Mountain Studies Institute Strategic Plan 2021-2023

MountainStudiesInstitute

Strategic Plan

2021-2023

ADVANCE SCIENCE

EMPOWER COMMUNITIES

INNOVATE SOLUTIONS


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

A great deal of internal and external critical thinking was devoted to developing this extension of the

original (2015-2020) plan. We would like to thank our board of directors, the Executive Director, Marcie

Bidwell, and the MSI staff for assisting with this monumental task. Specifically, we would like to thank

G. Sam Foster, Board President 2017-2018, Mark Stiles, and Rob Milofsky, current Board President, for

leading the Strategic Planning Committee.

We would also like to recognize Dr. Robert Blair (1943-2015) who inspired the formation of MSI and

functioned as its creative muse, and whose passing reminds us of the contribution of many leaders in

the San Juan Region who have devoted themselves to land stewardship and conservation.


CONTENTS

HISTORY AND NICHE 1

MISSION AND VISION 2

OUR GOALS 3

OUR CORE VALUES & RELATIONSHIPS 4

ADVANCE MOUNTAIN SCIENCE 5

EMPOWER COMMUNITIES 7

INNOVATE SOLUTIONS 9

CAPACITY GOALS 11

NEXT STEPS 13

APPENDIX 15


1

Mountain Studies Institute

HISTORY AND NICHE

MSI was first conceptualized in the late 1990’s as a “living classroom without walls” in the San Juan Mountains

through discussions with over 20 collaborators. Conversations brought together members from the Town of

Silverton, San Juan County, Fort Lewis College, San Juan Public Lands Center (USDA Forest Service and Bureau of

Land Management), and many others to develop the concept of a non-advocacy, mountain center of education

and research in Silverton, Colorado. As the effort grew, the group hosted the State of the San Juan’s Conference

at Purgatory Resort, proving the need for leadership and desire for mountain research in the region. MSI was

granted legal status as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in 2002. Two federal appropriations through the US

Forest Service were sponsored by Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, which helped establish the Institute.

Mountain Studies Institute (MSI) has partnered with San Juan Mountain communities to foster and enhance

understanding and sustainable use of our valued natural resources since 2002. We have grown to embody

a dynamic initiative to care for the San Juan Mountains, one of Colorado’s most special places. Through

applied research, education, and stewardship programs, we strive to go beyond scientific inquiry to the

meaningful application of knowledge and information that makes a difference in the quality of life for mountain

communities and for the environment in southwest Colorado. MSI was created to expand knowledge about

mountain systems, their connections, and their environmental challenges; to ensure that such knowledge is

readily available to decision-makers and leaders in mountain communities; and to contribute to the well-being of

Silverton, Durango, Pagosa Springs, and Telluride as well as the San Juan mountain region in general by helping

to improve the overall health of the mountain ecosystems, and specifically diversify Silverton’s economy.

Our focus on mountain systems rather than the isolated components has made us unique since the beginning.

We have always seen people as important elements within mountain systems and have actively pursued applied

research that includes human actions in disturbed, modified, and non-pristine environments, such as our lands

that have been mined, grazed or otherwise managed. The issues of our time, such as climate change and air

quality, remind us that the world is intricately connected, and all actions have cascading effects that reach across

time and space. While other organizations may focus on a particular aspect of a mountain environment such as

water quality, we have pursued the creative tension at the intersections of disciplines, such as how air quality

impacts high alpine lakes’ water quality through deposition of mercury and nutrients, as an example of a systems

approach.

In the last nineteen years, we have grown significantly, the scope of our work and expertise has expanded, and

our partners have multiplied. Simultaneously, so have the types of challenges and opportunities facing our

mountain communities.


Strategic Plan 2021-2023 2

OUR MISSION

To empower communities, managers, and

scientists to innovate solutions through advancing

mountain research, promoting education, and

improving best practices.

OUR VISION

We cultivate collaborations that enable resilient

mountain communities to articulate issues, develop

partnerships, and ignite initiatives that sustain the

social, cultural, natural, and economic resources of the

San Juan Mountains and mountain systems worldwide.


3

Mountain Studies Institute

OUR GOALS

Advance

Mountain Science

Empower

Communities

Innovate

Solutions

• Identify scientific

information needs and

knowledge gaps relevant to

the resilience of people and

mountain ecosystems.

• Recruit and include diverse

voices, perspectives, and

under-represented people

in our work, on our staff,

and in our collaboratives.

• Collaborate with community

members and stakeholders

to design and conduct

research relevant to

emerging issues.

• Strengthen and increase

our monitoring capacity

and infrastructure to

better understand shifting

systems, including rapid

and long-term changes and

immediate, chronic, and

episodic events.

• Raise awareness,

understanding, and a

culture of stewardship

through community

engagement, collaboration,

stewardship actions, and

accomplishments.

• Promote learning about

mountain systems and

scientific literacy in K-12 and

higher education.

• Develop future leaders

in our communities with

science skills, understanding

and appreciation for

natural resources, and

tools through hands-on

training and professional

development.

• Innovate solutions to

address challenges relevant

to mountain communities,

now and in the future.

• Facilitate new methods

of collaboration and

science-based initiatives to

promote and sustain social,

ecological, and economic

resilience.

• Promote innovative

solutions at multiple scales,

connecting place-based

innovations to higher levels

of decision-making and

discussion to be inclusive,

diverse, and representative.

• Translate science into

usable formats and useful

knowledge for the public

and decision makers.


Strategic Plan 2021-2023 4

OUR CORE VALUES & RELATIONSHIPS

A set of interconnected values and principles guide our work. These values are demonstrated through a variety

of research and educational approaches. MSI focuses on both the ecological concerns and community needs of

the San Juan Mountains region during a time of significant social, economic and environmental transition.

1) Is Place-Based in the San Juan Mountains

MSI is an active part of the social, physical, and ecological landscape of the San Juan Mountains region. We

are consistently informed and driven by our sense of place. We seek to learn alongside our communities

and serve as a connector to help disseminate information and knowledge to our partners and stakeholders

here in the San Juans—and beyond to other communities around the world.

2) Enhances Interactions between Natural Resources and Communities

MSI builds capacity by emphasizing the interaction among natural resources, social and economic change,

and needs for community understanding and/or adaptation.

3) Seeks Useful and Meaningful Outcomes

MSI stresses applied science and meaningful research that results in useful outcomes, pursuing

opportunities that link science, community understanding, and knowledge.

4) Leads by Example

MSI leads by example, engaging in hands-on forest, watershed and river restoration work on the ground

when it can be structured as a participatory action research, pilot testing, and/or education activities.

5) Cultivates Collaborative Partnerships

MSI works through collaborative partnerships in all phases of its research and education processes. We

seek to enhance the strengths of our partners by building productive relationships and connections.

6) Encourages Active Community Involvement

MSI is committed to empowering communities through consistent inclusion and active involvement of

community leaders in science-based initiatives, citizen science, and stewardship.

7) Sponsors Community Dialog in Public Forums

MSI fosters collaborative dialogue to enable people with the skills, information and opportunity to

participate in and inform community decision making. We use innovative applications to connect people to

address ecological and community concerns in the San Juan Mountains.

8) Seeks Resilient, Adaptive Solutions

MSI tests new solutions to vexing problems, emphasizing resilient, adaptive solutions.


There is no power greater for change than a community


discovering what it cares about. Margaret Wheatley


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Mountain Studies Institute

ADVANCE MOUNTAIN SCIENCE

ISSUE STATEMENT:

The rapid environmental and societal changes that are taking place locally

and globally pose considerable challenges to the fabric of natural and social

systems. Coping with the challenges will require new discoveries, improved

knowledge, robust and relevant information, and the ability to use these

advances appropriately. While scientific advances and discoveries are

constantly being made, there is often a significant disconnect between the

scientists generating the information and the policy makers and managers

who are trying to use that information.

Priorities for Action

Mountain conditions are constantly changing. Research—and the policy and

programming it should inform—also needs to be ongoing and adaptive.

• We need to learn—and then apply that learning—at the same pace and with

agility, unafraid of changing course or shifting our focus.

• MSI will use a process to prioritize which research questions and initiatives we are

addressing to ensure we are asking the right questions.

• Collaboration across communities, expertise, and perspectives is key to breaking

down barriers and realizing relevancy. We will intentionally include diverse voices,

perspectives, and experiences in the process of identifying, conducting, and

applying mountain science.

• To overcome the disconnect between the scientists

generating the information and the decision

makers who need to use this information, we

seek new pathways for mountain research

to inform decision-making on policies,

regulatory frameworks, and programming.


Strategic Plan 2021-2023 8

IF WE:

Identify scientific information needs and knowledge gaps relevant to the

resilience of people and mountain ecosystems;

Recruit and include diverse voices, perspectives, and under-represented people

in our work, on our staff, and in our collaboratives;

Collaborate with community members and stakeholders to design and conduct

research relevant to emerging issues;

Strengthen and increase our monitoring capacity and infrastructure to better

understand shifting systems, including rapid and long-term changes and

immediate, chronic, and episodic events; and

Translate science into usable formats and useful knowledge for the public and

decision makers,

THEN:

Information gaps are filled and new knowledge improves strategies and actions

that supports mountain ecosystem resilience;

Decision makers are better informed with improved knowledge and have

relevant data to plan, manage, and set policies for protecting ecosystems; and

Communities and stakeholders will value the importance of mountain

ecosystems to the survival of nature and people,

AND THEREFORE:

The San Juan Mountain ecosystems will become resilient,

and the continued and healthy existence of this vital resource will be

assured for future generations.


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Mountain Studies Institute

EMPOWER COMMUNITIES

ISSUE STATEMENT:

Everyday, the world is becoming more complex and interconnected. We are ever more

dependent on the earth’s limited resources, a fragile climate, and fellow humankind.

As a society, we are more global, technological, and mobile with each generation.

Recent events in 2020 have highlighted the need to address environmental injustice

and inequity in our society and community. Success in the 21st Century—our human

and natural welfare—will depend on our awareness, understanding, collaboration,

and capacity for action. We have a moral imperative to create a sustainable,

equitable, and resilient community and environment that benefits all people.

Achieving environmental integrity, social equity, environmental justice, and economic

prosperity is not a lofty ideal, but a necessity for our planet and people to survive.

Priorities for Action

• Access to resources, information, education, participation, and influence is not equal. As

MSI’s mission is to empower all within our communities, we work to raise awareness and

end systemic racism and environmental injustice that affects Black, Indigenous, and People

of Color. We renew our dedication to elevate all voices, identify and address barriers to

participation, and promote equity and inclusion in our initiatives.

• Knowledge alone does not lead to action. MSI embraces a holistic approach for transformative

action through increasing awareness, connecting people with our unique mountain resources,

building knowledge and skills, and increasing capacity to participate and act.

• Complex problems require collaboration

and connected action. Beyond science, MSI’s

programs need to increase literacy in systems

thinking, problem solving, and 21st century

skills.

• Critical scientific information is being

lost in politicized debate, distrust or

misunderstanding of science and the scientific

process. MSI is uniquely poised to work

toward rebuilding trust and understanding of

the role of science and collaboration through

our community-based initiatives.


Strategic Plan 2021-2023 10

IF WE:

Raise awareness, understanding, and a culture of stewardship through

community engagement, collaboration, stewardship actions, and

accomplishments;

Promote learning about mountain systems and scientific literacy in K-12 and

higher education; and

Develop future leaders in all our communities with science skills, understanding

and appreciation for natural resources, and tools through hands-on training and

professional development,

THEN:

People build connections, are better informed, and are equipped to support

scientific endeavors through investing, funding, collaborating, and stewardship

activity;

More youth envision a path as future leaders in science, have opportunities to

explore and practice leadership; and

More people trust science, make informed decisions, and take action to protect

and/or restore our environment,

AND THEREFORE:

A science-literate public will appreciate the value of our unique mountain

systems, understand scientific principles and emerging issues, engage in

stewardship and civic action, apply the knowledge gained to conserve and

protect our natural resources, and inspire the behavior and beliefs of those

around them.


11

Mountain Studies Institute

INNOVATE SOLUTIONS

ISSUE STATEMENT:

The challenges of our time—environmental degradation, climate change, drought, social

disruption—call us to find new solutions, methods of collaboration, and creativity to

improve lives and the environment. To effect change requires asking questions, challenging

the norms and practices of people and institutions, and thinking differently about our work,

about the way we do our work, and about who is doing the work. It also requires creating a

culture and support network that believes change will result in a better outcome.

Priorities for Action

• Invest in our capacity to facilitate the full cycle of understanding, thereby evolving and solving

complex problems—investigate, define, prototype, test, adapt, and apply—to increase the pace

and scale of developing and adopting solutions that meet community needs.

• Strengthen our ability to facilitate and lead initiatives in design thinking that generates solutions

that are local and generated in partnership with end-users and intended benefactors.

• Enhance support for networks and collaborations which will yield benefits from continuous

learning and emergent organizational practices to accelerate and institutionalize rapid learning.

• Support the design process and new ideas at the peer and institutional levels. MSI models of

collaboration will build networks, support leaders, and reduce risk in innovation.

• Stress the urgency of local context in our

work. There is often a lack of urgency among

governmental and donor decision-makers to

understand local problems and conditions. Instead,

decisions are based on generalized viewpoints

instead of contextualized, local data that carries

significant downstream effects on broader

ecosystems.

• Guide innovation to be local, relevant, and beneficial

for the users of the solutions.


Strategic Plan 2021-2023 12

IF WE:

Innovate solutions to address challenges relevant to mountain communities,

now and in the future;

Facilitate new methods of collaboration and science-based initiatives to

promote and sustain social, ecological, and economic resilience; and

Promote innovative solutions at multiple scales, connecting place-based

innovations to higher levels of decision-making and discussion to be

inclusive, diverse, and representative,

THEN:

A network of practitioners with the knowledge, skills, experience, and

confidence to advance the state of practice and policies is active;

Market and donor demand for applied mountain science is increased and

sustained; and

More people and institutions contribute to, support, and activate science,

AND THEREFORE:

The resilience of the mountain ecosystem is strengthened through restorative

and regenerative solutions that are derived from and supported by a

myriad of community voices and institutions. This includes a local economic

ecosystem that supports mountain science and its applications.


13

Mountain Studies Institute Institute

CAPACITY GOALS

Our strategic goals require significant resources and capacity to accomplish. As part of the strategic

planning process, we reviewed our internal capacity and resources. In response, we established a set of

capacity goals to ensure that we have the people, resources, and policies necessary to attain our vision.

1) SUPPORT OUR PEOPLE, ENHANCE OUR CULTURE

Our talented staff and board are the strongest assets of the organization. Our goal is to

maintain a high level of capacity by providing the necessary development and support for

staff and board, as well as ensure our organizational culture fosters teamwork, collaboration,

and positive outlook and growth. Staff professional development will receive greater

attention. We will ensure our work environment is conducive to productive and satisfying

work and reflects the technology needs of the day.

3) DEVELOP A CULTURE OF CONTINUOUS AND ADAPTIVE LEARNING

It is imperative that MSI staff are at the forefront of scientific advancements in mountain

science and are versed, trained, and competent in leading-edge technologies. We must remain

aware of how we impact, or are impacted by, our partners, the political and economic climate,

and current issues that can influence our collective success. The rapidly changing world of

information technology also presents challenges and opportunities. We will ensure resources

are made available and effectively used and that MSI thoughtfully evaluates its work to

understand our effectiveness, adapt as needed, and constantly improve our approaches.

5) EMBRACE STORYTELLING TO SHARE “SCIENCE PEOPLE CAN USE”

MSI strives to fill information needs and knowledge gaps that enhances knowledge and

informs better decisions to sustain our communities and mountain systems. Yet, our

audience—as varied as it gets—has different interests and information needs, as well

as preferred modes of engagement. We will develop and implement a communication

strategy that leverages our work into engaging and relatable stories (Science People Can

Use), enhances our social media presence, and connects to the values and interests of our

communities, policy and decision-makers, and funders.


Strategic Strategic Plan Plan 2021-2023 14

2) BE A HIGH-LEVEL NONPROFIT INSTITUTION AND TRUSTED PARTNER

We seek to serve a wide geography of the San Juan Mountains region which spans many

thousands of square miles, is separated by mountain passes, and includes diverse cultures

and values. We receive funding from a variety of sources, and develop and participate in

numerous collaborative partnerships. Our donors, partners, board, and staff deserve nothing

less than absolute transparency, accountability, and fiduciary responsibility, and our growth

depends on it. Therefore, MSI will deliver those attributes.

4) BUILD FINANCIAL RESOURCES THAT UNDERGIRD SHORT AND

LONG-TERM STABILITY

We need to ensure that our people and programs have the resources they need to succeed.

To achieve long-term stability, we require a diverse funding portfolio, productive relations

with funders, and strong partnerships. We will strengthen our rainy-day reserve fund and

carve out base-operational funds to support targeted innovative research activities. This

will enhance staff opportunities to contribute directly to the body of mountain science

research and/or its application. We will embark on a comprehensive fundraising strategy that

advances MSI into new markets and revamps its donor giving platform.


15

Mountain Studies Institute

NEXT STEPS

MSI’s Strategic Plan 2021-2023 sets forth the organization’s vision, three strategic goals, and

internal organizational capacity goals. Each strategic goal is supported by a defining issue

statement, priorities for action, a theory of change, and concrete objectives and initiatives

designed to meet the goal. A set of capacity goals completes the Strategic Plan, communicating

the strengths MSI will build on and the gaps it will address to realize the plan. MSI’s Strategic

Plan is co-created by MSI’s Board of Directors and all staff every three years. It is approved by the

Board of Directors and enacted by MSI’s senior

leadership through annual workplans, with highlevel

results reported quarterly to the Board.

Staff’s individual contributions to goal attainment

will be inscribed in annual workplans and

measured in annual performance reviews.

Our goal is to attain our vision by working

collectively toward our strategic and capacity

goals to ensure MSI contributes effectively

to advancing mountain science that provides

solutions for strengthening the resilience of the

San Juan Mountains, as well as demonstrates

best practices and models that can be replicated

further afield. MSI’s work is indeed place-based

and local—but it carries global impact on the

world’s resources.


Strategic Plan 2021-2023 16

Strategic Plan, Work Planning, and Evaluation Process

MSI Executive Team

measures progress and

reports to staff and the

Board; adapts and adjusts

plan goals and objectives

as needed

Board and staff

co-develop Strategic Plan

in participatory process

Quarterly &

Annual

Reporting

3-Year

Strategic Plan

Adopted

MSI supervisors work

with direct reports on

staff workplans aligned

to annual organizational

workplan; hold regular

check-ins on progress

and issues

Annual Staff

Workplans

Implemented

Annual

Organizational

Workplan

Enacted

MSI Leadership Team

develops annual plan

aligned to Strategic

Plan with clear roles,

responsibilities, and

accountability


17

Mountain Studies Institute

APPENDIX

GOAL 1: ADVANCE MOUNTAIN SCIENCE

Objectives

Objective 1: Identify scientific

information needs and

knowledge gaps relevant to

the resilience of people and

mountain ecosystems

Objective 2: Recruit and include

diverse voices, perspectives, and

under-represented people in our

work, on our staff, and in our

collaboratives

Objective 3: Collaborate with

community members and

stakeholders to design and

conduct research relevant to

emerging issues

Objective 4: Strengthen and

increase our monitoring capacity

and infrastructure to better

understand shifting systems,

including rapid and long-term

changes and immediate, chronic,

and episodic events

Initiatives

• Establish a system to prioritize research initiatives and

investments; ensure the entire mountain system, from high

alpine elevation to downstream gradients, is addressed.

• Grow MSI’s ability to lead research and monitoring efforts, as

well as data management, through strengthening expertise, both

internally and externally, to support research initiatives.

• Re-establish the San Juan Collaboratory to advance and formalize

research partnerships, especially with local and regional-based

educational institutions.

• Increase efforts to recruit and hire diverse staff, board members,

interns, and researchers.

• Analyze and improve efforts for our collaborations to be more

inclusive and representative of the communities in which we

work.

• Provide appropriate inclusiveness training to all staff and make it

available to collaborators.

• Demonstrate thought leadership such as through development

of science communications, papers, and journal articles that

represent our place and build integrated perspectives in our

ecologies and communities.

• Connect science to decision-makers and the public through

workshops, forums, media, and MSI communication initiatives.

• Develop strategy with partners to harness diverse perspectives

and enhance collaborative research design and implementation.

• Assess monitoring infrastructure needs to support emerging and

prioritized research initiatives.

• Prepare and train for planned and unplanned monitoring events

in order to respond during disturbance and rapid changes.

• Obtain funding, tools, and methods for relevant monitoring that

are cost effective, robust, and sustainable, such as automation,

citizen science, and remote sensing.

Objective 5: Translate science

into usable formats and useful

knowledge for the public and

decision makers

• Develop communication and marketing tools to better

disseminate scientific activity and findings.

• Offer science-based forums presenting best available science

and lead debate on the research questions.


Strategic Plan 2021-2023 18

GOAL 2: EMPOWER COMMUNITIES

Objectives

Objective 1: Raise awareness,

understanding, and a culture of

stewardship through community

engagement, collaboration,

stewardship actions, and

accomplishments.

Objective 2: Promote learning

about mountain systems and

scientific literacy in K-12 and

higher education.

Objective 3: Develop

future leaders in all our

communities with science skills,

understanding and appreciation

for natural resources, and tools

through hands-on training and

professional development.

Initiatives

• Develop curriculum for the public and students combining

science, collaboration, and systems thinking, and take it to scale.

• Provide opportunities to build environmental and scientific

literacy through developing digital and dispersed offerings,

including virtual and online options, citizen science, and

trainings, including summer work-learn programs.

• Develop partnerships with local businesses and organizations

to promote mountain science, stewardship and conservation

through co-creation and sponsorship.

• Build trust and reduce polarization of information through

programs that is are relevant to people’s interests and locales.

• Advance our facilitative skills in supporting dialogue, diverse

perspectives, and representation.

• Strengthen existing and develop new partnerships with schools

and other environmental organizations with participatory action

goals in order to reach broader audiences, as well as enhance

our work and that of our partners.

• Communicate the outcomes- transformative experiences, media,

videos, and testimonials; identify key contacts and partners

within communities and partner organizations who will have a

multiplier effect on our activities and messaging by encouraging

others in their circle to act and spread the word.

• Identify and engage underrepresented people and voices

in science learning, career development, and community

conversation opportunities.

• Partner with social science experts to improve the outcomes and

beneficial impacts of community discussions and participatory

science for all.

• Work with local (Four Corner states) higher education institutions

to facilitate professional development in the natural science and

natural resource management fields.

• Share success stories from champions and interns on how MSI

programs impacted their professional development.


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Mountain Studies Institute

GOAL 3: INNOVATE SOLUTIONS

Objectives

Objective 1: Innovate solutions

to address challenges relevant to

mountain communities, now and

in the future.

Objective 2: Facilitate new

methods of collaboration and

science-based initiatives to

promote and sustain social,

ecological, and economic

resilience.

Objective 3: Promote innovative

solutions at multiple scales,

connecting place-based

innovations to higher levels of

decision-making and discussion

to be inclusive, diverse, and

representative.

Initiatives

• Deploy cutting edge design thinking/methods to elicit innovative

solutions, including using tried and true approaches in new

contexts or with new partnerships.

• Test and prototype new ideas and technologies through pilot

projects, partnerships, incubators, adaptive management, and

resource generation.

• Continuously monitor and evaluate programs to improve

program delivery for transformative experiences and innovative

best practices.

• Build diverse and inclusive networks of leaders and scientists

who initiate and promote innovative approaches to sciencebased

problem-solving through MSI’s Science & Innovation

Center.

• Position MSI in science-based coalitions and formal networks as

the science advisor, fluent in design techniques.

• Explore creative market approaches to conservation finance

and partnerships with corporate/business partners whose

actions and values align with and support MSI’s mission and

organizational goals.

• Document the impact of learning and adaptation, then

disseminate the results and impacts widely; identify avenues for

putting results in the hands of decision-makers at all levels.

• Elevate new or underserved voices in MSI work through inclusive

recruiting practices for partners, staff, and internships in order to

generate new perspectives and experiences.

• Develop long-term relationships with interns, volunteers, and

young professionals for mutual learning and generation of new

ideas which will advance through their careers.


Strategic Plan 2021-2023 20

Students get hands-on experience in monitoring their local watershed as part of MSI’s Silverton Ecology Camp.


970-387-5161

info@mountainstudies.org

P.O. Box 426 Silverton, CO 81433

679 E 2nd Ave #8 Durango, CO 81301

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