Environment Agency, EU Water Framework Directive (WFD), River Basin Planning 2006
- Nine half day meetings spread over a period of weeks and months
- 40-50 stakeholders per meeting, held in town halls and hotels all over England and Wales
- Focus on hosting people from different sectors and making them feel welcome
- Facilitation team varied, depending on time and place
- Standard meeting process helped to ensure consistency of approach
- Capacity building while providing a service worked well
While working at The Environment Council, I co-wrote the winning tender to design and facilitate ten Environment Agency (EA) workshops on River Basin Planning. Our main challenge was to engage a wide range of stakeholders in an inclusive way, and foster a shared commitment to improving water quality. Water can be a contentious issue. We had to find a way to kick-start conversations about water management between farmers, industrialists, local government officials and bird watchers.
What we did was to give everyone who came to the meetings a schematic map of a river. We asked them to reflect on what their river meant to them, and to share their thoughts with other stakeholders. Doing this helped people to get to know each other, and gave them time to think about their needs and interests. The map was a simple device to help people to connect with their thoughts and feelings about the river, and with each other.
The EA tender document contained an additional requirement to develop the facilitation skills of the EA staff. One of the charitable objectives of The Environment Council was to build capacity in other organisations to design and deliver sustainable and effective decision-making processes. For this reason we were particularly keen to deliver the contract.
We formed a close working partnership with the EA staff in all the different regions, and encouraged them to take an active role in the design and facilitation of the meetings. Rather than delivering a service to the EA, we worked alongside the EA staff, sharing our knowledge and skills throughout the programme. We became learning partners. Because of this I was asked to run leadership training for all the EA regional directors. But that is another story. The River Basin Workshop programme is one of the most satisfying and memorable projects I have ever worked on. The reason for this was the commitment of everyone involved, and the high levels of mutual trust and respect which were developed.