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Forged in the NoCo Fireshed: Stages of Collaborative Readiness Framework

September 29, 2023

by Ch’aska Huayhuaca, PhD, Program Manager, Collaborative Decision Support, Colorado Forest Restoration Institute (Southwest Ecological Restoration Institutes)

In the Northern Colorado Fireshed Collaborative (NoCo Fireshed), we know that a future without wildland fire is neither feasible nor desirable. Thought leaders among our partners encourage us to imagine a future in which, when a wildland fire ignites and spreads towards highly valued resources and assets, it burns through the area with minimal damage and loss. Reduced fuel loads result in less smoke, and evacuations (if needed) are brief. Local responders and managers have sufficient resources to keep the fire from growing beyond a Type 3 Incident, and have options to let the fire achieve ecological benefits. All this because land managers, fire responders, and community leaders across all affected jurisdictions had already collaboratively planned and carried out mitigation actions that actually made a difference on how wildfire behaves.  

Another thing we know well in the NoCo Fireshed is that getting to that point takes time and resources: bringing the right people together, co-developing strategies for solving problems, coordinating on-the-ground operations, and facilitating science-informed, continuous learning. As an all-lands “conglaborative,” this is especially true for our place-based coalitions and community-connected partners working to prepare landscapes and communities for a future with fire. They need the capacity to carry out those functions locally as well as bandwidth to engage in large landscape collaboration to scale up impact. Informed by applied research and practice, the idea of collaborative readiness crystalized in the NoCo Fireshed around the need to get resources to our place-based coalitions and community-connected partners, and to do so in a fair and transparent way that accounts for differences in local context and ability to put resources to use on the ground.  

The Southwest Ecological Restoration Institutes (SWERI) and the Center for Collaborative Conservation at Colorado State University (CCC) have now developed that idea into a concept paper on the Stages of Collaborative Readiness Framework. The premise is simple: collaborative endeavors are not all the same, and each collaborative sits within a unique physical, social, and economic landscape, and their challenges and opportunities can vary widely. Collaboratives evolve over time, and they require different resources and support as they develop. At the same time, funders generally want to invest in proven success. This can result in inequitable distribution of resources, as well-resourced collaborative groups continue to receive funding and support, and early-stage and under-resourced collaboratives in landscapes with high wildfire risk are left behind. The new Framework encourages more equitable investments in these collaboratives by providing stage-appropriate benchmarks for tracking progress and success of collaboratives as they evolve in their ability to prepare systems to live with wildfire.  

The Framework can help collaboratives understand and communicate how “ready” they are for various types of work and projects, and what outcomes and products they can reasonably expect to produce at various stages. This new resource can give collaborative practitioners a research and practice-informed structure to engage in self-assessment and adaptation, guide resource allocation between collaborative members and partners, and inform reasonable expectations and outcomes at different collaborative capacity levels.  

For more information, see the presentation below, or check out the full report and summary.

Thanks to everyone in the NoCo Fireshed who has contributed ideas and feedback throughout the development and implementation of this framework!

Header photo: Members of the Northern Colorado Fireshed Collaborative worked with the U.S. Forest Service to co-host a community tour of the Magic Feather Prescribed Burn located in Red Feather Lakes, Colorado. (Eric Tokuyama)