NE CSC Fellow Alexendra Norpel Attends Structured Decision Making Course at the National Conservation Training Center.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Attendees of the Introduction to Structured Decision Making course, August 3-7, 2015

Alex Norpel, a new NE CSC Fellow at the University of Wisconsin in Madison recently attended the Introduction to Structured Decision Making (SDM) course at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.  

This course provided an excellent opportunity to learn the foundation in SDM within the context of natural resource problems; to gain hands-on experience using various decision tools and develop skills in structured approaches in order to make explicit, transparent, and clear recommendations/decisions.  ​Alex describes her experience here:
At the beginning of August, I had the pleasure of spending a week at the National Conservation Training Center (NCTC), the educational training facility of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. NECSC kindly provided me with the opportunity to participate in the Introduction to Structured Decision Making (SDM) course that is offered through the USFWS. SDM is a decision making process that is becoming the standardized method to approaching natural resource problems, especially those being intensified by the consequences of climate change. The main idea behind SDM is that decision makers are encouraged to break down problems into their bare constituents (i.e. triggers, motivations, objectives) so that the process remains explicit and transparent as they put the pieces back together to develop alternative solutions and their expected consequences. All people use SDM in their daily lives, but documenting each step in the process insures that stakeholders understand how and why specific solutions are chosen.

The Intro to SDM course was four and a half days long, consisting of a variety of learning environments: we sat through lectures, worked thr
ough example problems, and participated in capstone groups in which each group analyzed their own real-life decision problem. The instructors and teaching assistants remained knowledgeable and engaging throughout the entirety of the course. 
The makeup of our class was unique to NCTC in that about half of us were graduate students when typically class participants are solely USFWS employees. I became friends with many master’s and PhD students from NC State, FWS ecologists and wildlife biologists, and National Wildlife Refuge managers. The variety in age groups, educational backgrounds, and stages in our professional careers provided an unintentional supplementary learning experience for us all. We had to figure out the most effective way to convey unfamiliar topics and how to bring together different approaches to problem solving, which inevitably happens when making decisions that involve a diverse range of interest groups.
I am very excited to apply what I learned to my master’s research. SDM will be helpful when deciding how to best address problems involving stormwater management in the Upper Yahara Watershed in South Central Wisconsin. The SDM course has equipped me with the necessary tools to methodically approach problems while considering the perspectives of all parties that will be affected by the decisions. I will be able to come up with solutions that satisfy each problem's’ objectives and generate the most positive outcomes.
NCTC is the best kept secret of the USFWS. I am extremely envious that Service employees get to spend time here on a regular basis! The shuttle ride from the Dulles airport to NCTC featured views of the Appalachian Mountains, the Potomac River, quaint small towns, a few vineyards, and rolling farmland hills. The NCTC campus offers lodges named after celebrated conservationists (for example, I stayed in the Murie Lodge), a dining hall, a fitness center, and two instructional buildings. There are hiking trails with plenty of opportunities to enjoy wildlife. In the evenings, they opened up the Social Center where guests could enjoy beer and wine while getting to know one another outside of the classroom. One evening, I participated in a relaxing kayak paddle/float around Terrapin Neck of the Potomac River with other folks staying at NCTC. 
I fully enjoyed my time at NCTC and came away from my experience with valuable information. I find it refreshing and inspiring that the USFWS opens up its facilities to students and young people. I admire their effort to engage future policymakers in current practices and equip them with tools to be the most effective pioneers of change.