I know that I am being facile when I downplay calls for more data. I actually do think that good data would be useful and good data well displayed would be even more useful. I want to put my skepticism about calls for good data into context. I observe a lot of collaborative processes and conferences and have come to rank policy solutions as follows.
This first category is nearly always just noise. At worst, they are delaying tactics to prevent any serious work or addressing hard questions. On rare occasions, they might be meaningful, but they would have to come from a speaker with substantial credibility for me to want to engage them. If you say these without a lot of specificity, you should know a grumpy blogger in the audience is rolling her eyes.
- A clearinghouse of already existing information.
- Using social media to educate people.
- Creating a framework for discussion.
- No new work, just mining existing plans.
- Breaking out of the silos/agency alignment.
- A vision statement.
- Defining the terms.
The second category can go either way. Often the undertone for my impatience is “aren’t we past this already?” A credible speaker with illustrative points will get my buy-in for these:
- More data.
- Translation into additional languages.
- Paying for facilitation. (Good facilitation is invaluable, but it does burn a lot of time upfront.)
- Grant money for the good cause. (Sadly, this often comes from bonds; the Youngs have good reason to hate us.)
- A non-binding plan.
The third category will make me straighten in my chair and pay close attention. These proposed policy solutions tell me that the speaker wants important change.
- Proposals that acknowledge and address people’s emotions.
- More data, with a dedicated source of substantial money and some detail about how the data would be gathered, stored and used.
- Proposed governance structures.
- Legally binding plans, with enforcement mechanisms.
- Proposed regulation or integration into existing regulation.
- Proposed legislation, with real money allocated.
I’ll add to these as I think of more. Anyway, “more data” falls somewhere in the middle. Have I mentioned my theory that we started the environmental Information Era in about the 1970’s, with the new EIRS and Timber Management Plans and fat volumes of information? Then computers and the Internet started offering us even more ways to process and propagate that information. Sadly, climate change is forcing us into the Management Era before we got good at the Information Era. Now we have to do both at the same time.