Collaboration and Alternative Dispute Resolution in the Bureau of Land Management

Science Center Objects

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) established the Collaboration and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Program in 1997 in order to comply with federal mandates and assist the BLM field in working effectively with other agencies, state, local, and Tribal governments, interest groups, stakeholders, and the public.

To advance the goals of providing training, resources, and direct support to the field, the USGS Social and Economic Analysis Branch, in cooperation with the BLM, designed and administered a 2013 survey of BLM employees in job series likely to have or gain experience with collaboration. The survey was sent to 6,734 BLM employees and achieved a 45% response rate.

The survey confirmed that participation in collaborative and ADR processes is likely to be a significant part of many BLM employees’ duties and identified opportunities to support the growth of the BLM’s collaborative and ADR capabilities. The survey also showed that training, as well as hands-on experience, plays a major role in employee’s skill at collaboration and ADR, and identified areas where skills, tools, and resources – such as negotiation, Tribal relations, and feasibility assessments – would be especially helpful in increasing the BLM’s capacity for effective collaboration. While many field respondents rated a moderate to high level of support for collaboration in their Field Office, the level of support perceived by staff was lower than rated by Field Managers. The survey also confirmed that respondents’ ability to participate in collaborative efforts or improve skills is often hampered by organizational, social, or political factors, including travel ceilings and time constraints, however, they still considered collaboration to be worthwhile for a broad range of BLM activities.

The results of this survey yielded valuable insights, but highlighted a need for more specific information on the training and support needs of BLM field staff engaged in collaborative efforts and ADR processes. We conducted interviews of a sample of BLM Field Office managers (22 total) to develop a richer understanding of needs at the field level of the organization. In the interviews, we asked Field Office managers about their formal and informal training in collaboration and dispute resolution, and the effectiveness of the training; how they determine whether a collaborative process is successful; and where they go for support or advice about engaging in collaborative or ADR processes. We also asked the managers to describe the most challenging aspects of working with stakeholders and what would help with those challenges, and queried them about the most important lessons they learned in these stakeholder engagement processes.

The SEA team worked closely with BLM staff during the study, and provided study results to BLM staff in both written and oral format. Findings from the study were used in the BLMs Strategic Plan for Collaboration and Alternative Dispute Resolution.