The PennDOT and IUP Partnership: A Personal History – VI (Conclusion)

Steady, Podner, Steady: The Fourth and Fifth IUP Contracts (2012-)

On February 10, 2012, PennDOT and IUP renewed the partnership with another 5-year MOU (20120112).  In most ways, this MOU mimicked previous ones in terms of scope, but added more formally a geomorphology component and a geophysical testing component.  The geomorphology component was added to provide additional flexibility in choice of geomorphologist, in particular since Dr. Vento was particularly busy with PennDOT and other agency studies.  IUP agreed to add additional geomorphologists to the Agreement with subcontracts.  The geophysical component was new and rather exciting.  As a feature of IUP’s Anthropology program, faculty and staff had acquired both the machinery and skill to conduct magnetic resistivity, ground penetrating radar, and other remote surveying technology.  GPR was particularly useful for identifying cemetery situations and also buried historic archaeological foundations.  We at PennDOT would not have been able to maintain the equipment and skill set on our own.

For the five years of this MOU, the chief focus of activities was on the PHAST program, geomorphological studies, and winding up the collections backlog.  This period of the MOU was one of refinement and adjustment rather than innovation, as we perfected the PHAST program and managed the geomorphological assignments. The curation backlog was largely completed by 2012, but inevitably we kept uncovering old collections that had been missed in the original survey of outstanding collections.  As our goal was to completely bring the older collections up to date and submitted to the State Museum, we continued to make adjustments in task assignments, largely wrapping up activities in 2013.  Later we discovered that the Blue Route Collections, from the 1980s were still not processed. It was a large collection and we have since managed to put our arms around that problem working with Engineering District 6-0.

In 2017, we renewed the MOU again for another 5 years (MOU 201721), largely keeping the same terms and goals as MOU 20120112. This is the current MOU with IUP as of this writing (2019).  As with the previous MOU, the current MOU is also one of adjustment and refinement on the tasks assigned, which are primarily the PHAST program and geomorphological studies.  The Byways to the Past Conference, in its current form as part of the Statewide Heritage Conference, has been taken over by Preservation Pennsylvania, and is no longer a responsibility of IUP.  The collections backlog program – it is worthy of the title “program” given the length of time it lasted and the total number of collections processed – had been concluded.  Byways to the Past booklets are continuing to be published, and IUP remains the publisher of last resort, after first having the consultant be responsible for printing, and then considering PennDOT’s Graphic Services Unit to complete the printing. The CD series is coming to a close, as technological advances now permit these reports to be housed within the CRGIS as downloads.  The IUP Agreement continues to be available for special assignments and is used for such. In addition, PennDOT’s cultural resources unit continues to send a representative to IUP annually to participate in the review of the MA program.

Lessons Learned from this Partnership

I will be participating in a roundtable on university partnerships at the Society for American Archaeology Meetings coming up in April.  It is fair to ask with the distance of time whether there is anything to be learned from this particular partnership over the last 20 years?  I had a front row seat at all of this and often was the individual making key decisions on strategy and direction, so you would think this would be easy.  It is not.  The simple route would be to create a totally revisionist history where each decision and step was brilliantly thought out in advance, with long-term strategic goals, inevitably ending up where we are today, gloriously successful.  

It didn’t happen that way.

Having a front-row seat doesn’t necessarily give you perspective.  Furthermore none of us were hovering over our heads thinking about what we were thinking. We kept trying things until something worked, but didn’t spend time conducting a post-mortem analysis.  With the perspective of 20 years, I may be able to reconstruct what I felt and what I was thinking, but that doesn’t necessarily get you to interpretation and understanding.  I can more or less spell out the emic in this partnership game, but I may or may not be able to get to the etic, where we could more broadly talk about generalizations that might be applied to any partnership. Here goes.

First, just what is a partnership?  We can start with Merriam-Webster:

1the state of being a partner PARTICIPATION//scientists working in partnership with each other

2aa legal relation existing between two or more persons contractually associated as joint principals in a business //began a legal partnership with his uncle

bthe persons joined together in a partnership //the partnership computes its net income … in a manner similar to  that of an individual— J. K. Lasser

3a relationship resembling a legal partnership and usually involving close cooperation between parties having specified and joint rights and responsibilities //The band has maintained a successful partnership for 10 years.

That’s what I love about dictionary definitions. They always throw you deeper into the thicket.  Just what is a partner?

1:    archaic  one that shares PARTAKER

2aone associated with another especially in an action ASSOCIATECOLLEAGUE//our military partners throughout the world

beither of two persons who dance together

cone of two or more persons who play together in a game against an opposing side //partners in card games

da person with whom one shares an intimate relationship one member of a couple //Evan and his partner are going on a Caribbean cruise.

3a member of a partnership especially in a business // partners in a law firm also  such membership

4: one of the heavy timbers that strengthen a ship’s deck to support a mast —usually used in plural

Now, we’re getting somewhere. I actually like all of these definitions and I think all are relevant.  A partnership is a sharing relationship.  Each party needs to feel that it is getting something out of the partnership.  Partnerships are like a dance or a game, which is to say that they are not static relationships.  Partnerships are always in motion because nothing ever stays constant.  Working in state government, I also think of partnerships as playing against an opposing side, trying to make something work against the inertia of governmental mediocrity.  Even definition 4 is relevant. Partnerships need to do things, whether it is to support a mast so the ship can sail, or support a program so it can fulfill its mission.

Partnerships solve problems. Yes, the first rule of seeking a partnership is that one is needed to solve a specific problem.  Not all problems are solved with a partnership, but a partnership in search of a problem is in trouble out of the gate.  Sometimes the problem is concrete, such as how to staff a new program. Sometimes the problem is more abstract, such as building credibility in the larger preservation community.  It can even be the need for constant improvement.  Edward Deming is the founder of the Total Quality Movement, which in the 1950’s brought Japanese manufacturing back into prominence, and has influenced business thinking in the US for decades. His 14 points are worth restating here, and they were on my cubicle wall during my entire career at PennDOT:

  1. Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business, and to provide jobs.  
  2. Adopt the new philosophy. 
  3. Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place. 
  4. End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag. Instead, minimize total cost. Move toward a single supplier for any one item, on a long-term relationship of loyalty and trust. 
  5. Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs. 
  6. Institute training on the job. 
  7. Institute leadership. The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets to do a better job. 
  8. Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company. 
  9. Break down barriers between departments.
  10. Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force. 
  11. Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality. 
  12. Remove barriers that rob people in management and in engineering of their right to pride of workmanship. This means, inter alia, abolishment of the annual or merit rating and of management by objective. 
  13. Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement. 
  14. Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job. 

Number 5 is central to developing partnerships:  Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costsThe need for quality improvement cannot be achieved only by relying on internal resources in the work unit.  I would argue that you cannot substantially improve a process or overall quality without engaging in partnerships.  

In government, there is a natural tendency to stay in our lanes, to stay in our silos.  Government is built for inertia.  My first problem was that I couldn’t stand the notion of staying in the work situation outlined in Part I of the series.  The very first partnerships formed in cultural resources were with the SHPO, in the form of a programmatic agreement to move us past the shoveling of dubious documents to another desk for approvals.  In 1997, we had a problem with not having long-term staffing to support our newly minted programmatic agreement.   We thought that IUP had the best ability to create staff, and as a university had the stability to honor a long-term commitment.

Seek best fit through mutual benefit.  As clichéd as it may be, you can’t have a partnership without partners, but some partners are better than others. In approaching potential partners, it was necessary to visualize how the partnership would benefit them and to communicate that vision.  Otherwise, why would the other party give you the time of day?  IUP also had a problem to solve.  They are a state agency and have a mission to provide assistance to other state agencies.  They need to be relevant in today’s world, not just the Academy.  Evidence of that need was the existence of Archaeological Services.

Partnerships take time to build.  Our first meeting with IUP was in the Fall of 1997. The first MOU was executed May, 1999, almost 2 years later.  Actually that was rather fast.  Other partnerships we had usually took 3 years.  Never expect to be able to enter into a partnership (at least not a meaningful one) quickly.  Think about it.  You have two different institutions, each with its own management and administration, rules, lawyers, etc.  Each institution has to move outside of its comfort zone, and regardless of how often or how loud management says it is 100% behind innovation or whatever the current best new thing is, they usually don’t mean it.   After going through Graduate School and working with IUP and other universities for nearly 40 years, I can safely say that universities are every bit as bureaucratic and administratively difficult as PennDOT.  The only difference seems to be in the mission.  At any number of occasions, I could have legitimately given up on the partnership as being simply too hard to execute.  So could Bev Chiarulli, Phil Neusius, and the Anthropology Department.  Commitment, constancy of purpose, and useful streaks of stubbornness brought us through.

Real partnerships add value. In building a partnership, we had to find a way to make 1 + 1 = 3, to create value out of the partnership that transcended the simple transactional nature of the MOU.  At first, the added value was quite abstract, and the transactional nature of the MOU was right in front of us.  Find and rent us QPs and we will pay you.  As we crafted the MOU though, we made sure that the terms would allow us to engage in other mutually beneficial activities.  One of the first was the joint Byways to the Past Conference held in 2000 on the IUP campus in the newly built Eberly Business School facilities. Benefits accrued to PennDOT for hosting a transportation conference, but also to IUP for same. In addition, IUP’s Anthropology Department could show to the Dean and Administration that it was working to serve another state agency, bringing in a little money as well, and furthering IUP’s educational mission.

The Second MOU, sans QPs, also created value, especially in the conduct of the legacy archeological collections project.  This employed IUP students giving them hands on experience working with collections. It kept IUP’s lab busy, and Archaeological Services billable and important.  PennDOT got necessary work completed at a fraction of the cost we would have incurred had we gone the private consultant route.  Again, 1 + 1 = 3.  This was repeated with the Third MOU that brought geomorphological services and PHAST to the table, and which was continued into the Fourth and current MOUs.

Partnerships transcend a business relationship. In building a partnership, it was important to find a way to let both partners feel that they were coming out ahead in the arrangement.   In building and maintaining any relationship, whether it be a marriage or a partnership between two agencies, the same key ingredients appear over and over again: honesty, trust, communication, commitment.  This is not surprising nor should it be.  With IUP, we met early and often, exchanged a lot of phone calls and e-mails. We wrote out drafts of terms for the MOU and other supporting documents.  Each of us had to work our management to sell the concept and get them on board.  

Once the partnership was in place, it required care and maintenance.  When IUP established a Master’s of Applied Archaeology Program, they invited us to sit on an advisory board to guide the program.  We jumped at the chance and never missed a meeting.  When I retired I made sure that there was someone in PennDOT who could continue.  When we did task assignments, sometimes there was advance coordination to check to see what IUP could manage within their schedule.  We wanted the assignments to be realistic and not onerous, a constraint we never applied to our engineering consultants.  When we were holding Byways Conferences, there was also intense coordination on the program, on logistics.  When the PHAST program was initiated, we reserved internships for IUP students, and we made sure that IUP students were considered for other internships in Harrisburg.  We cowrote press releases when good things happened and made sure to give IUP as much credit on any success as we could manage.

Partnerships require adaptation.  Over time, the partnership has evolved and should continue to do so.  The types of ventures we undertook changed over time as our mutual needs and abilities changed.  Our first MOU was for staff, plus some extras. Without the need for staff, the MOU evolved into other mutually beneficial initiatives, such as the legacy archaeological collection project.  As geomorphology became are more important tool in our project studies, we managed to work that into the MOUs.  Thankfully, we had the time to process changing circumstances and make necessary adjustments.

Timing and opportunity matters.  Guy Raz has a podcast on public radio called “How I Built This, with various entrepreneurs being interviewed on how they built their businesses.  One of the best questions comes at the end, when Guy Raz asks each one how much of their success was based on skill and work and how much on luck. The answers are fascinating.  I think the same question can be asked here.  

I know for a fact that my staff and I and Bev Chiarulli, Phil Neusius, and folks at the Anthropology Department worked very hard over the years to build this partnership and to sustain it.  But I also know that a lot of people in PennDOT and in other cultural resources units also work equally hard or harder.  And I consider myself a good salesman, but there are also many who communicate as well or better.  Hard work alone doesn’t result in a partnership.  You could say that luck also played a part, but what I would call luck is having the door open at times.  When I came to PennDOT, my supervisors and managers, including Wayne Kober and Dan Accurti, were receptive to change and new ideas.  It was most visible with the EMS re-engineering, where management, especially M.G. Patel, the Chief Engineer, actually sought out useful change.  Our timing was excellent, as we had just executed the new programmatic agreement and were looking for ways to implement it.  

You don’t get a chance to pick your managers or the timing of these agency-wide initiatives, but you also have to recognize when the opportunity exists and that the door is open.  As stated earlier, working in government means that there is always a Department-wide initiative to increase productivity.  Some are serious, but most are flavor-of-the month management speak. In an advanced seminar, we could teach you tools on how to tell the difference, but let it suffice that it is critical to know the difference before investing the work that would be required to actually produce a partnership.

Lefty Gomez once said, “I’d rather be lucky than good.” He also said his success was due to clean living and a fast outfield.  So to my fast outfield of Kula, Russell, and Baker, I close with a sincere thank you.

3 thoughts on “The PennDOT and IUP Partnership: A Personal History – VI (Conclusion)

  1. John P McCarthy March 15, 2019 / 9:05 am

    Ira – the IUP program was a “good thing” and had excellent results, but I continue to be bothered by “special” relationships that by their nature are exclusive of other organizations and individuals who are just as talented and capable, but do not as a result of being excluded have a chance to contribute or gain experience, etc.

    Like

    • ibeckermannotrobot March 15, 2019 / 9:25 am

      While at PennDOT, we did have discussions about whether this particular program was scalable and could be extended to other institutions? We generally felt the partnership model could be expanded, especially the model of PHAST, but there was a limit as to how much archaeology PennDOT needed. The IUP arrangement covered enough of it to suggest adding a second program would lead to a program in search of a project. Furthermore, there seemed to be a finite number of institutions in Pennsylvania that were interested in Pennsylvania archaeology. If you know of some, please let PennDOT know.
      Some of the best aspects of the partnership was mentoring of pre-professionals. Beyond the IUP partnership, mentoring was done through the summer internships PennDOT had with the SHPO, which brought an additional 4 students a year into the fold. These were open to any student nationally, and of late has become highly competitive.
      In addition, PennDOT did engage in other temporary partnerships that involved hands-on student work, notably with Juanita College in the data recovery excavations on the Hatch Site, and West Chester University in completing and preparing the Blue Route collections for curation. These are assumed to be one-offs and probably not anticipated to be permanent, but you never know.
      I think there’s some interest within the Pennsylvania Archaeological Council to establish a mentoring program that could take some of the better attributes of the IUP partnership and apply it to any student or institution interested in Pennsylvania archaeology.

      Liked by 1 person

      • diggerjohnmac March 15, 2019 / 9:31 am

        Granted, sadly, there are few institutions of Higher Ed in PA interested in local archaeology, but a relationship like the one the Department had with IUP might be a means of encouraging those in positions of power at other institutions to direct resources toward that capability. I hope PAC will do something with this.

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