Posted by: chrismaser | November 13, 2010


I’m not aware of any reference that describes the developmental stages of an agency as has been done for an individual and a family, and I’ve not taken part in the formation of an agency. But I can think of four generalized stages of development.

Stage one—The inception of an agency is based on a perceived need that’s in the public interest. This perception revolves around one person or a small nucleus of people with a vision, as clearly stated by Gifford Pinchot in his book, Breaking New Ground. He saw the “Conservation policy,” which he helped to forge, as the guiding principle of the U.S. Forest Service, of which he was the first Chief from 1898 through 1910:

The Conservation policy . . . has three great proposes.

First, to wisely use, protect and nurture the natural resources of the Earth.

Second, to control the use of the natural resources and their products in the common interest, and to secure their distribution to the people at fair and reasonable charges for goods and services.

Third, to see to it that the rights of the people to govern themselves shall not be controlled by great monopolies through their power over natural resources.

A letter, written by Pinchot on March 5, 1905, concisely stated his vision, the guiding philosophy on which the early U.S. Forest Service was founded: “the greatest good for the greatest number in the long run.” Yet even with the clearly perceived need for a guardian of the public interest, the formation of the Forest Service was no easy task. There were many bitter, political battles to be fought with men who wanted all the land put in private ownership for their own personal gain, the inevitable birth pains of that which we today take for granted as our national heritage—our national forests.

Although the ideals, which are seminal in the inception of an agency, may be clearly defined for their time and place in history, such as those of the Forest Service, we now look back and wonder exactly what was meant. In this sense, I’ve heard the following question raised several times in recent years as we struggle to meet today’s perceived “needs” from our national forests. What exactly did Pinchot meant by “the greatest good for the greatest number in the long run”?

We may not agree with what we perceive his motives to have been, as attested by the political actions taken, but we must remember that whatever the ideal with which the Forest Service was founded, whatever actions were taken to implement that ideal, it was new and daring in its time, and it was meant to be a service held in trust for all the people—both present and future.

We can today easily snipe at the “simplistic vision” of the pioneers of the past because we have a greater biological knowledge about our forests, a different perception of desires and necessities from our forests, and a different perception of ourselves as a society. But it’s important to remember that those pioneers did the best they could with the knowledge and the vision they had, and that today we’re the pioneers of the future. Are we doing the best we can with what we know? Will the agencies in which we now serve or which we now create fare any better than those of the past?

Stage two—After its inception, an agency goes through a period of false starts and apparent fumbling around, often with much political infighting. Such behavior is much the same as an adolescent searching for an identity. Out of this fumbling can come growth, a coming together to fulfill the vision—provided the vision is clearly stated and firmly agreed to in the first place:

Pinchot was a great and electric leader by any standard. Stewart Udall called the Forest Service’s Washington headquarters during Pinchot’s regime ‘the most exciting place in town.’ And it was, as Pinchot and Theodore Roosevelt successfully conspired against private western ranching, timber, and water interests to set aside 148 million acres, three-fourths of today’s system, as national forests.

This is the excitement of growth not only in a project with a clearly articulated vision, goals, and objectives but also in an agency where the people are clearly committed to and empowered to follow the vision of public service for which the agency is being created. “Ideals.” said journalist Carl Schurz, “are like the stars, we never reach them, but like the mariners of the sea, we chart our course by them.”

Stage three—Growth, with the stimulation of its unknowns, its groping, its many false starts and surprising insights, eventually gives way to maturity in which the outcome seems assured. During the first year and a half of struggling to put the ideas coherently on paper, with many false starts. But then the pieces started coming together, slowly at first and then faster and faster. People from every necessary discipline seemed to materialize “out of thin air” just when they are needed them most, which keeps the interest charged and the enthusiasm crackling.

At some point, people know where the agency is going, and what the product will be. At that point, the agency comes into its maturity, and everyone seems to know it. They have a function to perform, and they begin to accomplish what they’re designed to do. They mature into their stated mission, and once this has been accomplished, the turning point has been reached. Thus, the beginning of stage four is pivotal to the life of an agency for here its direction is ultimate determined.

Stage four—Having fulfilled its original charge, it must be re-envisioned, re-orientated, re-chartered, and revitalized, or disbanded. If left solely to its own devices, senescence creeps in. This is the point at which an agency becomes malfunctional.

The now-declining agency tries to “hang-on,” to live as in the past. In reality, however, it becomes a self-perpetuating machine, which, having “forgotten” its original charge and having outlived its function, looks out for its own survival at any cost.


Series on Resistance to Change:

• Our Institutionalized Resistance To Change

• My Introduction To An Agency

• The Inception Of An Agency

• When Dysfunction/Malfunction Creeps In

• Homeostatic Defense

• Coping Mechanisms

• Coping Mechanisms: Anger And Aggression

• Coping Mechanisms: Appraisal

• Coping Mechanisms: Defensiveness

• Coping Mechanisms: Denial

• Coping Mechanisms: Displacement

• Coping Mechanisms: Filters

• Coping Mechanisms: Projection

• Coping Mechanisms: Rationalization

• Coping Mechanisms: Repression

• Coping Mechanisms: Resistance

• Breaking The Dysfunctional Cycle

• From Where I Stand

Text © by Chris Maser 2010. All rights reserved.

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This article is excerpted from my 1994 book, Sustainable Forestry: Philosophy, Science, and Economics. St. Lucie Press, Boca Raton, FL. 373 pp. It is updated in my 2012 book, Decision Making For A Sustainable Environment: A Systemic Approach. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. If you want more information about this book, want to purchase it, or want to contact me—visit my website.

If you wish, you can also read an article about what is important to me and/or you can listen to me give a presentation.

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