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Open Standards Summit held in Seattle

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Earlier this month, the Puget Sound Institute and Puget Sound Partnership brought together conservation practitioners from around the region to share information about the use of Open Standards, CAP and the practice of adaptive management in the Puget Sound region.

The Puget Sound Open Standards Summit was held June 7th in downtown Seattle at the headquarters of Puget Sound Regional Council, and included more than 60 participants, representing a wide range of groups and individuals, from tribes, federal and state agencies (EPA, Department of Ecology), and many Puget Sound counties, businesses and nonprofits.

The Open Standards were first published in 2004 by the Conservation Measures Partnership, a group of conservation organizations with a mission to develop “principles and tools to credibly assess and improve the effectiveness of conservation actions.” Open Standards are similar to the principles of Conservation Action Planning (CAP), a process used by The Nature Conservancy in Puget Sound for more than ten years.

The goal of Open Standards, say proponents, is to help build a common language and a framework for decision making and prioritization of conservation issues, and to offer a way of measuring impacts. They include specific steps for deciding how to represent the human interest in a system, and how to identify and rate the threats to the system. They build conceptual cause and effect models of how strategies and actions can address these threats and ecosystem features. The summit was designed to discuss the pros and cons and challenges and opportunities associated with using this approach in adaptive management and conservation planning.

So far, Open Standards are being used at many different scales— from ecosystems like small reserves to the entire Puget Sound basin. The Puget Sound Partnership adopted the Open Standards as a framework for guiding much of their work in 2009. Presenters at the summit included the Hood Canal Coordinating Council, the Pilchuck Protection Project, Port Susan Marine Stewardship Area, the Puget Sound Partnership and the Puget Sound Institute.

One of the observations that came out of the summit, say its organizers, was the need to better engage the scientific community. “I think we would like to have a focused dialogue with the scientific community about how best to more effectively incorporate scientific information in planning and decision making,” said Puget Sound Institute Research Scientist Kari Stiles.

Some scientists are skeptical “that things like rating threats or defining what you care about are not based in science and are not using best available science, but they actually are and should be,” says Stiles.  “I think there is a misunderstanding about the degree to which science is used in this process.”

Stiles says that scientific information informs the planning and decision making process, but there are also ways that the approach can inform and add strength and foundation for various scientific research.

Going through the process of prioritization “can start to focus your scientific research  efforts as well because it tells you where you need to get more information, and where you should be investing in research. Not only does science inform the process, but using a structured approach like Open Standards can help the scientific community define highest priority science research needs,” says Stiles.

Find out more about Open Standards and view materials and presentations from from the summit.