Task force holds future in its hands
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By Treena Shapiro
Advertiser Government Writer
By Treena Shapiro
In a state particularly vulnerable to fuel shortages, shipping problems and sea-level rises, a task force is hoping to come up with a long-range plan to guide the state toward a more self-sufficient future.
It's a lofty goal — and one reminiscent of prior efforts that have only seen limited success.
However, if the Hawai'i 2050 Sustainability Task Force is able to learn from the past, it might be able to come up with a plan that can guide the state into the future.
Advice from those who have already gone through similar processes will help.
"They have a lot better chance of it going right this time," said Robbie Alm, senior vice president of public affairs for Hawaiian Electric Co. and an active participant in the current effort.
However, he noted that the future doesn't lie in the hands of today's planners, but rather tomorrow's leaders and residents who decide to change their behaviors to reach the goals.
"It's still a question of will," Alm said. "It's a question of political will. It's a question of community will. It's a question of personal will."
Although the committee was formed with the intent of helping legislators make decisions that work toward a long-term goal backed by the community, existing political will could last only as long as the current elected officials stay in office, some fear.
For instance, former Gov. Ben Cayetano is skeptical that a plan looking 40 years into the future will appeal to later administrations and legislators.
He points out that the Hawai'i State Plan developed in the 1970s under then-Gov. George Ariyoshi set goals few disagreed with, but was nevertheless ignored as later governors chose to pursue their own visions instead.
Cayetano's vision included a task force of his own focused on economic revitalization, which focused on shorter-term plans to pull Hawai'i out of an economic recession.
"(Economic Revitalization Task Force) proposals had to meet two criteria: they had to be bold and achievable within a few years," Cayetano said.
Before he left office, he was able to see certain recommendations from the task force made into law, such as autonomy for the University of Hawai'i, creation of the Hawai'i Tourism Authority and a tax break.
BENEFITS OF SHORT-TERM
In Cayetano's opinion, the task force would be better off setting goals it can meet in a few years. "I don't think it will amount to anything unless they can put things into place today," he said.
However, others believe that long-range planning is critical because people tend to think too short-term.
Mae Mendelson, executive director of the Hawai'i Intergenerational Network, believes it's possible to keep momentum going.
"I think it needs to stimulate some short-term action to keep people excited about the end product since it is a bit in the future before the plan is completed," she said.
Mendelson speaks from the perspective of someone who has participated in cross-sector planning (Decisions '87) and youth planning (Ke Ala Hoku).
Those efforts revealed the importance of bringing together representatives from various sectors, as well as the need to set up a system of accountability.
They also yielded family strengthening initiatives, as well as those that benefited youth, such as the creation of the Legislature's Keiki Caucus and the World Congress of Youth series.
"These efforts are as effective as their ability to generate action around the goals they are setting so that the people who need to act are involved in the planning," she wrote in an e-mail.
"Some of the best planning and group process folks in town are involved in the Hawai'i 2050 Sustainability Task Force, so I think it will create a great product."
Jim Dator, director of the Hawai'i Research Center for Futures Studies at the University of Hawai'i, is not as optimistic.
Dator participated in Hawai'i 2000, the first "anticipatory democracy" experiment by the state, which yielded several alternative futures for the state, but little in the way of outcome.
"I naively believed that if you get all the movers and shakers, as well as the moving and shaking people there and talking together, some good would come of it," he said.
FUTURE JUST A START
In the three decades since, Dator realized that a better approach would have been to start by thinking about alternative futures, rather than to end there.
By contemplating different futures, people can consider what life would be like, what new problems would be created, what old problems would be solved and whether or not they liked it.
The idea is to create a real vision of the future — along with benchmarks to hit on the way — rather than just coming up with Band-Aids for current problems.
But Alm, who was involved in a few planning efforts before Hawai'i 2050, is more optimistic that the effort will help teach the community to be more thoughtful about the future.
"We shouldn't walk backwards into the future and not figure out a better way to do things," he said.
Reach Treena Shapiro at firstname.lastname@example.org.