One question came up several times during our recent MS4 program audit – “For what purpose?” The question was mainly targeted at the components and elements of our program plan and was offered as a means of improving how we share the many areas of effort toward getting better.
Many of you know that I am a big fan of the question, Why? This simple word helps me to align the how and the what behind even the most insignificant decisions. So clearly I appreciated the recommendation. We spent three days describing and detailing how we do stormwater here at ALDOT. We demonstrated an integrated culture of environmental consideration, stewardship, and advancement. We showed how the six minimum control measures were intertwined into the many technical areas and disciplines required to deliver the mission of a transportation department. But, admittedly, the why wasn’t always clear.
Were we just checking boxes? Were we simply throwing cash at a problem? Is what we are doing working? Is water quality getting better? Do we know? Do we care? I think I could answer these questions directly and convince you that our heart is genuinely in the right place in about two minutes. It just wasn’t as clear in our written plan and reports.
A public relations expert gave me some valuable advice several years ago. Referring to the audience of the news media, he said, “if you have to explain it, you’ve already lost” – meaning, we usually don’t get a second chance to present our case. If someone’s published story about us is at least somewhat factual, there is no use in trying to refute it. We now must work on a bigger problem (a misinformed public), and next time we must tell our story first.
In the past I have encouraged designers and inspectors to ask themselves, “for what purpose?” as BMPs were being specified, implemented, and installed. The question can lead to better designs and more effective application.
For what purpose am I asking for/installing a ditch check here? To minimize erosion or to trap sediment? Does this installation satisfy the reason I have dedicated resources here today?
If we know the why, we can better direct the what and the how.
By the way, if the purpose for your practice has less to do with water quality protection and more to do with satisfying a misled public or for appeasing a letter-of-the-law regulator, the purpose should still be declared and acted upon in a manner that satisfies that purpose. Another practice may be in order later to help influence a bigger change.
Establish the purpose first, pursue the type and manner of work that comes closet to completely satisfying that why, and then tell the world what you have done and why.