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The Tenets of the Wilderness Risk Management Conference: Part One

September 8, 2019

I had the honor of serving as the Chair of the WRMC Steering Committee for three years, and one of the most rewarding projects was working with the steering committee members (especially current WRMC Chair, Katie Baum Mettenbrink) to distill two decades of WRMC learning into core principles that we could use to better evaluate conference proposals, and create shared language and philosophy for future conferences. Now, when people attend the Wilderness Risk Management Conference, one of the first things that greet them when they arrive is a prominent display showing the conference's tenets and principles, as follows: 

 

We believe:

 

• Wilderness and outdoor experiences create unique opportunities for growth.

 

• There is value in taking risks, and those risks need to be thoughtfully assessed and managed.

 

• We have a responsibility to share learning in order to promote improved practices across the industry.

 

• Each organization should define its own risk management goals and practices, while also

striving to learn from the experiences of others.

 

• Managing the risks to our participants and staff helps us manage the risks to our organizations.

 

• We can and should enlist our participants in managing program risks.

 

• Cultural competence supports risk management and is essential in creating inclusive

programs.

 

• Transparency with participants and their families is valuable and appropriate, including in times of crisis.

 

• Timely reporting and debriefing of incidents is key to promoting learning and improving

practices over time.

 

• Prudent legal strategies are grounded in running quality programs that prioritize the health and well-being of those involved.

 

In this article, I'll offer perspective and background on how we arrived at these tenets, and what they represent to me, by digging deeper into the thinking behind each one and exploring how they apply today. 

1) Wilderness and outdoor experiences create unique opportunities for growth.

 

Why did we include the phrase, "and outdoor experiences?" Although the conference is called the Wilderness Risk Management Conference, not everyone who attends (and contributes to) the conference operates solely in wilderness areas. We believe that there is unique value in outdoor recreation and adventure, whether in true wilderness or not. 

 

We believe that the outdoors creates opportunity for health, personal growth, and learning that simply can't occur indoors, or in traditional classroom educational settings. The potential for outdoor experiences to benefit health, grow character, develop resilience, and be therapeutic, are well documented. In his WRMC opening address from 2012, Christopher Barnes explored how outdoor experiences create unique opportunities for growth ("Advocating for Risk in a Risk-Averse World.")