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Institutional innovation

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Lynn Scarlett presenting.

  

Institutional innovation was the focus of Lynn Scarlett’s Feb. 29 presentation at the 50th Winter Institute. 

A scholar at Resources for the Future (RFF) in Washington D.C., one of the nation's oldest and most prestigious environmental think tanks, Scarlett is a former deputy U.S. Secretary of the Interior. She is also co-director of the RFF's Center for the Management of the Ecological Wealth and an expert on subjects such as climate change adaptation and ecosystem services. 

Scarlett’s presentation focused on how institutions can overcome challenges they face in regards to natural resources and the use of innovation to achieve their goals. She cited examples such as New York’s Catskill Mountains Watershed Project and Philadelphia’s wastewater and storm drain system as institutionally innovative and environmentally friendly.

Scarlett also spoke about the Arizona “Green Bank,” a project where cattle ranchers set aside areas for cattle grazing exclusively for when a drought occured. This example of institutional innovation brought together ranchers and farmers to use innovation to combat natural problems and exemplifies how institutional innovation can serve society. 

Her central message was that incentives matter when it comes to institutional innovation. Systems get developed and put into place depending on the incentives, and the incentives determine the speed at which institutional innovation takes place.

In the question and answer session following Scarlett’s presentation, the topic of the government’s slowness in innovating came up. Her response was that the role of the government in such projects was based on performance, and thus only after measuring is it able to decide on its role. 

Scarlett closed her presentation with the Yogi Berra quote, “The future ain’t what it used to be” to describe the changes that institutional innovation is bringing to society and the environment.

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