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Drawing parallels in professional planning.

"If you fail to plan, plan to fail." Addressing his forestry students atop a limestone outcrop in the Garden of the Gods in Illinois, our professor kicked off the 1999 spring semester Recreational Land Use Planning course in the heart of the Shawnee National Forest. I didn't give it much thought at the time, but the impact of his lesson has stuck with me throughout my career and as with many teachings in life, it resurfaces now and again.

Years later, I learned that the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) trains hundreds of soil conservationists across the country as "Certified Conservation Planners." This certification process takes a year to complete and is founded upon the agency's Nine Steps of Conservation Planning. These serve to help soil conservationists address natural resource concerns on agricultural land, and offer alternatives to landowners to target those concerns. An additional purpose of the steps is to develop and implement plans that protect, conserve, and enhance natural resources within a social and economic perspective. Armed with the nine steps, a GPS, the Munsell Soil Color Chart, and pre-settlement vegetation maps, an annual groundswell of skilled USDA conservationists visit thousands of acres across the nation upholding the agency vision to promote harmony between people and the land.

In a recent planning course, resource conservationist Sally Van Lieu offered this lighthearted insight: "You can apply the nine steps of conservation planning to other areas of your life, professional and personal." Lieu continued, "A very good friend had a problem she was struggling with so over a couple beers, I walked her through the nine steps, and it worked. Her issue was resolved." Of course, these aren't a universal remedy, but it got me thinking: Could these steps, developed for conservation practices, be applied to interpretive planning? After considering each step, adding a few minor tweaks, I discovered that the following formula can be used to help interpreters establish solutions to new challenges or invigorate existing interpretive programming. Consider the amplified steps:

Identify Problems and Opportunities

Everyone needs a reason to plan. Planning can start with a problem, an opportunity, shared concerns, or a perceived threat. Do you have a shortage of docents? A fabulous grant opportunity? Marketing needs? Or even an encroaching stand of non-native phragmites near your park? Initial opportunities and problems are first identified based on readily available information. There may be information available through your partners or through a larger-scale project. There are many excellent local, state, and federal examples of how this process works on a system-wide scale, with multiple stakeholders and objectives. Look around, dig a little.

Determine Objectives

A planner guides the process so that it includes visitor needs, resource uses and values, and on- or off-site ecological protection. Objectives may need to be revised and modified as new information is learned later in the inventory and analysis stages.

Inventory Resources

In this step, appropriate social, economic, and natural resources for the plan are collected. Who are the supporters? Who are current partners? What is the annual budget? What's working now? The information will be used to further define the problems and opportunities. It will also be used throughout the entire process to define alternatives and to evaluate the plan. It is important that as much information as possible can be collected so that the plan will fit the needs of everyone involved. Inventories can range from a small park all the way up to a complete inventory of resources for an entire park/forest system.

Analyze Resource Data

Study the resource data and clearly define existing conditions for all of the interpretive programming, including limitations and potential for desired expansion. This step is crucial to developing plans that will work for your visitors, facility management, and the site. It also provides a clear understanding of the baseline conditions that will help to judge how effective a project is after it has been put into place.

Formulate Alternatives

The purpose of this step is to achieve the goals for the plan, by solving all identified problems, taking advantage of opportunities, and meeting the social, economic, and environmental needs of the planning project. Often this step can help formulate funding or planning alternatives that help offset the financial expense of implementing plans.

Evaluate Alternatives

Evaluate the alternatives to determine their effectiveness in addressing the visitor experience, opportunities, and objectives. Attention should also be given to those ecological values protected by law or executive order (such as threatened and endangered species, for example).

Make Decisions

At this point the planner chooses which project will work best for their situation. The planner prepares the reporting documentation. In the case of broad-reaching interpretive plans, public review and comment may be obtained before a decision is reached.

Implement the Plan

Technical assistance should be sought to help with implementing professionally designed interpretive plans. Assistance is also available in procuring visitor surveys, final plans and designs, and inspections for any structural practices (new auditoriums, etc.).

Evaluate the Plan

Interpretive planning is an ongoing process that continues long after the implementation of a program or project. By evaluating the effectiveness of an interpretive plan or a practice within a plan, one can decide whether to continue with other aspects of an overall system-wide strategy.

Maureen Stine is a conservation educator with the USDA in Michigan. She is a Certified Heritage Interpreter and chairs the Scholarships and Grants Committee for NAI Region 4. Maureen has a degree in forestry from Southern Illinois University. Reach her at maureen.stine@mi.usda.gov.
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Title Annotation:PLANNING
Author:Stine, Maureen
Publication:Legacy Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2013
Words:922
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