On the importance of stakeholder communication and buy-in

A big focus of my reporting on western water right now is process. It’s clear we have supply-demand imbalances. What are the processes by which we’ll respond? What successes have we had to date in creating institutional arrangements that can reduce use in response, and where and how have we failed (are we failing) to do that?

In that regard, I’ve been casting an occasional eye toward Australia, where the folks in the Murray-Darling Basin seem years ahead of us in the scale of their problem. This story about an inquiry into the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s process for determining future flow regimes (h/t Malcolm, who smartly zeroed in on the communication issue) seems to offer a good example of what not to do:

The inquiry says the authority failed to communicate clearly with communities that its “draft to the guide” document released last year was just a working document.

That document recommended water cutbacks of between 3,000 and 4,000 megalitres in the Murray-Darling system to ensure what it said would be a sustainable river system.

The inquiry found the authority gave the mistaken impression that it had not consulted in putting the guide together.

When it did embark on the community consultation process, it falsely gave the impression that the guide was a done deal, giving producers and communities the idea that their water entitlements would be taken from them immediately without their say.

Mr Windsor says the authority’s report sent shockwaves through the community for no good reason.

“It was very obvious the authority hadn’t done a good job in terms of discussing the issues with the community,” he said.

“To have the fairly brutal cuts to entitlement as a way to solve the obvious issues within the river system – the way in which that was marketed wasn’t the correct way to go.”

I don’t know enough about the situation to know whether a more effectively managed stakeholder process could have succeeded, but the way it was handled seems to have ensured failure.

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