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Shared Vision Planning

Tips and Checklists

This sampling of tips, checklists, and similar information has been compiled to assist you in your planning:

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Supply Side Alternatives

  • New storage
  • Reallocation of space in an existing reservoir from one purpose to another
  • New system interconnections 
  • Desalinization
  • Importation by barge
  • Reuse of treated wastewater
  • Better conjunctive use of surface and groundwater supplies
  • Water banking 
  • Long-term changes in reservoir release rules
  • Conditional reservoir operation and in-steam flows 
  • Water marketing 
  • Institutional changes 
  • Legal changes 
  • Operational coordination between systems 

Demand Modification

  • Voluntary and mandatory use restrictions during drought
  • Pricing changes during droughts, seasonally or perpetually
  • Public awareness campaigns
  • Changes in plumbing codes 
  • Conservation credits
  • More efficient irrigation methods 
  • Industrial water conservation techniques 
  • Alternatives to water consuming activities 
  • Changes to required minimum flows 
  • Alternative means of achieving water quality 

Planning objectives identify what people would like to see happen regarding a particular use of the water system – more hydropower, less flooding, more recreation. These objectives typically conflict with one another at one point. For example, you can't usually operate a reservoir system to maximize flood control and water supply. Eventually, decision makers must implement a plan that strikes the best balance among these competing uses. But bad planning objectives can make finding that balance very difficult. Here are some typical mistakes and an explanation of the kind of problems they create.

  • "To build a desalting plant" is a mistake because it specifies a means, not an end. The alternative of a desalting plant may need to be evaluated, but it should be compared to other means of securing reliable water supply.
  • "To eliminate water supply shortfalls" is a mistake because it dictates the degree of effectiveness without consideration of cost (financial or otherwise).
  • "To assess the impacts of drought". Is this what people want, to know how bad it's going to hurt? Or do they want to reduce the impacts of drought?
  • "Maintain instream flows at Chelsea's Point" may be a means that is hiding the real objectives and thus limiting exploration of other, better ways of achieving those objectives. If the instream flow is for dilution, it may be better to change land management practices or provide additional treatment or even increase the dilution flows. If the instream flow is for navigation, the real objective may be to provide depth, not flow, and the relationship between depth and flow can be changed through alternatives like dredging. 

A good planning objective will describe an end, not a means to an end.  The objective will contain an action verb, like "increase" or "improve."  The objective should be based on a problem or opportunity.  The time and place for action should be specific.  

Step 1.  Describe the problems in a sentence or two. For example, "During a recent drought, Green River reservoirs to were too low to make releases for whitewater rafting.  As a result, rafters could not use the Green River, and outfitters, restaurants, shopping malls, and hotels lost millions of dollars in expected revenue."

Step 2.  Use an action phrase that expresses what the team is trying to do (increase, enhance, reduce, mitigate, etc.) regarding a resource (water withdrawal, instream flows, etc.) in the context of the perceived value of the resource (M&I uses, fish habitat, etc.).  For example, " ... increase the reliability of whitewater rafting ..."

Step 3.  Add to that clause (verb, resource and context), the geographic area of concern 
" . . . between Ogle Point and Deadman's Whirlpool . . ."

Step 4.  Add the dimension of time.  Say when you're trying to achieve this objective, and speculate on whether the challenge will become harder to meet in the future.  For example, if Fairweather municipal water use is expected to increase in the future, then those water withdrawals may make it even harder to provide whitewater releases.  For example, if the other water uses are expected to remain the same or diminish, then the time component of this objective might be " . . . during future droughts."  The chance of a problem in 2010 is about the same as in 2030.

If the competition for water is expected to increase over time, then it's important to describe the planning period, because the solutions that work for 2010 may not work for 2030.  For example, " . . .during droughts from 2000 to 2040."

Verbs commonly used in the action phrase include: advance, compensate for, conserve, contribute to, control, create, destroy, develop, eliminate, enforce, enhance, establish, exchange, improve, maintain, manage, minimize, mitigate, preserve, produce, promote, protect, provide, reclaim, reconstruct, recover, recreate, rectify, reduce, rehabilitate, repair, replace, restore, retire, stabilize, or substitute.

Risk is the possibility of something bad happening.  Water resources planning and management is the art of designing solutions now that are expected to produce the best outcomes from water systems in the future, even though we cannot know what the future will be like.  We estimate those future effects by modeling the current system and extrapolating from what has happened in the past.

The simplest water resources studies project one future and accept all historic data as true and representative of the future.  But study recommendations can change if the future is different from our projections, or the true historic data were used in place of erroneously measured or recorded data, or if the historic data is not characteristic of future data.  All shared vision studies must assess the risks inherent in study recommendations, including considering how sensitive study recommendations are to study data, assumptions, and projections.

In some cases, this assessment can be simple and inexpensive.  In other cases, only sophisticated techniques will demonstrate how risky a proposed plan is.  As risk assessment techniques get more complicated, they also tend to get harder to explain and understand. 

Brainstorming is a process which has been used extensively in value engineering and other areas where innovative alternatives must be found. It is best done in small groups led by a recorder who simply lists every idea that is offered by any member of the group.  There are some simple ideas for working creatively in groups.

The key to successful brainstorming is to withhold criticism until the group has exhausted its creativity. Criticism can be very difficult to resist, especially when water experts brainstorm with stakeholders, because many of the ideas stakeholders provide will have technical flaws, and the ideas experts provide may not address the real problems of stakeholders.  But criticism at this point will kill creativity.  In order to avoid the embarrassment of being criticized in front of a group, people will simply keep their ideas to themselves.  The recorder or facilitator stresses before the brainstorming begins that there will be no criticism of ideas during the brainstorming, but in most cases, someone will ignore this prohibition a few minutes after the brainstorming begins.  As soon as that happens, the facilitator or recorded must quickly stop the criticism and repeat the prohibition, or the brainstorming effort will be a waste of time. 

Encouraging all participants to freely offer solutions achieves many ends: it can allay fears that possible solutions have been overlooked; provide the insight of a fresh perspective to an expert; force the examination of good ideas that have powerful foes; or allow interesting, but ultimately unsuitable, ideas to be raised and rejected in an equitable and public manner.  After the uncritical brainstorming, participants should eliminate redundant ideas, and then use preliminary screening criteria to reduce the number of alternatives.  The remaining alternatives can then be organized if that serves a purpose. The use of 8½"× 11" paper rather than flip charts allows participants to group ideas before having to agree on category names.

Warning 1.  Brainstorming can be used to assemble a collective response better than the best ideas of any participant. But if none of the participants know much about a subject, the collective answer will also be uninformed. Unfortunately, it has become much more common to see brainstorming used in this way.

Warning 2. Brainstorming with agency staff alone is not sufficient to identify stakeholders' needs. Especially during the first step of the planning process, brainstorming with stakeholders is a valuable supplement to review of previous reports on water resources problems in the basin.

Warning 3. Brainstorming with stakeholders alone will not guarantee solutions that are technically adequate. Stakeholders should be encouraged to express their ideas for alternatives, but the preliminary screening process should allow experts to use their knowledge to explain why some ideas should not be studied further.

A Delphi process can accomplish some of the same purposes over a longer period of time, but without a physical meeting. In a Delphi process, experts are asked to respond to a series of questionnaires about problems or solutions. A central analyst reviews their answers, then develops another questionnaire if needed to clarify or resolve disputes among the experts, or to address new issues suggested by the previous round of responses.

Shared Vision Planning requires the successful interaction of people with different values and backgrounds. In recent years, processes have been developed and tested that can make this interaction much more efficient and effective, and they can actually help disparate groups becomes teams.


There will be several workshops held in the course of even a simple Shared Vision Planning effort. There are many good books offering suggestions on how to run effective workshops. Here is a summary of some of that advice that is directly applicable to water management workshops:

Agendas should be established in advance of meetings and workshops. An agenda should list the time and place of the meeting, the goal and objectives of meeting, and then specific tasks designed to meet those objectives. The agenda should name the person responsible for completing each task and establish the start and stop time for each task.  If a group meets regularly, development of the agenda for the following meeting can be the last task of the current meeting. If not, draft agendas can be developed and then circulated by e-mail so that participants can add objectives or ask for revisions in time allotments.

Facilitators are useful in most meetings and should be used in all workshops.  Facilitators help groups meet the objectives they have set for themselves. The primary duties of a facilitator are to help the group design an effective agenda;  to point out when a discussion has gotten off the topic or run over the time allotted in the agenda;  to solicit input from quiet participants; to help clarify miscommunications between meeting participants; to negotiate agenda changes during the meeting;  and to run group processes like brainstorming. The group cedes some power about how the meeting will be run to a facilitator. For example, a facilitator may ask someone to stop speaking so that another point of view can be heard. To assure that this power is not abused, facilitators should not participate in the substance of the discussion.   

Facilitation requires more than good manners or commons sense - it requires training and good communication and interpersonal skills. Because of this (and because the facilitator should not participate in the discussions) it is usually better to hire a professional facilitator than to ask for volunteers from within the group. 

Breakout sessions. Research and experience show that it is very difficult for groups of more than a dozen or so people to work creatively on a group product. In an hour conversation among 12 people, there will be an average of only 5 minutes per person to speak, and in practice, it's even worse because people quickly get a sense that there is little time for their opinion, so they censor themselves. Participation will be more even if large groups are broken into small groups, but each small group then needs the discipline that the facilitator brought to the larger meeting. A simple way to assure this is to assign clear and specific tasks to each small group and make one member of the small group responsible for reporting back on that task to the larger group.