Since an important focus of PlaceMatters’ work is informed decision-making (and the technical tools this sometimes requires), I thought I’d share some more detail on one of our past projects, partly because the work–integrating ecosystem and hazard data into traditional planning– was recently published in the Journal of Conservation Biology. Co-authored by Patrick Crist of NatureServe, Kiersten Madden of the University of TX Marine Science Institute, Doug Walker of Placeways, Tashya Allen and Dave Eslinger of NOAA, and myself, the article, “Supporting cross-sector, cross-domain planning through interoperating toolkits,” includes work PlaceMatters (and partners) did to demonstrated the benefits of addressing conservation goals and hazard mitigation simultaneously through a holistic approach to traditional planning. The article focuses on two pilot projects, our work in the Charleston area and the work done by UT in the Mission-Aransas NERR, both funded by the Packard Foundation to investigate the use of tools to improve ecosystem-based management within traditional planning contexts.
I won’t go into the details here (since you can read the paper), but essentially PlaceMatters’ project, called Creating Resilient Communities, first focused on measuring: 1) how well the region would do with respect to the conservation goals identified by a team of regional experts and 2) how many people (particularly vulnerable populations like the elderly or low income households) would live or work in hazard prone areas if growth patterns in the region continued as is. We then suggested an alternative scenario that moved new development out of hazard prone and biologically important areas (which were frequently the same areas) to show how conservation goals and hazard mitigation goals were aligned. In addition to making a case for different growth patterns, the project tested a toolkit of analysis tools– CommunityViz, NatureServe’s Vista, and NOAA’s Roadmap for Adapting to Coastal Risk. While we found that they worked reasonably well together, there is still room for additional improvement in interoperability.
One of the reasons we use scenario planning processes like this one is to help people–stakeholders, decision-makers, members of the public–understand the linkages between sectors and topics, as well as the linkages between policy choices and the things that they care about. Scenarios let us explore possible impacts and see where there might be unexpected results. Toolkits like the ones used in each of these pilot projects help us to better understand and communicate these linkages and potential outcomes. While there are improvements that remain that could make analysis tools, and the data they require, work better together, the real challenges to integrated planning are not technical.
Planning that truly takes into account the system in which we live–including natural, economic, and social systems–is frequently hindered more by the ways in which decisions are made than by the tools we use to model it. At PlaceMatters, we are working hard to make sure that decision-making is better informed by “systems thinking,” but this will take commitment from decision-makers, both individuals and agencies. Stay tuned for future blog posts about communities or organizations that are great examples of using scenario planning effectively to promote and achieve cross-sector, multidisciplinary, holistic decision-making.