Building an Organization of Citizens


Advances in technology have dramatically changed the workforce. The fact you are using this Common Learning Portal is proof of that. Even the term employee has taken on new meaning. More and more, parks rely on freelancers, contractors, and temporary workers to accomplish their missions. This can lead to issues with organizational uncertainty. As a manager or supervisor in the NPS, this can make running a park or program difficult. It doesn’t have to be if you know how to tap into the knowledge capital available to you.

Most organizations today still follow outdated models that reward those who create financial capital not knowledge capital. The NPS is not like most organizations though. It does protect some of the nation’s most important cultural and natural resources. It is also sitting on a knowledge capital goldmine. The wealth of the National Park Service is the knowledge, experience, and expertise of its employees. It is essential that the Service harnesses this wealth of knowledge if it is to thrive.

“Future ages will wonder at us, even as the present age wonders now” – Pericles

The problem is there are no suitable model for a “knowledge worker” centered organization. Or is there? In their groundbreaking article in Harvard Business Review – Company of Citizens, Brook Manville and Josiah Ober take us on a journey 2,500 years into the past; to ancient Athens. The Greek city-state rose to power not by ruling from the top down but by giving its citizens a voice. For the NPS to flourish, its citizens/employees need to know their voice is important and will be heard.

From the Article

Why was Athenian model so successful?

The system was not imposed on the people; it grew from their own needs and beliefs. As a park or program manager, you must truly listen to what your people are saying. The system was designed with clearly defined processes; when people know what to expect and what’s expected of them, uncertainty decreases while creativity and production increase.

The Athenian system was based upon communal values. Giving employees a shared a sense of ownership in the direction of their park or program will, by extension, promote better visitor experience and management of a park site. What may have started as “what’s in it for me?” can now be linked to “what’s in it for us?”

The push to build strong park programs cannot come from above. It has to begin with NPS employees on the front lines. This process will take time and may require experimentation. And yes, there will likely be many failures. As the NPS pushes into the future, mangers and supervisors will continue to play a vital role. However, they must learn how to take their turn in being led. It will be a continually-evolving process, but one on which the NPS must embark.

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