What is in a management strategy?

According to the dictionary, a strategy is a careful plan for achieving a particular goal, usually over a long period of time. The Chesapeake Bay Program is preparing a set of strategies designed to achieve more than two dozen outcomes established by the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement signed last June. These initial plans, drafts of which will be released in mid-March, were written by the program’s six goal implementation teams (GITs) based on their understanding of how this ecosystem works — both the natural and human components.

Stakeholders reviewing the strategies should look for three characteristics. First, they should be clearly linked to our understanding of how this system works. Second, they should reflect an essential coordination between the goals of the Bay Program and the goals of all of the other programs in the region. Finally, the strategies should reflect the intention of the Bay Program to learn and adapt.

Linking knowledge & action

The GITs listed all of the factors — both natural and human — that might affect efforts to achieve outcomes. This is a very simple version of an ecosystem model. The list identifies the components and processes that interact to affect the system’s behavior and condition. The Bay Program refers to these items generically as “factors.” If done conscientiously, the end product will reflect the state of our current understanding. Collectively, items on the list should clarify what we believe must be managed to reach desired outcomes.

When stakeholders review the strategies, they should be able to identify a direct correlation between the factors that the teams believed to be most influential and the activities they intend to pursue. There should be a planned response to every one of the most important factors.

This does not mean all factors must be managed, as some are beyond our control. If something is truly critical — like rainfall is for water quality outcomes — then all of the planned management efforts must be designed to accommodate and respond to changes in the unmanaged factor.

Many of the strategies appear to reflect a careful consideration of what can influence success, and how to manage those factors. As the Bay Program refines the strategies, attention to the linkage between an understanding of the system and management actions will be key for program accountability. Articulation of that connection establishes a clear rationale for what we are doing.

Planning to play well with others

In addition to specifying what must be done, management strategies must answer “How will it be done?” This question is devilishly complex in the Bay ecosystem. The Bay Program is a partnership of entities, save the District of Columbia, whose interests and objectives extend beyond the Bay watershed. For this reason, its goals and outcomes often intersect and overlap those of a long list of federal, state and non-governmental programs.

One of the most critical aspects of implementing the new Bay agreement is accurately defining the purview and responsibility of the Bay Program in this complex array of interests. The new management strategies include an analysis of where critical gaps exist in addressing the important factors affecting desired outcomes. This recognizes that success will require coordination between interested parties to manage fisheries, habitats, water quality, watersheds and stewardship. The Bay Program will need to build on and/or complement the efforts of others whose interests include, but are not limited to the Bay and its watershed. Each strategy should make it clear where the Program intends to rely on the efforts of others, how it will collaborate to ensure progress and what teams must do to achieve success.

Precise identification of the Bay Program purview and responsibilities is key to both accountability and adaptive management. If the role of the Program is clearly defined at the outset in collaborative management efforts, then appropriate expectations and realistic evaluations are enabled. Absent this type of clarity, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to assess the importance and effectiveness of partnership resources and efforts.

It is noteworthy that the exercise of clearly identifying the roles of all potentially collaborating programs will be beneficial when the Chesapeake Bay Accountability and Recovery Act is implemented. The act, passed by Congress late last year, requests an accounting of resources directed toward the restoration of the Chesapeake, including those not specifically appropriated to the Bay Program. The plan for how programs will collaborate to achieve outcomes is a large part of that accounting challenge.

Continual improvement

The least obvious, but arguably most important characteristic of the strategies is the commitment to continually improve management efforts. This implies a recognition that we do not know everything but plan to learn while doing the very best we can. To do this, we must identify the state of our current understanding, be very clear about what we intend to do, monitor what happens, then assess the outcomes against expectations. The result of this process should be an improvement in our understanding and an ability to design even more effective strategies in the future.

Two key elements for continual improvement should be found in every management strategy: monitoring and assessment. Monitoring is the process of gathering the information necessary to improve understanding.

Three types of information are necessary to answer the question, “Are our efforts working?” First, we need a precise accounting of what was done. This is pretty straightforward in that it simply requires documentation. Monitoring management efforts provides program accountability and quantifies the treatment applied to the system. Second is the system’s response. Every time we apply a management action, we do so with an expectation for a specific reaction. Monitoring and analysis to detect that reaction, or its absence, is essential to evaluate effectiveness. Third, we need information on factors potentially influencing the outcome that we cannot manage. If, for example, we know rainfall intensity reduces the performance of stormwater best management practices, but we fail to monitor rainfall intensity, the assessment of BMP effectiveness will be compromised.

A strategy should also have a plan to assess performance. No management action is taken without some basic expectation for a system response. If there is no expectation for a response, why invest in the effort? This would use monitoring and analyses to develop a testable hypothesis for the strategy’s performance. To be real, the assessment plan should have a schedule that sets definite periods for the re-evaluation of performance and expectations.

Perfecting strategies

The teams’ strategies represent a first iteration of a process that will need to be repeated in coming years. These initial efforts have moved the Bay Partnership forward significantly in pursuit of program accountability and the implementation of adaptive management. Future iterations will provide opportunities to improve the link between our knowledge of the Bay ecosystem to management strategies; clarify the coordination with other programs; and strengthen our capacity to continually improve.