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kucera henry thumbThere’s an ongoing need to apply spatial and temporal intelligence to make sense of change. The Pacific Marine Analysis and Research Association (PacMARA) is an organization that is applying decision support tools for ecosystem-based decision making for marine spatial planning. Sensors & Systems (S&S) special correspondent Matteo Luccio spoke with Henry Kucera, director of the board of PacMARA and president of Swiftsure Spatial Systems, about the need for a systematic approach to understanding global change, the evolution of spatial tools, and the effort to train the next generation.

Kucera HenryThere’s an ongoing need to apply spatial and temporal intelligence to make sense of change. The Pacific Marine Analysis and Research Association (PacMARA) is an organization that is applying decision support tools for ecosystem-based decision making for marine spatial planning. Sensors & Systems (S&S) special correspondent Matteo Luccio spoke with Henry Kucera, director of the board of PacMARA and president of Swiftsure Spatial Systems, about the need for a systematic approach to understanding global change, the evolution of spatial tools, and the effort to train the next generation.

S&S: What is your relationship with PacMARA?

Kucera: I was the Executive Director of PacMARA from 2008 to 2011. With the difficulties in raising funds because of the recession, we moved away from having a full-time Executive Director. Now I am a director on the board, which is an unfunded position. We recruited Heather Coleman to become our Science Director and hired a Science Coordinator to run the program. The board and directors are now performing on a volunteer basis, except when working on specific funded projects.

S&S: You are an expert in “designing spatial and temporal intelligence and decision support systems” and in “strategic systems-based approaches to organizational development, planning, and project management.” What are the key principles and methods involved and what is “marine spatial planning”?

Kucera: When I first started working on designing spatial and temporal intelligence systems, one of the biggest challenges was the data and the interoperability of the systems. I was programming methods, designing languages, and designing interfaces. Our company worked with many of the key software companies that are all part of the mainstream now. Once the software was working better and was interoperable, and we could actually begin to exchange and integrate information and deal with quality issues, I got more involved with the strategic side. My focus changed to “How can we best use this technology and information? How do you get people to communicate and understand what it is they are doing?”

PacMARA is enabling a community of practice that knows how to use methods, information, and technology. It is using community-building methods to get people to understand complex problems. Both PacMARA and individuals I consult with are members of a network of people who continue to develop and use these techniques. We also continue to work on another piece of methodology all related to outcome mapping, which is an integrated planning process. Now that you’ve identified your challenge dialogue strategy, the second part is to actually build actionable plans through outcome mapping that involve multiple members of a diverse community and address complex problems. The complex problem can relate to salmon habitat sustainability or sustainable energy or anything like that.

Marine spatial planning is a very popular buzz word, a very good way to get funding. As soon as the United States adopted the concept of marine spatial planning it replaced Ecosystem Based Planning (EBM) as the coolest 3-letter acronym, but they are just three words that actually encompass all of the things that we were already doing. It is using spatial and temporal systems—such as GIS and remote sensing—to gather information in space and time so that we can use that data to better understand issues and problems and then build plans around how to address the things that we have identified.

S&S: Spatial and temporal intelligence basically means “where and when events happen,” correct?

Kucera: Yes, but it is not just a snapshot. The really valuable stuff is capturing and understanding the things that move and change. They can be short or long-term phenomena. For instance, algal blooms in the ocean begin during a certain temperature period and they happen at a certain depth in the ocean, but then they morph and become more widespread. So, you watch things as they change because you want to understand the patterns and the processes. My company, Swiftsure, does this for policing, marine monitoring and enforcement, traffic patterns, and many other things. Everybody wants to know and understand these things over the longer term so that they can plan for change.

Marine spatial planning (MSP) is about understanding the changes in the marine environment and trying to figure out how to deal with or mitigate the impacts of change. It is about applying all of the ecosystem-based management philosophy and then establishing an actionable set of plans to address issues. That’s where MSP differs from EBM. EBM is about adopting the principles and the way that you want to achieve something and building a strategy, and MSP is about taking those more abstract thoughts and saying, OK, we’re going to use these techniques and tools to create actionable plans and to enforce them. MSP is trying to find long-term sustainable solutions that improve the environment, the economy, and cultural values that people have.

S&S: What is your main professional goal?

Kucera: I was going to get my Ph.D. and go out and change the world. But I got lucky and managed to create a unique company—through my government experience, building a great network of associates, and working with my wife who has a Ph.D. and has written books on this subject. My professional goals became to create a world-class company with world-class research and we did that. It was time to take what we’d achieved and pass it on to a lot of younger people, because we were finding that many of them were coming out of universities knowing the theory or a lot about GIS tools, but not many of the issues. There was a gap. That’s what brought me to PacMARA. Our goal is to mentor people, so that they understand how to use the tools, information, and methods and begin to use them effectively. To me that whole experience level—providing mentorship, internships, taking people out of the academic realm, and actually bringing them on the ground—is really important.

PacMARA has many links into the academic community, with directors who are at research institutes, in government departments, and on the faculties at different universities. However, just as important are our links with private companies, since that’s where innovation comes from. We continue to put together projects that bring on-the-ground people together with some of the science practitioners and innovative companies, to come up with real solutions.

So, that’s what attracted me to PacMARA. It addresses a very complex environment and allowed me to practice and pass on all of the things that I’ve learned over the years. Many of the things that are in PacMARA now were brought in through the interactions our team of creative directors had from 2008 to 2011.

S&S: Do you spend most of your time raising money and managing the organization or doing research?

Kucera: It turns out that I am a geek and I am not really good at raising money and that’s where you really, really have challenges in the current environment. Investors are much more selective now than they were pre-2007. You have to show results and you have to be accountable for everything you do. You have to build a track record and that’s what we are doing with PacMARA now: we are starting to build a really good track record of people who are very happy with what we are doing. I don’t actively manage PacMARA as a board member. Overall, the board spends less time managing the organization now than we used to, because the people in the organization now are better at understanding how to operate as a network and not as a hierarchical organization.

Because of the way the network is set up, research is more self-organizing. Each of the individuals has a research focus of their own and, by being members of PacMARA, they come together, train, and understand how their research actually contributes to the bigger picture. We do strategic planning, so that everybody within the network understands what our strategy is, what our mission, vision, and goals are and, even though through their research they get funded independently, they identify areas on which we can work together. When an opportunity to collaborate is identified, we build small teams to continue to do research in that area. So, it is really light weight and self-organizing.

S&S: How do you use your academic training in geography?

Kucera: My academic training focused on systems methodology and was pretty specialized. My degree was focused on database query languages. I wrote the first draft of the simple feature specification for database query and database storage for geographic information on which the ISO standard and the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) specification are based. A lot of that was highly technical, but it means that I understand the limitations of the data and in applying it. Now—when we do conferences, mentorships, or any project—I try to make people understand that you can’t just grab data and throw layers of it on top of one another. Data collected for one purpose isn’t necessarily suitable for another purpose. We try to teach people that content is important, content is what fuels the system, but that content really has to be well understood. So we advocate creating communities of practice that actually understand the content. This is a big challenge right now, because we have all of the data that is being collected by diverse communities and in some cases it is spectacular data and in some cases it isn’t.

S&S: What is the connection between your passion for sailing and your work at PacMARA?

Kucera: I love the ocean and I see it changing every day. It is a dynamic place. It makes you want to make sure that we do as much as we can as individuals locally and globally to sustain it.

S&S: What are PacMARA’s major goals?

Kucera: PacMARA’s goals are to educate people on the principles around ecosystem-based management. To be a catalyst for the creation of communities of practice that use and apply the principles as well as the tools for marine spatial planning. We do management-level courses about how to communicate and plan effectively. We mentor managers through processes, help them build a road map and come to consensus on how they want to address problems. We also work at the science level—especially through our Marxan training and support. We teach people how to use the tools and the techniques and also promote the methods to create actionable plans.

One of our goals is to continue to provide more education and training on more tools. We’d like to extend the tool suites that we give training on. We are continuing to coordinate with other organizations that are developing tools and methods with people in different universities and networks. There are many tools out there and many of them work very, very well. The problem is training the people to use them consistently, so that they can have success with more global efforts. Our goal as an organization is to increase the level of capacity for ecosystem space management and running spatial planning worldwide on a consistent basis. People can be more effective if they use the same terminology and the same tools.

S&S: What are PacMARA’s major achievements?

Kucera: I think that we’ve trained more people in the use of Marxan than anybody else has. We didn’t invent the technique and the method, but we started to work with the people at the University of Queensland. That relationship has been fantastic and it has helped the development of a really great network worldwide. PacMARA held a couple of workshop that brought people together in Canada to move things forward, acting as that catalyst. We’ve collected the material from the workshops and published it in two languages and are going to go to a third. We trained people in the Caribbean. We are working in Chile and Turkey. One of our biggest achievements is doing this with a very low amount of funding. Here in Canada, we are working with the Arctic community, through Environment Canada, and achieving the same thing in the Arctic. Those are some of the things that we feel really good about as an organization

S&S: PacMARA develops planning tools but does not collect data, correct?

Kucera: We don’t collect data. The world is collecting data all over the place. It is expensive to store and I know people who do it really, really well. It would be silly for us to take that on. We work with people who are collecting data and with people who are trying to clean that data up and turn it into information. We don’t create the tools either – we collaborate with others to identify the best tools and then work to apply them in innovative ways. So you could say that we help create innovative methods for the use of planning tools.

S&S: Is climate change the overriding ecosystem challenge facing our oceans?

Kucera: That’s not the challenge, rather it is the symptom. Climate change goes on all the time and the some of the climate change that we are experiencing right now is a symptom of too much negative human interaction with the environment. The challenge is managing human interaction with the ecosystem. The key is to understand how we interact and then to act both locally and globally, either to do something that has less negative impact or to do something that has a positive impact. In most cases, you do your marine spatial planning locally and the idea is to make changes that are going to have more benefits than they are going to have negative impacts. Even if we make changes today, climate change is going to continue to happen for centuries. We need to identify realistic challenges where we can make real measurable differences.

There are more things going on besides climate change. You have ocean acidification, which is related to CO2 build-up, but is also related to a lot of things that are impacting the ocean from run-off every day—such as building highways and skyscrapers. Every time you scratch the surface of the Earth—especially on the Pacific Coast, where we have highly acidic natural landscapes—you can cause a huge impact from acid rock drainage. So, whether you are building a highway, a mine, a supermarket, or a golf course, you have to realize that all that stuff is changing the world.

S&S: What are the key scientific, technical, and political challenges in dealing with these environmental challenges?

Kucera: There is a lot of science going on at different universities and think tanks and it is funded by different environmental non-government organizations. In many cases, this work goes on independently, with little collaboration. Sometimes, the lack of collaboration is due to the biases of the researchers or of the funders. We really need to take a bigger approach. I have to take my hat off to what President Obama is doing. We’ve had a sea change. Perhaps we could emulate that in Canada.

If you could pick some issues that would galvanize action from multiple communities—such as addressing the challenges in the Arctic—that might make a difference. The United States, Canada, and the Scandinavian countries have Arctic strategies and are coming together through the Arctic Council. They have agreed on key organizing principles. The biggest challenge, however, is for science, the techniques, the technology, and the political side of it to come up with an agenda.

So, the first challenge is to pick a direction. To work with really high level things that people can all go after, rather than having people chase down individual, small issues. For example, one of the big issues that relates to the marine side is generating sustainable power from the oceans—whether it is driven by tides, currents, or something else. The energy in the ocean is almost limitless but harvesting it in an eco-friendly way is still a challenge.

S&S: Going forward, what do you hope to do?

Kucera: I am working with some really great young people right now both on a personal level and through PacMARA. We are exchanging knowledge in really cool and fantastic ways using social networking and exploiting the rapid changes in technology. They are taking my experience, but they are using more modern tools and methods, so I hope to continue to work with young people like that and that we actually will have an impact and provide value to the people with whom we work.

For PacMARA, we’d like to get more sustainable funding. We’d like to continue to grow the number of different methods and tools that we teach people about and we’d like to continue to build our network out as planned. We are working with governments and legislatures around the world, as well as with other environmental non-profit organizations around the world and we are building our network.


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