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Pam Underhill's Partnership Success Factors

Superintendent Pam Underhill along Appalachian Trail
The 2,160-mile long Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia is a collaborative conservation success story. Someone once said, "The Appalachian Trail works the way the rest of the world ought to." The Appalachian Trail Partnership is not perfect, but it is one of the best values in American government today. Collaborative thoughts from the NPS Park Office and Appalachian Trail Conference staff produced this list of Success Factors for the Appalachian Trail Partnership:

Ensure Mutual Respect - Practice the Golden Rule. You must be a good partner in order to have good partners. Nobody gets to be the "heavy." Everybody brings something different to the table and we work together as equals to reach consensus decisions whenever possible. We resist autocratic decision-making and seek to minimize the effects of federal bureaucracy on the partnership. We remind ourselves daily that we work for the volunteers, they don't work for us.

Instill a Sense of Ownership - People should feel that they are part of something great - something that makes the world a better place - something they expect to pass on to their children and grandchildren. It's their Trail. They feel personally responsible for it. They feel responsible for protecting and maintaining their portion of the Trail environment as if it were their own backyard.

Communicate - Communication has to be ongoing and constant. Continually think about all of the potentially involved stakeholders regarding any given issue and ensure that all are included in the communication loop. It can feel like endless rounds of consultation, but it's critically important to heading off ungrounded assumptions that can cause partnerships to self-destruct. Show up and be in the room for partner meetings and events.

Nurture - Partnerships require investments of time, effort and nurturing. Invest time in the care and feeding of partners, including "schmooze" time - talking and working with partners when it is not the crisis-du-jour. Show up early and stay late. Often more gets done in partnerships outside of regularly scheduled meetings through informal conversations.

Recognize Limitations - Take the good with the bad. There are times when volunteers and partners might do work that is slower, of lower standard, or a slightly different direction than agency professionals. But there are times when they do more, do it better, or head in a better direction than the agency would on its own. On balance, the vast strengths of private sector partners outweigh any shortcomings.

Use Each Other's Strengths - "You hit 'em high, we'll hit 'em low." We've had repeated success in dealing with both external (towers) and internal (ATV's) threat issues by presenting a unified front using different tactics but with a shared targeted goal.

Grow Personal Relationships - Partnerships are about relationships, and relationships are about people. Invest in and grow the personal relationships, and you will strengthen and grow your partnership.

Remember the Resource - Get together with your partners out on the Trail. Everyone has different responsibilities, authorities and agendas. A common focus on the resource tends to break down barriers and will result in decisions and actions with the best interest of the resource in mind.

Leverage - Leveraging combined federal, private, and other public resources (time and money) can accomplish an exponential number of projects and programs that otherwise would be prohibitively expensive or bureaucratically complex.

Believe in Consensus Building - You have to believe you can make it work and that it's worth the extra time and effort it takes to achieve consensus.

Satisfaction and Fun - People need to derive a sense of satisfaction from their participation in the partnership. And people can take on a lot if they get to have fun at least part of the time.

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