Penn State's Dr. Barbara Gray Wins Grant to Study OTA
Dr. Barbara Gray, co-founder and director of Penn State’s Center for Research in Conflict and Negotiation (CRCN), is the author of Collaborating: Finding Common Ground for Multiparty Problems. So it should come as no surprise that when Michael Sussman was starting out in his efforts to bring collaborative practices to the short-line railroad industry, he gave Barbara (pictured) a call.
That was six years ago. In July of 2008, OnTrackAmerica and CRCN formed a partnership with the intent to provide “…Process design, facilitation, training and evaluation services to complement OTA’s initiatives.” The two organizations co-hosted a very successful rail stakeholder summit in the U.S. Capitol Building last December. Under Barbara and Michael’s guidance, 30 representatives from government agencies, professional associations, and private corporations participated in a “Future Search” discussion process. The result was an engaging dialogue which generated a resolution about the need for multi-stakeholder collaborative dialogue to address system-wide, multimodal transportation planning grounded in specific performance measures that reflects the long-term viability of customers, providers, and the environment.
Now, Dr. Gray is taking new steps by placing OTA at the center of her research. Her new project, “Integrative Leadership Roles in Fostering the North American Rail Transportation Dialogue,” has just won a Scholar Award grant from the Center for Integrative Leadership at the University of Minnesota. In her proposal, she raises three questions she hopes to answer:
First, how do integrative leaders communicate with, inspire, and mobilize diverse coalitions that cross sectoral boundaries? Second, how to integrative leaders conceptualize, frame and sell the need for strategic change to solve seemingly intractable problems? Third, what antecedent institutional and competitive forces are likely to promote or constrain integrative leaders?
The setting for her research is OTA’s effort to initiate a stakeholder dialogue about the future of rail transportation in North America, and the “Integrative Leader” who will serve as her subject in answering these three questions is none other than Michael Sussman, founder and president of OTA.
Dr. Gray’s research will involve frequent interviews with OTA leadership and staff, and analysis of contributions by stakeholders to in-person or online collaborative dialogues. Ultimately, her research will be submitted to the Center for Integrative Leadership and to scholarly journals for publication.
In the meantime, Barbara Gray and CRCN remain steadfast supporters of OnTrackAmerica. Writing in support of the OnTrackPennsylvania Action Plan last month, Barbara expressed the need to generate “…Forward-thinking plans for addressing environmental issues that jointly promote public and private sector needs.”
“There are fewer examples of such action planning within the transportation sector,” Dr. Gray writes. In embracing a program like OnTrackAmerica, “Pennsylvania could not only reap the benefits of such deliberations for its transportation future but also become a model for other states,” she counsels.
Dr. Gray has contributed to conflict resolution efforts involving state and federal cabinet departments, and has provided dispute resolution training to many other organizations including the Federal Highway Commission, The World Bank, The MacArthur Foundation, and U.S. Steel. She has published articles in over a dozen publications, and authored three books.