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Shared Vision Planning

Historical Context

Shared Vision Planning involves the concept of public involvement in decision making at its core. Public involvement has progressed through four identifiable eras in the U.S. Most water agencies are in the third or fourth era today. Shared Vision Planning is a characteristic of the fourth era of public involvement.

I.  Era of Closed Participation. Arthur Maas wrote about the "iron triangles in Congress" in 1951. The triangle points were large water utilities, federal development agencies and Congressional committees. This era was characterized by one-way communication to sell plans and gain support.

II.  The Era of Maximum Feasible Participation. This era started after World War II with more interest in the environment and legal requirements for public participation. But the goal was still largely to inform (one way) and relied heavily on formal proceedings, such as public hearings.

III.  Era of Environmentalism.   This era produced a set of laws requiring public involvement: the National Environmental Protection Act, 1969 (NEPA), Clean Water Act, 1972 (CWA), and Principles and Standards, 1973 (P&S). NEPA requires Environmental Assessments (EAs) or Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) for federal water decisions, developed by interdisciplinary teams, to provide opportunity for public review and comment. This was the era of full disclosure, but stakeholder and regulatory agency involvement still came at the end of the process, when plans could not be changed significantly.

IV.  Era of Collaborative Decision Building. After three decades of experimentation, effective involvement is now thought to require two-way communication, all major players involved from beginning to end, informal deliberation and representation of all interests.

History of Shared Vision Planning

Shared Vision Planning has a rich history and evolution that has brought it to where it is today. Interestingly, different organizations have come to use Shared Vision Planning through different experiences. These pages capture the history of how the Army Corps of Engineers and Sandia National Laboratory came to use Shared Vision Planning for water resources management from two very different perspectives. 

However, the story from any organization’s perspective begins in the 1970s when C.S. (Buzz) Hollings, a Florida professor, suggested that computers could be used to meld the requirements of various stakeholders and decision makers with water resources engineering analyses.  In the late 1970s, Richard Palmer used a simple simulation model in a gaming exercise in which representatives from water agencies in the Washington, D.C., area pretended to represent each other’s positions. The exercise not only demonstrated how they could improve the reliability of their individual systems by joint operation, it convinced them to do it (please refer to the case study of the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin-ICPRB for more details).


History of Shared Vision Planning in the Army Corps of Engineers

In 1989, on the heels of severe droughts in much of the West, Southeast and the Missouri-Mississippi Valley, the Corps of Engineers began the National Drought Study to find a better way to manage water for drought. After a year of study and collaboration with many groups focused on drought that year, the Corps proposed a drought preparedness method and applied it in test cases around the country. The method was a form of the systems analysis approach designed during the Harvard Water Program of the late 1950s and early 1960s that later became the basis for Federal water resources planning, "Principles and Standards" (1973) and "Principles and Guidelines" (P&G, 1983).  The Drought Preparedness Method, however, went further than the P&G. It required planners to find out what criteria decision makers and stakeholders would use in accepting or rejecting a drought plan and then develop metrics so that each alternative could be evaluated according to those criteria.

In 1991, Richard Palmer, now a civil engineering professor at the University of Washington, attended a workshop of the Cedar and Green River Case Study in Seattle (a case study of the ongoing National Drought Study). There he proposed that the Corps develop system simulation models in each test case and showed how the models could be built with stakeholders and decision makers. Each of the five case study managers (for the five National Drought Study case studies) agreed to do so, although they were not allowed any increase in budget or time for what might appear to be an “extra” task. At the time, Dr. Palmer was using an object-oriented software called STELLA®, which made it easier to create models that could be understood by non-modelers because the functional relationships were diagrammed, as they were mathematically defined.  Stakeholders could literally see the factors that affected any variable. Reservoir systems appeared as a series of boxes connected by flows.

Two of the five planning efforts (the Kanawha River in West Virginia and the Cedar-Green River in Washington) convinced people to manage water differently. In West Virginia, whitewater rafters had lost considerable income because whitewater releases had been reduced to conserve water needed to provide minimum flows for wastewater dilution. Dr. Richard Punnett led a workshop using the basin STELLA® model in which he demonstrated reservoir operating rules that would improve both water quality and whitewater dependability. All the necessary decision makers and stakeholders had participated in the planning and model building process; so new operating rules were put in place quickly. Participants estimated that the new plan would save $10 million in regional tourism revenue during the next severe drought while improving water quality. In Tacoma, Washington, Dr. Palmer and the Corps conducted a “Virtual Drought” that simulated several months of drought in a seven-hour workshop. The “drought” proceeded in two-week intervals. At the end of each interval, a “forecast” would be made and the “press” would characterize conditions and criticize decisions. Decision makers all used the model they had helped build to assess water supplies and demand and to analyze and negotiate decisions as the drought progressed. Discussions were sometimes heated, but by day’s end participants reported increased faith in their model and its potential to help them manage collaboratively. The model and the relationships developed in this exercise helped reduce the time, effort and stress in subsequent reservoir management decisions in the basin.

During the National Drought Study this planning approach was called the “DPS method” (Drought Preparedness Study). Dr. Brian Mar, a University of Washington professor, suggested a different label that was more descriptive and reflected the fact that the process would be useful for other topics than drought management. Based on Dr. Mar’s suggestion, the Corps named this combination of systems based planning, advanced public involvement and stakeholder built models “Shared Vision Planning.” The models were called “Shared Vision Models.”  

This "History of Shared Vision Planning in the Army Corps of Engineers" is from a presentation entitled “The Future of Shared Vision Planning” by William Werick, Institute for Water Resources, for the ASCE 2000 Joint Conference in Water Resources Engineering and Water Resources Planning and Management.  Minneapolis, MN.  August 2000.