Merle Lefkoff

President, Ars Publica

Merle Lefkoff is President of Ars Publica, a non-profit organization based in Santa Fe, New Mexico that deals with the global conflicts of contemporary society. Lefkoff holds an M.A. degree in American Constitutional Law and a Ph.D. in Political Science from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

In the 70s, Lefkoff was President of Save America’s Vital Environment (S.A.V.E.) in Atlanta, Georgia, a lobbying group promoting the emerging environmental movement. She was also Executive Director of SUNREP, a non-profit advocacy organization for solar and alternative energy use in the Southeastern U.S. She was a delegate to the first ever national solar energy conference in Golden, Colorado. Joining forces with then-Governor Jimmy Carter, Lefkoff helped steer sand dunes protection legislation through the Georgia Legislature, the first in the nation. After serving for a year in the Carter White House on a special detail, Lefkoff set up a full-time consulting practice in 1978.

Early clients included the U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, where Lefkoff chaired the Task Force on Public Participation in Science and Technology. She assisted the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in writing the first public participation regulations for the agency. And she facilitated a community collaboration to write a general permit for the protection of interior wetlands on Sanibel Island, Florida, that led to the agency-wide use of alternative dispute resolution ( ADR) in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Lefkoff was a consultant to the U.S. Department of Energy headquarters in Washington, D.C., where she facilitated strategic direction for the Office of Nuclear Waste. For three years Lefkoff was the facilitator of the scientific advisory group at Rocky Flats, assisting the Colorado Health Department to determine off-site contamination prior to the start of clean-up at the nuclear weapons facility. Her innovative facilitation process, which “embedded” the epidemiologists with the concerned citizens who lived near the nuclear facility at a series of round-table meetings, allowed both citizens and scientists to develop trust and mutual respect for a very difficult process and series of decisions.

For many years, Lefkoff was the lead trainer at the national Bureau of Land Management training headquarters in Phoenix, where she developed the curriculum in Environmental Conflict Management. She has delivered the course to hundreds of BLM and U.S. Forest Service managers.

Lefkoff founded the Program in International Conflict Resolution at seven United World Colleges. The program was institutionalized at the U.S. campus in New Mexico as the Bartos Institute for the Constructive Engagement of Conflict.

For the last 12 years Lefkoff has been the facilitator of the Rio Puerco Management Committee in New Mexico. Mandated by the U.S. Congress, the Committee involves all the interested parties and tribes in a landscape-wide watershed initiative to restore one of the largest, most degraded watersheds in the state. The effort has been recognized with two national awards for the quality of the collaboration by the U.S. Envrionmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Dept. of Interior.

Lefkoff held a four-year appointment as Guest Scientist and Affiliate at the Center for Nonlinear Studies at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where she worked with physicists, mathematicians, and computer scientists in an exploration of collaboration among diverse identity groups operating in a complex adaptive system (CAS). Her research now informs her passion to apply the principles of CAS to effect a more adaptive and resilient conflict resolution and diplomacy. She assisted back-channel negotiations on the water track during the Oslo peace process in the Middle East and continues her work in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Lefkoff has recently turned her attention in her domestic work to assisting teams and organizations that are held back by internal unresolved conflict or are implementing projects that require a retreat atmposphere to renew creative direction and strategic action. A combination of future scenario building and complex systems science informs a rigorous model for renewal in organizations facing profound change. Aeronautical engineers at Boeing in Washington State facing frustrating delays in delivery of the “Dreamliner” were recent clients.

Lefkoff is presently a consultant to the Canadian Armed Forces, where she is assisting the development of curriculum for training chaplains in conflict resolution skills in the very complex theatre of war. And in 2010 she co-convened and facilitated three back-channel dialogues in Santa Fe on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Delegates from Israel, Iran, Korea, and the U.S. wrestled with scenarios for a future non-nuclear world.

Lefkoff has been a member of two committees of the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, reporting to Congress on environmental management of public land, and she is a board director of several non-profit organizations. She serves on the faculty of the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, where she teaches a course in Science and Spirituality in the chaplaincy program.

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