We operate our business in Newport, Oregon, and although much of the work we do involves the Global Positioning System (GPS), I can’t help but thinking some of the methods we employ could be applied to managing our ocean resources. Let me explain.

National PNT Architecture Overview

Advanced Research has been working on a project called the National Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Architecture program since 2007. This program has been identifying and planning for future needs (2025 and beyond) for positioning and timing services, such as those provided by GPS today. Positioning and navigation services are in hundreds of applications today, from the simple GPS and map system in a car to the sophisticated GPS guidance system used in agricultural equipment. GPS, you may know, is a system developed and operated by the US Government as a free service to its citizens and to the world. So to plan the future of positioning and timing services requires the US Government to meet with numerous departments and agencies to determine what future needs are, what plans are being made to address these needs, and how to work together to make these changes happen. For example, the Department of Transportation concerns itself with precise navigation for airplanes and ships. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (part of Commerce) is quite concerned with precise timing used in the Internet, cellular phone networks and synchronized power grids. The US military, conducts precision military operations worldwide. And the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) takes GPS into space for tracking satellites in orbit.

So the problem is how to get all these groups together in one room to work towards a common goal. Not an easy task, by any means! This duty fell to a group called the National Security Space Office, which convened the various departments and agencies, along with a staff to lead (or facilitate) the process. These were called the Facilitators. The process they followed is called group decision making, a process in which those in authority are responsive to the sensitivities of individual groups as they work toward group decisions.  The result is a stronger consensus position than that obtained using conventional menthods.  We followed this process in several phases.

The first phase involved developing a set of recommendations that everyone could accept. This was the Architecture Development phase. We met as a large group, and discussed the various technologies we used, what gaps and shortfalls existed with each as perceived by the various application groups, and possible ways we could resolve them. We also met in smaller individual groups. The individual groups explored various options for moving into the future. Then the larger group reviewed these options, scoring them, and providing comments on each. We used group decision software, sitting everyone at a computer, gathering in realtime everyone’s thoughts, and allowing everyone in the room to respond to thoughts shared by other members. The Facilitators analyzed the results and extracted the keys points, bringing them back to the larger group for review. The effect was that everyone involved began to see the viewpoints of the other groups, and each group got to share its own opinions and issues freely. In the end we developed a set of 19 recommendations that largely represented the consensus of the larger group, yet carried forward the special interests of all the smaller groups.


The second phase was the development of transition plans for the recommendations. This, too, was done by assigning to each of the 19 recommendations a team comprised of the agencies that were stakeholders in that area. The recommendation teams then met to plan the steps needed to accomplish their recommendation. These became the transition plans, that is the plans that would enable a transition from current capabilities to future capabilities. Once the plans were established, individual agencies could work together to program the funds, conduct the research and development, and put into place the structures to bring about the changes.

Wave Energy in Oregon

Oregon is blessed to have a beautiful and productive ocean that provides bountiful fish, numerous recreational activities, an active waterway, and the promise of future benefits, include renewable energy supplies. Because there are so many uses, access to the ocean must be managed so that each group’s expectations are met. To this end, Oregon has developed a Territorial Sea Plan that includes cooperation with various groups and regulatory agencies to ensure Oregon coastal waters provide the fishing yield, research and transportation services, and aesthetic thrill, in perpetuity.

While the process to develop the Territorial Sea Plan and manage to its provisions is a transparent and robust one, I keep wondering if we are doing enough. I attended a Territorial Sea Plan meeting recently in which the Plan was being amended to accommodate ocean energy, and representatives were present from all the major areas: fishing, research, wave energy, and recreational users. As points were discussed, each brought up issues they wanted to be included. But with each one talking, I kept thinking, is everyone listening? Does everyone understand what factors are important to the other groups and why? The group operated largely harmoniously, yet in the few short hours it convened, was it really developing a plan that would withstand years of implementation?

Could the Sea Planning process learn some lessons from the group decision process the National Positioning, Navigation and Timing Architecture team followed? I think it could. Could it have a more interactive activity in which everyone’s voice was heard (not just spoken)? I think it could. In fact, I think it would take the Sea Planning process to a whole new level. I spoke with several people involved about this, and they felt the idea had merit. One issue is that pursuing this path requires funding. This could be money well spent in securing the future of our Coastal resources. These are my thoughts. What do you think? I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts.

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