellent. Endstate B totaled 49% by comparison. The remaining endstates ranked very low. Attainability: The data for endstates B and C are close and E is not too far behind because it is close to current conditions; therefore, it was regarded as easy to attain by default.

 

Score Calculation Details: 

We asked participants to rank order the endstates.  Each endstate received a score depending on where it fell in a person’s ranking:  5 for being ranked first, 4 for second place, 3 for third place, 2 for fourth place, 1 for fifth place, and no points for ranking last.  Scores were summed across all completed rankings for each endstate.  The total score was stated as a percentage of the maximum possible score (i.e., everyone ranks one of the endstates first).  Thus the stated scores can range between 100 (if everyone ranked it first) to 0 (if everyone ranked it last).  Here is the formula where the score for a participant = Xi

ADK Futures Equation

With these results, we have begun to develop a vision and strategy that combines much of C with endstate B, thus augmenting C with sustainable tourism.  Neither C nor B alone is sufficient to revitalize such a large and diverse region. Local food, for example, is a great for the Champlain Valley, but not for Hamilton County where open farm land is scarce.  Tourism is big for Lake Placid, but not for Whallonsburg which is primarily a farming region. Therefore, a combination of C and B covers the whole Park with each area finding a focus to suit its situation.  The Wild Park, A scenario is mostly about the State owned Forest Preserve, so as a stand-alone future for the Park it is incomplete, but it remains a foundation for the whole idea of the Park. Lastly, D, the government consolidation scenario, is where government is trying to go, and is part of the emerging strategy.  But the ideas of C, the Sustainable Life, are the core of a future viewed as desirable, attainable, compatible with the Wild Park(A) and smaller government (D).   When we presented this as the strategy at the Common Ground Alliance Forum on July 18, 2012, 64% of the attendees polled said they strongly agreed with the strategy and vision and 29% said they agreed.  Only 7% said they somewhat agreed and no one disagreed.  Again, this is an unusual result for a region characterized by conflict and lack of agreement.

 

Scenario Event Selections

The details of events selected for the scenarios may get boring but they are the basis for implementation projects and monitoring progress going forward. 

For the five full workshops, we captured detailed event selections by scenario (all are shown in Appendix C).  Recall that teams selected events that must happen and must not happen.  By comparing the selections across the scenarios, you find what we call “common events” – events that are needed regardless of the endstate.  In any future, this short list of events must be addressed.  They form the most obvious basis for common ground progress.  Every future needs to somehow resolve or address these events and are shown in Tables 3 and 4. 

The most frequently selected “must happen” events are mostly about economic development (e.g., biomass, promotion campaign, broadband, small-scale business and agriculture support, large developments at the edge of the Park), attracting retirees, and tourism (e.g., main street revitalization, ecotourism, agritourism, Park-wide recreation plan) (Table 3).  There are some events describing changes in regulation to ease problems where communities border Forest Preserve Lands (e.g. permitting buried pipes and cables under roads), and efforts at rationalizing government services.  The most frequently selected “must not happen” events are about negative developments such as environmental stress and poverty (Table 4), so the strategy should address poverty and environmental stress. The full listing of all events used in any of these workshops and how they were selected is shown in Appendix C. 

 

Table 3. Frequently selected events about positive developments. Following the colors in the chart, economic development strategies should include consideration of biomass energy, broadband based jobs, and small businesses, possibly related to close-in large projects like suppliers to Global Foundries (green).  Tourism is going to require main street revitalization, development of eco-tourism, agro-tourism, and a Park-wide recreation plan (yellow).  Regulation of water quality needs to be improved and, Article 14 needs to permit buried pipes and cables under roads and a community small projects land bank (purple).  Government needs to consider shared back office operations, merged highway departments, sharing administration of school districts, and better geographic alignment with the Park and State agency boundaries (light blue).  To attract more retirees, we need more community based retirement facilities (dark blue).

Table 3. Frequently selected events about positive developments. Following the colors in the chart, economic development strategies should include consideration of biomass energy, broadband based jobs, and small businesses, possibly related to close-in large projects like suppliers to Global Foundries (green). Tourism is going to require main street revitalization, development of eco-tourism, agro-tourism, and a Park-wide recreation plan (yellow). Regulation of water quality needs to be improved and, Article 14 needs to permit buried pipes and cables under roads and a community small projects land bank (purple). Government needs to consider shared back office operations, merged highway departments, sharing administration of school districts, and better geographic alignment with the Park and State agency boundaries (light blue). To attract more retirees, we need more community based retirement facilities (dark blue).

  

Table 4. Frequently selected events about negative developments. This chart shows two threads of common events.  Red boxes are about private sector shrinkage leading to a decline of visitors in the Park and growth in the number of poor, all bad signs. The yellow thread details problems with invasive species, climate change impacts and disregard for government rules, also bad signs to be monitored.

Table 4. Frequently selected events about negative developments. This chart shows two threads of common events. Red boxes are about private sector shrinkage leading to a decline of visitors in the Park and growth in the number of poor, all bad signs. The yellow thread details problems with invasive species, climate change impacts and disregard for government rules, also bad signs to be monitored.

 

Current Expectations Voting 

Lastly, there are data on highly likely and unlikely voting with respect to each of the events. (Appendix D).  This voting was conducted to get people thinking about the entire set of events.  Estimates of event probability are not a way to craft a strategy but the data has value.   At the extremes, the events with the very highest and lowest certainty percentages reflect people’s intuition about what is and what is not going to happen. 

The expectations for the common events, just discussed in the prior section, can be examined by calculating certainty percentages (shown as Cer% inTables 2 and 3).  These percentages give you a sense of the probability of the frequently selected events.  For the most part, the good events have positive certainty percentages, a good thing.  The bad news is that the negative events are also deemed highly likely, e.g. shorter winters and losing the war on invasive species.  Thus, rather than just hope they do not happen, we need to plan how to cope with them and adapt to them. 

Some of the events with the highest certainty percentage envision more citizen-sponsored and volunteer activity.  It has been pointed out that this is just what you would expect from a project conducted as a volunteer effort.  Also, many events about the growth of the local food movement are very positive.  Events about simple steps toward centralizing some government services are also deemed fairly likely in the next ten years.  The least likely events are about abandoning any towns in the Park – virtually no one wants to plan for abandoning any town. 

 

Conclusion

With input from over 500 people from diverse organizations and towns across the Adirondack Park, we have found strong agreement on the outlines of a strategy for protecting our landscape and revitalizing our communities.  These results agree with the findings of a previous study of public priorities in four northern forest states, which found strong support for sustainability (Cox et al., 2007; Cox et al., 2010).  

Several follow up documents are now online, including the presentation to the Adirondack Park Agency (https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B-NAJIsJSSEYdjdtdVZhSWlZdVE/edit) and the vision and strategy paper (http://adkfutures.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/adk-futures-vision.pdf).  

Using this framework of events and endstates, we will monitor progress in key areas and report yearly to the Common Ground Alliance on whether we are on the path we set out on or whether the path has been diverted towards a different outcome.  This work will take the form of a web-accessible system allowing anyone to view the status of various events and enter current information.  Current activity mapped to the scenarios as of July 2013 can be found here: http://adkfutures.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/presentation-for-cga-2013.pdf 

We are told frequently that this project has enriched the set of ideas under consideration for future strategies and goals for the Adirondack Park.  Often the positive feedback comes from people who were not participants in a workshop, thus showing how the ideas have infiltrated the minds of people working day-to-day on the future of the Park. The impact of this project will therefore be felt in the years to come as better futures hopefully unfold. More information can be found at the project website www.ADKfutures.org.

 

Acknowledgements

This was not an official effort.  It was a pro bono project for the Common Ground Alliance, itself a lose affiliation of organizations and concerned citizens from across the Adirondack Park.  We were amazed by the outpouring of support that we received for this project and especially by the large number of people who contributed their ideas, energy, and time.  Many organizations donated space for us to use and a few helped underwrite the costs of materials printing and food for the workshops.  We are extremely grateful to them all.

 

Authors

David Mason and James Herman built and ran a strategy consulting firm in Boston based on the methodology used for this project.  Most of their clients were global corporations in industries ranging from information technology to pharmaceuticals, banking, communications, and various manufacturers.  They also worked for government clients in the US and in the UK.  

 

References

Cox, C. L., Erickson, J. D., & Porter, W.F. (2007). North country respondents voice vision for sustainable park. Adirondack Journal of Environmental Studies, 14(1), 32-40. 

Cox, C. L., Woods, A. M., Holmes, T. P., Porter, W. F., & Erickson, J. D. (2010). Survey of public priorities as a guide for sustainable investment strategies in four Northern Forest states. Adirondack Journal of Environmental Studies, 16. 

Mason, D. H. (1998). Chapter 6: Scenario planning: mapping the paths to the desired future. In L. Fahey & R. M. Randall (Eds.), Learning From the Future (pp. 109-121). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Mason, D. (2003). Tailoring scenario planning to the company culture. Strategy & Leadership, 31(2), 25-28. doi:10.1108/10878570310464402

Mason, D. & Herman, J. (2003). Scenarios and strategies: making the scenario about the business. Strategy & Leadership, 31(1), 23-31. doi:10.1108/10878570310455024

 

Appendices

Appendix A– The Six Endstate Scenarios 

Appendix B– Workshop Participant Characteristics

Appendix C– Critical Path Selections for All Events All Workshops

Appendix D– Current Expectations Results for All Events All Workshops

 

 

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