Friday, February 13, 2015

Sustainability Institute Seeks Public Comment on University Goal Setting Process

Penn State Universityvia Penn State News

Penn State’s upper administration and the community have looked to the University’s Sustainability Institute as a convener of conversations and engagement processes around various sustainability issues, such as the concept of zero-carbon communities and a stakeholder assessment of the recent natural gas pipeline controversy. To that end, the institute commissioned and is now publicly releasing the results of a recent project with the Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program that proposes a new community and stakeholder engagement process for setting University-wide goals for sustainability, starting with energy. In order to explore how the process might best be adapted and refined, the institute is seeking public comment on the report until Feb. 18; details on how to access the report and where to submit comments, can be found below.

Penn State’s Sustainability Institute was created to lead Penn State toward the University’s sustainability mission: a comprehensive integration of sustainability (the simultaneous pursuit of human health and happiness, environmental quality, and economic well-being for current and future generations) into the University’s research, teaching, outreach and operations that prepares students, faculty and staff to be sustainability leaders. Over its inaugural two years, the Sustainability Institute has explored new models of stakeholder engagement that affirms the Penn State community’s desire for a new way of doing things and brings us together in pursuit of the large challenges of sustainability.

In July, the Sustainability Institute successfully competed for the opportunity to work with the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program (HNMCP), a renowned organization that stands as the nation’s first legal clinic focusing on dispute systems design and conflict management. Under the supervision of Harvard Law School clinical faculty, HNMCP student teams work on intensive projects for clients, like the Sustainability Institute, operating in a number of fields and industries.

After consulting with people during the fall semester in a process described below, HNMCP recommended a four part-stakeholder engagement process to help set an energy-related goal at Penn State: an initial public meeting with broad participation, the convening of an Energy Task Force with diverse membership to coordinate and manage the process, a notice and comment period to address draft goals and principles of operationalization and a period of reflection and feedback. The report “A Blueprint for Engaging Stakeholders in Setting Energy-Related Goals at Pennsylvania State University: Report and Recommendation” is available for download.

“Emphasizing transparency and open dialogue, the process was designed to yield an actionable blueprint for engagement and consensus building for important institution-wide issues such as energy planning,” said Denice Wardrop, director of the Sustainability Institute. “It will take all hands on deck.”

The program advanced with the dedicated support of two Harvard Law students, Joshua Fogarty and Tara Norris, who conducted three focus groups and 30 private interviews with individuals from a wide variety of stakeholder groups, including Penn State faculty, students, administrators, and staff, and residents of the area near Penn State’s University Park campus.

“This process provided a rich and diverse foundation for the identification of broad trends in stakeholders’ interests and opinions, and the resulting information grounded their proposed processes in Penn State’s unique resources and challenges,” said Wardrop.

The result: a design for a community and stakeholder engagement process that is potentially scalable and transferable to a number of high‐level resource challenges facing the University including energy planning, climate action planning and water management. The framework engages both the University and its regional community.

Reflecting on the project, HNMCP team member Norris summed up her views on stakeholder participation, “I believe that every community, including Penn State, is made stronger when the people involved feel like they can help shape the decisions that affect them, and I hope that our plan helps encourage that feeling.”

Norris’ teammate, Fogarty, offered, “Penn State is brimming with folks who have the knowledge and interest necessary to improve their community.”

HNMCP Director Robert Bordone highlighted the importance of process design: “Consensus based processes such as these are the surest ways to educate a community and ensure that all its members feel good about decisions going forward.”

The report includes concrete phases and timelines, and was originally designed as a six-month process to enable completion by July. The Sustainability Institute is working with the administration to discern the best way to adapt the process recommendations to meet Penn State’s needs. At the same time, adequate participation and consideration of the public comments on the report are a critical part of the engagement process and requires a longer timeline. The report is available for download and open for public comment until Feb. 18.

A plan is in place to pilot the engagement process during the upcoming spring and summer, leading to a recommendation for the University’s first institution-wide energy-related goal.

“We were delighted when we were selected to be a part of this unique program and look forward to the opportunity to experiment with a thoughtful and thought-provoking process that will allow us to envision our collective future and chart a path towards it, one that requires all of our education, research, outreach and operations functions to meet,” said Wardrop.

An open comment period will accompany the process through spring and summer as well.

“I encourage members of our community to grab a cup of coffee, find a comfortable seat and enjoy reading the report and consider how we might tackle some of our biggest immediate challenges utilizing an inclusive process that is designed to use new ways of thinking and acting,” said Wardrop. “The process is designed to be exciting, interesting, bold and reflective of the commitment, contribution and thoughtfulness of its participants. And for this participation all contributors will have the profound gratitude of Penn State’s Sustainability Institute.”

Comments on the report should be directed to Wardrop via email at [email protected] or via phone at 814-865-4415.