Kai Lee

Compass and the Gyroscope (1993)


salmon leaping1 Taking Measures

2 Sustainability in the Columbia Basin

3 Compass: Adaptive Management

4 Gyroscope: Negotiation and Conflict

5 Sea Trials: Comparison cases

6 Navigational Lore: Expectations of Learning

7 Seaworthiness: Civic Science

8 Seeking Sustainability

The Book is about the Columbia River basin and its surrounding watershed.

Pacific NW counties

“How science and politics can, in the appropriate combination, be enlisted in the search for a sustainable material culture, and to describe cases showing how some elements in search have been organized and tried out.”


Kai Lee, Compass and the Gyroscope, (1993), p. xi.

“This book is accordingly not social science but social engineering —or would be, if we knew enough to link design reliably to result.”

p. xii.

world “the world is bounded…” 

Kai Lee, Compass and the Gyroscope, (1993), p. 3.


“Human activity disrupts environmental stability on a planetary scale."


"There have been two Columbia River civilizations; a third is now emerging."

Kai Lee, Compass and the Gyroscope, (1993), p. 19.

Grand Coulee Dam The Columbia River basin experience identifies themes common to a large ecosystems:

p. 51.

“Conflicts in ecosystems can easily bog down. There are typically many parties, not the two opposing sides for which our courts, our normal means of processing conflict, are designed.”

p. 87.

“Social learning comes from the accumulation of knowledge within a network of organizations and from conflict between organizations and their environments.

p. 115.

“Learning from experience occurs when decisions produce results.”

p. 136.

“managing large ecosystems should rely not merely on science, but on civic science; it should be irreducibly public in the way responsibilities are exercised,intrinsically technical, and open to learning from errors and profiting from successes.”

Kai Lee, Compass and the Gyroscope, (1993), p. 161.

First, that deliberate learning is possible, though surely uncommon, in public policy. Second, that civic science ­ combining a political strategy of bounded conflict with ecological learning based on experimentation—is feasible, but fragile. Third, that civic science promises the most rapidand least costly approach to sustainability.

p. 185.

“…we must acknowledge the pace and scale of nature’s teaching.”

“…Cultivate a world in which we can live together.”

Kai Lee, Compass and the Gyroscope, (1993), p. 201.



If solutions grow from place then the Columbia River Basin is the region where conflict over the multiple use of land and water has created a constitutional conflict over access to fisheries and use of the very water these fisheries need to survive. 

Pacific northwest: valuing local knowledge


“…the constraints and opportunities of a particular, well-defined region.”

Sym Van der Ryn, pp.33-81.

“territories with a measure of ecological integrity that are divided among two or more governmental jurisdictions.”

“Interdependent use”

Kai Lee, p. 31.

Assimilating many human demands

Present Kai Lee’s key ideas in relationyour essay’s theme.

What can you say about the evidence he presents on the importance of conflict and negotiation?

Kai Lee, Compass and the Gyroscope, (1993), pp. 87-114.

A Vision of our Urban Future: cases to examine

Kai Lee, Compass and the Gyroscope, (1993), pp. 115-160.


Adaptiveness & Urban Planning Myths (compare adapting in Siry, McHarg & Lee)

Adaptive management is the compass because: ____________?

Urban planning will not solve, but rather will exacerbate conflict over resource use.

    1. Planning is often one dimensional, monotonal.
    2. Often fails to follow McHarg’s principles.
    3. Promotes the operation of Henry George’s unearned increment.
    4. Is interested in securing resources for growth.

Kai Lee, Compass and the Gyroscope, (1993). pp. 51-86.

Social context of scientific knowledge

The practice of scientific investigation is important in determining social policies, so that science becomes the basis of social learning.

"This combination of adaptive management and political change is social learning."

Kai Lee, Compass and the Gyroscope, (1993), Page 8.

Social learning is the outcome of a two-step process:

Adaptive management - applies the concept of experimentation to the design and implementation of policies.

Bounded conflict - dispute is the inevitable consequence of a free marketplace of ideas and unequal access to tools.

Adaptive management: an approach to resource, technological and science polices that embodies a simple rule: "policies are experiments; learn from them." Or it is the directional compass in charting strategic ways to achieve stated objectives.

Ibid., page 9.

compass The Compass

Adaptive management

“in order to live we use the resources of the world, but we do not understand nature well enough to know how to live harmoniously within environmental limits.”

Adaptive management takes that uncertainty seriously, treating human interventions in natural systems as experimental probes.

How adaptive management's practitioners act and treat information:

First, they are explicit about what they expect, so that they can design methods and apparatus to make measurements.

Second, they collect and analyze information so that expectations can be compared to actuality.

Finally, they transform comparison into learning ­that correct errors, improve their imperfect understanding, and change action and plans.”

“Linking science and human purpose, adaptive management serves as a compass for us to use in searching for a sustainable future.”

“Adaptive management plans for unanticipated outcomes by collecting information.”

“Framing an appropriate balance between predictable cost and uncertain value is a principal task….”

p. 9.

The Gyroscope
Bounded conflict

“Reconciling control with the diversity and freedom essential to a democratic society is the task of bounded conflict.

Policy formulation involves limited (bounded conflict) opposition: “

“Conflict is necessary to detect error and force corrections."

“Like a spinning gyroscope, competition is motion that can stabilize.”

Ibid., page 10.


“Both adaptive management and bounded conflict are essential for social learning to occur.”

Adaptive management ­-the compass- is an idealistic application of science to policy that can produce reliable knowledge from unavoidable errors.

Bounded conflict ­-the gyroscope- is a pragmatic application of politics that protects the adaptive process by disciplining the discord of unavoided error. 

Together they can bring about learning over the decades-long times needed to move from the current condition of unsustainability toward a durable social order.”

“Social learning is most urgently needed in large ecosystems: territories with a measure of ecological integrity that are divided among two or more governing jurisdictions.”

p. 11.


“Large ecosystems provide opportunities for learning from and about the real world.” Such as biomes and watersheds.

“Multiple use of a river…requires trading off qualities that are hard to compare, controlled by or benefiting different people.”

p. 12.


“Yet the ability of human institutions to learn is frail. We need prudence, inventiveness, and persistence….understanding isinsufficient.”

Kai Lee, Compass and the Gyroscope, (1993), p. 17.

Accounting for ecological services and environmental values.