Tackling a Wicked Problem: California’s Water Supply

Posted Tuesday, June 4, 2013 in Innovation by Patricia Seybold

How do you address an intractable and contentious issue that’s becoming more and more urgent? That’s the problem faced by California’s newly formed Delta Conservancy. The delta region and estuary formed by the Sacramento and San Joquin Rivers provide some of the most fertile agricultural land in the country, support hundreds of species of wildlife and provide drinking water for 60% of Californians. Yet the ecosystem is fragile and beset by both man-made and natural calamities. For decades, farmers and environmentalists and water companies have been at each other’s throats. Government regulation and intervention seems to exacerbate things. So, facing the rollout of a highly controversial development plan, the Delta Conservancy took an unusual approach. They solicited key stakeholders, including farmers, fishermen, residents, water company owners, directors of environmental organizations, and members of local, state, and federal agencies to build a shared understanding of the issues. These people engaged in a six-month series of site visits and civil dialogues in order to build a common mental model. Now they’re about to engage in Phase 2: Deepen that shared understanding to help plan the future of the Sacramento-San Joquin Delta.

Bouldin Island TourTackling a Wicked Problem: Water Issues!
How the Delta Dialogues Project Is Using Dialogue Mapping to Build Shared Understanding
By Patricia B. Seybold, CEO & Sr. Consultant, Patricia Seybold Group, May 30, 2013

Jeff Conklin convinced the Delta Conservancy team that forging consensus around the future of the main California water supply was a “Wicked Problem,” and that it would be unethical for them to use strategic planning tools designed for tame problems on this much thornier, more complex, more socially fraught wicked problem. This triggered a unique 6-month initiative dubbed The Delta Dialogues, in which 19 passionate and interested people, representing most of the different constituencies impacted by water planning, agreed to engage in a prolonged dialogue to build a shared understanding of the issues surrounding the future of the Sacramento River and San Joquin River Delta area.

(Download the PDF of the entire article here.)


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