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EDITORIAL: Culture change is necessary, messy and hard work

Over the past four weeks, the Rocky Mountain Outlook has delved into an investigative journalism series that looked specifically at the post-critical incident review process of the guiding industry in Canada.

The Association of Canadian Mountain Guides is in the midst of a sea-change moment. 

Under the leadership of its executive and board of directors, it has undertaken the Herculean task of tackling some serious cultural change.

Over the past four weeks, the Rocky Mountain Outlook has undertaken a feature series to examine the ACMG's post-critical review process, as well as the work being done to address the fact there really isn't one. 

We asked a series of questions as we went through this process, which included how does this industry learn from these types of incidents if there is no official process and how does the lack of process affect both guides and clients, or their families, in the aftermath. 

Regardless of what profession, or industry, someone works in, having a clear and independent process to addressing mistakes, questions or concerns is essential to achieving strategic outcomes like transparency and accountability. 

The RMO has made mistakes in its reporting of these stories. How we deal with those mistakes is to acknowledge them and taking corrective action online and in the print edition. Our self-regulated industry also has an independent organization to review formal complaints about our work. 

As human beings, we are fallible, and to expect perfection is not realistic, even though we strive for it. The same can be said for the guiding industry, which is also self-regulated. It has become clear through this work this industry does not think it is realistic to expect that absolutely everyone will return from a guided trip unharmed. 

If the expectation is these types of situations will occur, it is important to have a process that deals with them. That process should reflect best practices as a professional organization and as a mountain guiding association. 

One thing that has stuck out to us as we took an objective outsider's look at this issue, is when we found sources and voices in the mountaineering community that have been critical of the guiding industry before. 

In any industry, a lot can be said for the kind of response that occurs when there is criticism, especially when it occurs in a public platform like our stories. Dissent, debate and disagreement are some of the things we value in a democratic society where we have freedoms of expression and the press.  

We have tried to be fair to each and every source we interviewed and we have taken this journey with a compassionate approach to respect people when they told us how these situations have affected them. Everyone we spoke to has suffered some sort of trauma and it has been our concern by not having a post-critical response process that trauma has been compounded in a variety of ways. 

This exploration of a specific issue will not be well-received by everyone in the guiding community. Our four-part series has made people uncomfortable; we expected that to be the case – and we welcome the criticism and feedback. We are not afraid of the decisions we made and the work we have done being questioned. 

And it will be because this kind of issue is messy, difficult and nuanced. The circumstances we chose to explore this issue have also been controversial and fraught with conflict and tension between those involved. 

Readers should view this series as a whole, and not as individual stories looking at these specific incidents in isolation. We have learned a lot through this series, and our goal was to inspire thoughtful reflection on a this issue. 

We hope that after reading part four, the community in general has a better understanding of the ACMG and the work it is doing to slowly and surely move along the path of cultural change for the industry. People will disagree with how fast this kind of change should take place, but from we have found, everyone agrees it is necessary and worthwhile work.