TIME TO STRATEGY EXECUTION: 63 DAYS
Saturday, Ambassador Lazlo ordered Maura (and through her, me) to “stop questioning decisions that have already been made” and to “continue dedicating all resources to preparation for strategy execution” with the immediate focus on enabling the public to make useful environmental impact assessments. I felt a little less anxious knowing that Sally was almost certainly under the same orders.
“You know what we want you to do, right?” Maura asked me after the call ended in the Boulder field office’s main conference room.
On the table was a box that had just arrived from the Q.A. base facility. “Try out the Personal Environmental Assessment Kit as if I’m a member of the public.”
She nodded. “You’re the closest thing to a real user that we’ve got on the team, except you know what we’re already getting from the test communities,” which she was kindly reminding me had been the motivation for Friday’s assignment.
“How will you know if I’m getting it right?” I asked.
“I’ll be there with you, recording everything.”
“Where should we go?” I expected some kind of detailed plan for a test, especially one as critical as this one.
Her answer was a total surprise: “Anywhere. It’s up to you.” She laughed at my reaction. “Don’t worry! The communities are testing the PEAK under more controlled conditions.”
I opened the box and set its contents on the table: a folded backpack, a hardbound book, and a set of smaller boxes marked Air, Land, Water, Built, and General. Beside me, Maura was now wearing a pair of thick glasses which I assumed had an embedded camera and microphone. “They turned this around pretty quick,” I said, suspecting the materials in the kit were made using the state-of-the-art 3D printer that occupies one room of our facility.
It took more than an hour to familiarize myself with the book and everything in the boxes, commenting on each so my reactions could be analyzed either later or in real time by Sally. The whole thing reminded me of a child’s toy science lab, with lenses for magnifying close-up or at a distance, rulers and a makeshift sextant, optical filters to check air quality, and porous filters to check water and soil quality. Masks, gloves, and cleaning gear were also included along with a special “biosafing” solution that was advertised as a means of neutralizing potentially dangerous compounds for safe storage in biologically sensitive areas (for the record, I openly doubted that it was anything more than high-tech snake oil).
I filled the backpack and we took a hike along a trail adjacent to the field office site. The book’s ecosystem guide seemed correct to me as I took a set of measurements described as a “basic assessment” and wrote the results on a foldout page formatted as a calendar. Several aspects of the process were problematic in my view, not least being the logging procedure. I duly marked our position on a makeshift map created using instructions in the book while Maura recorded the accurate position using the GPS in her phone. Later, we attracted a crowd of onlookers as I took a much more limited set of measurements on a bench in the middle of downtown.
We visited TC-013 yesterday and compared notes with Lei Kaleo, who noted several additional issues that were specific to her local environment, and then stopped at other random places to take more measurements. A trip around Denver today finished my tryout of the kit, focusing entirely on urban environments around the city.
“It’s going to require a major redesign,” Maura reported to Lazlo this afternoon. “Sally and the team have enough information from us and the test communities to have a new design ready for review by Wednesday, with trials starting Friday at the latest. Also, Will has a suggestion I think we should consider.”
“Not a change in anything else we’re doing, I hope,” Lazlo said.
Ignoring her acid tone, I said, “It looks to me like we’re ignoring the most important variable of all, and maybe the easiest to measure: the people-to-nature ratio.”
There was a pause. “That’s because it doesn’t fall in the category of environmental assessment. Besides, it can probably be derived from some of the other measurements.”
“Maybe, but you have a great opportunity to check it directly, and get direct feedback from people about how it affects them. Maybe the data can be used to calibrate the people to be test instruments themselves and help them get ideas of their own about what to do.”
“We can’t afford any change in scope at this point in the project,” Lazlo said after a longer pause.
“But…” I began.
“It’s not an option,” she said, and ended the call. I suspected my stint with WICO might be close to ending too.
As I helped my father develop new ways to teach math while in my teens and twenties, we reveled in searching for simple, low-tech solutions to complex problems. Our main goal was to enable anyone to find their own solutions; and applying the approach to math, one of humanity’s greatest tools, was an obvious means to that end. He invented quite a few tools in the process, often out of easily obtainable materials like cardboard, which are inspirations for my vision of the Personal Environmental Assessment Kit.
The biosafing solution does not exist (which Will suspects). If it did, a lot of our problems could be solved. Here, it is a placeholder for something – or multiple somethings – else.