Hearing the Story (week of June 30)

My work with the Lower Columbia Solutions Group through the National Policy Consensus Center has now commenced! We had our first team meeting with myself, my direct supervisor Lauren (who actually started her career as a college intern working on this very same project over a decade ago), the Project Manager Jim Owens, and the Site Supervisor Steve Greenwood. The meeting was largely spent with the three of us enthralled with Steve’s delightfully wandering tale of the past 12+ years of how the Lower Columbia Solutions Group has come to be, specifically focusing on their sediment project referred to as the Mouth of the Columbia River Plan (MCR).  Interestingly, despite the fact that both Lauren and Jim have worked on this project for years, both of them admitted to not being aware of much of the background story that Steve provided. This really demonstrates just how incredibly complex collaborative processes can be, and moreover how intricate and at times seemingly tangential the human relations surrounding these processes can be.

The depth and history of trust and distrust in a group like the LCSG/MCR project cannot be underestimated.  Certainly this will be something to keep close in mind as we move forward. One concern we share is that by documenting and telling the story of this group (and thus going back to its earlier roots) we could inadvertently bring up long buried (but potentially shallow buried) adversarial feelings and motivations from individual members.  Although this group does not meet as regularly as it once did and is very much emerging into a sustaining phase, it is by all means still a living group with much work to be done.  Me interviewing individuals is unlikely to create too much fuss, but anything living can die. This is especially true when death by government budgeting is considered. Hearing about the groups difficulty in securing funds from across their many agencies and the two states despite the incredible work they have done together to create an impressive adaptive management plan has me convinced that a large part of my purpose here is to create something with which the group can use to further their ability to get funding.

I will admit to being rather frustrated at this point as I don’t see a clear direction for a final product. When I feel directionless I find it incredibly hard to buckle down and find direction–more often than not (and for better or worse) I wait for direction to come to me. It is clear that like the act of dredging and sediment release itself, the waters are murky in terms of any type of consensus on what each member of this small team would like to see from this project. I have confidence that with so much accomplished by the LCSG that there is a story that needs to be told; however, at the moment, I am filling overwhelmed by the 12+ years of struggles and relationships that have transpired without a moment being witnessed by me.  How will I tell a story so complex and potentially fragile when I have never been a part of the story?  I suppose that this is what being a third-party neutral is all about.  As Jon Townsend always says, their problems are not your problems; however, my problem is how to tell the story of their problems.