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One Watershed, One Plan (1W1P): Process, Insights and Tips for Efficient, Effective and Empowering Plan Building

Shawn Tracy — Hr Green, Inc.

This article presents local soil and water resource organizations with insights into the One Watershed, One Plan (Plan) development process to assist preparation for planning. It synthesizes the experiences of the author during the Pilot phase of the program, his involvement with the development of one of the Pilot Plans and “lessons learned” from BWSR program meetings and documents.

The focus of the article is not about technical tools used within One Watershed, One Plan development or data review. Rather, it provides observations and suggestions on the process, common pitfalls and their apparent drivers with suggestions to mitigate associated risks to time, energy, team member cohesion and confidence in the development of a rigorous comprehensive Plan. Information is presented in two parts: the early stage of stakeholder partnership agreements and standardization of goals and planning processes herein referred to as Forming and Normalizing Stage; and the production of the Plan itself herein referred to as the Plan Development Stage. There are many “right” ways to address the development of the Plan and by no means should the content here-in suggest the only way of executing facilitation of the Plan.

Forming and Normalizing Stage

The Plan process introduces somewhat of a paradigm shift in how water and natural resources are managed in the State of Minnesota. Through formal agreement, multi-agency partners write and implement a watershed-based plan developed from a synthesis of diverse issues, policies and goals from not only their jurisdiction, but several others and at varying levels of resolution. Though each participant’s organization has its own discrete management boundary (e.g., county boundary, watershed boundary, region or state), the watershed-based planning boundary of the Plan drives an integrated approach for comprehensive, new or revised issue, policy, goal, and priority statements. The Plan is then owned, implemented and revised via a formal agreement to share responsibility for managing the specified area of water and natural resources.

There are many advantages related to this approach, ultimately strengthening resource management, including:

  1. Enables multi-level interaction by recognizing and accommodating different values, interests and concerns
  2. Integrates a variety of stakeholders in various planning and implementation
  3. Promotes transparency and equity between stakeholders
  4. Encourages capacity building by using participation as a training tool
  5. Establishes and/or enhances information loops between local, state, and national levels
  6. Addresses multifunctional and triple bottom line (environmental, social, and economic) values

The initial decision of a local group of resource managers to initiate a Plan is the first step in the formation of a successful partnership, leading the way to a necessary normalizing period where members’ working relationships and Plan understanding truly coalesce. The formation of a planning agreement is the perfect time to initiate this work group formation. In this stage, members are beginning to share a common commitment to the purpose of the group, including its overall goals and how each can be achieved (e.g. work planning).

In initial meetings, consideration of questions such as, “What am I here for?”, “Who else is here?” and “Who am I comfortable with?” are asked and discussed. Clear and strong leadership is required from a team leader/facilitator during this stage to ensure that group members feel clarity and comfort required to evolve to the next stage. It is important for members to be highly involved with each other, feeling open to voice concerns, in order to assure their organization and resource needs are fully represented and understood. The team leader or facilitator should help members voice their views, and to achieve commonality of views about purpose and priorities.

It is important for the Plan team to identify, evaluate, and commit to a set of processes and tools, early in the process, that will empower its stakeholders to develop a robust comprehensive plan in an efficient and effective way.
Next, it is crucial that each team member understands, agrees with, and formally adopts the foundation of the Plan’s operational development. It is important for the Plan team to identify, evaluate, and commit to a set of processes and tools, early in the process, that will empower its stakeholders to develop a robust comprehensive plan in an efficient and effective way. Given the operational complexities inherent in multi-organization work groups tasked with synthesizing a region’s environmental, social, and economic values into a unified implementation plan, a simple, clear, and structured process is of utmost importance.

Some important considerations to discuss early in the work include:

  1. Definition of a common set of terms related to the proposed Plan
  2. Designation of a single team leader representing the local units of government, as a point of contact for the consultant team Project Manager, to coordinate and ensure clear and consistent communication is used throughout the process
  3. Definition of the roles and responsibilities of the BWSR Board Conservationist
  4. Development of a statement of overarching goals towards maximizing efficiency, minimizing redundancy, preventing duplication of efforts, and clearly outlining the intent, roles and responsibilities of each of the participants
  5. What the overall operational process will look like (e.g., functioning of, and between, the Policy Committee, Advisory Committee, Citizen Participation, Planning Group and Consultant)
  6. Operating procedures and/or bylaws outlining the methods for meeting facilitation, decision making, content development, review and approval, plan submittal, etc. (The process used to develop a good plan is as important as the plan itself. Facilitation, problem-solving, process skills, understanding of group dynamics, ability to handle conflict and come to resolution, etc. – skills beyond the ability to organize and run a meeting – are critical in the planning effort and need definition early to fully be effective).
  7. How the project and consulting contract will be managed including handling of possible scope changes (diligent project management and frequent communications are extremely important given the large and sometimes complex scope of work – an adaptive management paradigm and strategy is recommended as it is likely the direction of some tasks may deviate from the originally proposed ideas of the team)
  8. How the Policy Committee will administer and implement the Plan in the future: determine and identify in the plan the organizational structures, whether existing or new, that will most effectively and efficiently implement the plan (assistance from the Minnesota Counties Insurance Trust (MCIT) and/or the legal counsel of the participating organizations is recommended)

It is also important for the team to realize that it will take significant time and patience when developing such a partnership and plan. Both the Plan and working relationships are organic in development, not fixed. In most cases, several of the members will not have developed a watershed-scale plan let alone a comprehensive plan that incorporates as many as the large number of stakeholder’s input and likely dozens of published plans and studies.

Similarly, it is likely that several members will not have worked across jurisdictional boundaries together in the past and it is to be expected that it will take time for relationships to develop. Lastly, not every team member will have worked with consultants in the past and will need to be made aware of how to use them most efficiently. Successful plan development processes demand that the plan writer and facilitator become part of the local governing unit team, serving as an ad hoc member of the partnership. By starting to discuss the above ground rules, partnership agreements and future implementation operations early in the process, not only are relationships formed on an equitable platform, a much more efficient and effective execution of Plan development can be expected.

Plan Development Stage

The forming and normalizing stage described above empowers work during the plan development phase, enabling the team to meet its expressed goals of unifying the team’s voice, maximizing efficiency, minimizing redundancy and preventing duplication of efforts. During this stage, team members take on stronger participation and involvement in the group process as well as begin participation within workshop-style plan development meetings with the consultant and internal planning group work meetings.

An example of a generalized, 1.5 to 2 year work outline for Plan development is as follows:

process

During the Pilot process, it was sometimes difficult to provide examples of what the final Plan would look like given the fact that its architecture, content and development tools and processes were being developed in real-time. This was a significant challenge for everyone in the Pilot phase of the State program, but will continue to be less problematic as the methods and process move from conception, through development, trial and error, and eventual maturity. However, it is important to keep in mind that planning on the HUC8 level, incorporating such a large amount of material from many organizations, is still very new for most team members.

This typically triggers unease in most people that can only be addressed through an open, equitable team environment as well as continual review of the big picture (i.e., the final Plan and how each step fits into its development and deliverables). Though many sections of the Plan can be worked on simultaneously, and no one section is truly brought to a complete draft form independently, each consecutive step in Plan development drives the next. How each task relates to particular sections of the scope of the final Plan should be considered regularly by to maintain confidence among the group that the team’s work fits into a process that leads to a tangible work product (the Plan).

To make the most of valuable time and energy, several other strategies should be considered to carry out the planning process. It is important for team members to thoroughly prepare for each meeting.
To make the most of valuable time and energy, several other strategies should be considered to carry out the planning process. It is important for team members to thoroughly prepare for each meeting. Some meetings will simply be informative updates with easy to manage, on-the-spot questions and answers, a simple review of agenda items and supporting material being all that is required of the group. Policy committee meetings and public meetings tend to follow this model. However, the majority of meetings are more involved working-group style formats that require varying degrees of homework prior to and/or following the session. In some cases, members will be asked to review content ahead of meetings so that time spent in a meeting is spent in discussion, agreement and adoption of, for instance, plan content.

Similarly, there will be several meetings where Planning or Advisory group members will be actively working with the consultant on issues or content that require a workshop format before plan content can be developed. For the more involved meetings, it is recommended that a pre-meeting is held by the Planning Group to discuss the proposed goals of an Advisory Committee meeting, its agenda, supporting materials, the facilitation strategy and how the results of the meeting will drive subsequent tasks and fit into the overall Plan. It is also vital that, at the beginning of each working group meeting, the goal of the meeting is clearly articulated to the group, as well as the facilitation ground rules and how the work to be done fits into the overall architecture of the Plan.

Strong, impartial third-party facilitation from a non-stakeholder is extremely valuable not only in the execution of efficient meetings, but also for keeping the process and group work products equitable and objective. Effective facilitation involves identification, assessment and strategic use of work group and individual dynamics within the team to truly maximize the quality and timeliness of work products within the Plan.

A systematic analysis of stakeholder networks and personalities is an important step in not only identifying appropriate team members for various tasks with Plan development, but also in making the best use of their operational strengths and strategies to avoid potential, predictable pitfalls. For example, the facilitator should understand the working style of each key team member to not only place them into a position of comfort and confidence, but also to understand how to mitigate for potential negative effects when those strengths are overused or misapplied. Each team member’s working style can be conceptualized along two sliding scales:

Assertiveness – the degree to which a person’s level of assertiveness is the degree to which his/her behavior is typically seen by others as being forceful or directive.

Responsiveness – the degree to which he/she is seen by others as showing emotions and demonstrating awareness of the feelings of others.

A deliberate consideration of team members on these scales allows the facilitator to make some generalizations about their working style preferences that can be used to structure work group dynamics in such a way as to develop a strong team. Typically, team members are grouped into one of four general categories that describe their normal operating style when not stressed. The following is a basic overview of these styles, as well as strengths and potential reactions to overburden or stress that needs to be avoided to maintain equitable, efficient, and happy teams. In practice, we all typically express behaviors relative to two of these categories, with one being more prevalent than the other. The environment we operate in can easily dictate the extent to which our working styles, strengths, and our behavior in stressful situations surfaces.

  • Drivers – higher than average degree of assertiveness with less than average responsiveness

    Strengths

  1. Efficient
  2. Decisive
  3. Pragmatic
  4. Independent
  5. Candid

    When strengths are overused or misapplied

  1. Independent → Poor collaborator
  2. Results-oriented → Impersonal
  3. Candid → Abrasive
  4. Pragmatic → Shortsighted
  • Expressives – high level of assertiveness and a high level of emotional expressiveness

    Strengths

  1. Persuasive
  2. Enthusiastic
  3. Outgoing
  4. Spontaneous
  5. Fun-loving

    When strengths are overused or misapplied

  1. Articulate → Poor listener
  2. Fast-paced → Impatient
  3. Visionary → Impractical
  4. Fun-loving → Distracting
  • Amiables – less than average assertiveness and more than average responsiveness

    Strengths

  1. Cooperative
  2. Supportive
  3. Diplomatic
  4. Patient
  5. Loyal

    When strengths are overused or misapplied

  1. Diplomatic → Conflict avoider
  2. Cautious → Risk averse
  3. Supportive → Permissive
  4. People-oriented → Inattentive to task
  • Analyticals – less than average assertiveness and less than average responsiveness

    Strengths

  1. Logical
  2. Systematic
  3. Thorough
  4. Prudent
  5. Serious

    When strengths are overused or misapplied

  1. Prudent → Indecisive
  2. Painstaking → Nitpicky
  3. Task-oriented → Impersonal
  4. Systematic → Bureaucratic

A facilitation framework with specific focused conversation strategies enables the team to reach some point of agreement or clarify differences efficiently. One such four-step line of asking questions of the group starts by ask objective questions, focusing on data, facts, and the ‘truths’ that everyone can agree on, such as what was seen, heard, touched (e.g., “What data do we have?”, “What are identified drivers?”, “What has worked in the past?”).

The next round of questioning a facilitator would then ask the group in a working session to focus on reflection from those reactions, memories and associations. For example, “how would your stakeholders react?”, “How does affect your relationship with the State or local outreach capacity?”, “What does this remind you of?”, “Are you surprised?”.

Third, the facilitator asks for Interpretation, focusing on the meaning, purpose, significance and implications of the topic at hand. Questions such as “What is this all about?”, “What does this mean for us?”, “How will this affect our work?”, “Why is this important?”, and “What can we learn from this?” are common and relevant to the direction of the Plan.

Finally, the facilitator asks for a decision to be made focusing on resolution, agreement, and possible new directions or actions. Common questions for resolution include “What is our response?”, “What should we decide?”, “What do we need to do differently?”, “What are the next steps?”. A strategic, planned and regularly-held-to set of steps to get the group from problem identification (e.g., data gap analysis, watershed stressor responses) to decided action is important to coming to resolution in a predictable way from meeting to meeting.

Commitment to the agreed upon process, identified early in the partnership, assures follow through to Plan completion. The Plan will take a serious commitment to time and energy by all team members and there will be relative peaks and lows of enthusiasm over the course of its’ life-cycle. Dedicating up to a day per week, on average, by local governing units was not uncommon in the Pilots to meet the needs of the planning process. It will be important to make a critical review of staffing resources to assure that what is being asked is doable.

Once that assessment is made, and the work plan is developed with the consultant and other team members, commit to being engaged and active by addressing tasks ahead of deadlines established within the process identified by the partnership agreement. It may be a good idea to allow for some purely social time with the group at ends of meetings to ‘blow off steam’ and move to more of a casual conversation of the challenges, success, and direction of the plan. Lastly, it’s important to reiterate the ‘big-picture’ regularly so as to avoid getting ‘caught in the weeds’ or moving into a level of resolution too fine for the Plan. This will assure the group stays on task and does not waste time developing material that may not ultimately be incorporated into the Plan or is too highly detailed (i.e., too prescriptive).

Comprehensive planning on the HUC8 watershed scale spans organization boundaries, as well as the working group team members experience working on or with watershed plans, cross-discipline/resource integration, triple-bottom-line valuation and, to varying degrees, with consultants as team members. The One Watershed, One Plan Pilot planning experience provides subsequent planners with valuable information related, not only with several technical tools and templates to start from, but, perhaps more importantly, insights into working group dynamics and management that serve to form meaningful and effective partnerships. This article synthesized direct experiences of development of one of the Pilot Plans with several discussions with BWSR and State lessons-learned documents. Observations and suggestions related to the planning process, pitfalls and suggestions to mitigate risks to time, energy, team member cohesion and confidence were presented. Planning process was described in two distinct phases of equal importance: the Forming and Normalizing Stage and the Plan Development Stage.

HR Green works with communities, counties, and watershed entities throughout the United States to plan and implement stormwater solutions. Contact Shawn Tracy at stracy@hrgreeen.com for more information.

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