September 17th, 2012

A Phase 2 for the Delta Dialogues?


The first phase of the Delta Dialogues consists of five calls and seven monthly in-person meetings, the last of which is scheduled for October 26.

What will come next?

It’s unclear. But participants in the Dialogues have begun discussing a second phase of the process. The desire to go forward was expressed forcefully near the end of the August 24 meeting, when participants said they needed more time to build the shared understanding that is the goal of the dialogues.

It also was the topic of a call among participants the afternoon of August 31. Among the suggestions for Phase 2 were more field trips to important parts of the Delta, so participants can see the places and issues they’re talking about; community workshops that “export” the Dialogues outside the participants; and longer in-person meetings, perhaps even meetings that went beyond just one day.

Participants and facilitators are already working on plans for Phase 2, and are preparing to apply for funding. They seem to be casting a wide net. One of the Dialogues’ facilitators, Eugene Eric Kim of Groupaya, even asked your storyteller’s opinion about Phase 2 on a late-night phone call.

My own answer: Mostly more building along the same lines of dialogue we’ve seen so far. But there are three new things I’d like to see in a Phase 2 of the process.

  1. The first is the presence of some of the researchers and scientists who study the Delta. But I don’t want them there just to study the Dialogues. As we’ve seen throughout the Dialogues, researchers and scientists from places like the Public Policy Institute of California have played a big role in shaping perception of the Delta. And there has been real concern expressed in the process about whether research on the Delta is up to date or whether it is a contributor to misunderstanding in the dialogues. In an important way, the scientific community working in the Delta is a Delta stakeholder. I’d like to see them present and part of the conversation.
  2. The second is that I’d like to see if the Dialogues could find a way to permit journalists other than just me to observe the process, while protecting the ability of participants to speaker freely.
  3. The third is that I’d like to see more detailed discussion of specific solutions to the problem. This is not to say that the Dialogues will produce solutions. But as Dialogues’ facilitator Jeff Conklin explains in his book Dialogue Mapping: Building Shared Understanding of Wicked Problems, the act of searching for a solution is how human beings come to shared understanding of problems. So let’s see stakeholders get into the weeds: How should habitat be restored in the Delta in a way that meets the needs of the various Delta stakeholders? What’s the best path forward to levee protection? How can the needs of water users be met without hurting farmers and fish?

My thoughts, of course, are only suggestions. But as the plans are being put together, now is a good time to offer your ideas if you have them — by contacting participants and facilitators, or by offering them directly on this site.

September 13th, 2012

When seeing is hearing new understandings arise


The adage “Seeing is believing” got flipped for me the other day as I read the dialogue maps from the August 2012 meeting held at the Old Sugar Mill; reading the maps became an experience of “seeing is hearing” for me. Let me explain.

Dialogue mapping captures the concepts of a conversation in a way that keeps intact the context and connections of what is said. Other commitments prevented me from attending the August meeting, and I wanted to get a sense of what happened. Reading through two maps in particular I finally heard something I had not heard before (which is not to imply it had not been said before).  The experience was not of just reading a fact or a statement, but of actually hearing—as in understanding a little bit better—different aspects of an issue.

Here are the two statements that struck me:

“Delta believes there’s need for conveyance. Just a question of how to do it. We get all the impact, they get all the benefits” (from What can we build shared understanding around?)

“Delta interests would have to come up with a coherent set of asks” (from How can we bring in-Delta interests to the table?)

In all the meetings I have attended over the years, I do not recall hearing so clearly these two points: what benefit from the other processes could come to the Delta residents and what is it that the Delta residents want from the other processes. I felt excited about my “ah-ha” moment.

These two statements seemed to me to be like two sides of the same coin; a coin that is minted in openness and willingness to learn and that can be spent in developing mutually satisfying outcomes. These two statements, taken together, invite the Delta Dialogue participants to explore more fully.  I think such a conversation will lead to better understanding and better options to manage the complex situation in the Delta.

This “ah-ha” experience confirmed for me the benefit of dialogue mapping as a means of communicating and building shared understanding.

September 12th, 2012

The Fruit of the Dialogues?


In the fifth in-person session of the Delta Dialogues, participants took bites of fruit, took stock of the Dialogues themselves, and took control of the process, outlining goals for future conversations.

After a morning site visit to North Delta farms, where pears were inspected and grapes sampled, the participants spent much of the afternoon of August 24 reviewing their work to date, including a detailed review of a “model map” — a compilation and distillation of the Dialogue Maps that have charted the Dialogues to date.

The conversation in Clarksburg was friendly and blunt, and participants seemed more assertive than they had in previous sessions. The participants changed the direction of the meeting at a couple points, and articulated critical questions for future Dialogues, suggesting the Dialogues continue past their scheduled conclusion in late October.

The conversation was enriched by what facilitators called the best mix of stakeholder participation to date, with representation from agriculture, fisheries, stage and federal agencies, local government, environmental groups, and recreation.

The afternoon talk also was well framed by the morning tour, which included frank exchanges between North Delta farmers and Dialogues participants, some of whom have been involved in litigation against each other. (At one point, Doug Hemly, the president of Greene & Hemly, as he gave the tour, asked for a show of hands of people involved in litigation against him.) The farmers, as they showed off pears, apples, grapes, and packing houses, complained about the uncertainty created by the current state of the Delta and the plans for it, including the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP). They also expressed fears that they would feel most of the impacts of water conveyance while benefits of the changes would be elsewhere. In response, some participants suggested that the farmers’ fears were overblown and that they could benefit. People on both sides of the discussion said they appreciated seeing “Ground Zero” — North Delta sites where a water conveyance system could be built.

Throughout the day, the participants’ strong sense of ownership of the Dialogues process was clear. But so were strong divisions among the group over various issues, most notably the BDCP.

In-Delta interests criticized the BDCP and previous Delta efforts for not including them and their ideas in the development of plans. Other participants disputed that, saying that the in-Delta interests had not responded to invitations to join the BDCP process and that the ideas of such interests were not always relevant or useful.

The argument continued from there. In-Delta interests responded that the outcome of the BDCP, from their viewpoint, was pre-determined — to build tunnels for water conveyance — and so participation in the BDCP would have required agreeing to a conclusion with which they could not agree. Other stakeholders, in turn, said that such views were mistaken, and that environmental reviews, lawsuits and the BDCP process offered plenty of opportunities to change the process and the outcome — if in-Delta interests could be successfully engaged.

The multiple exchanges on the BDCP and water conveyance did not get deeply into details. Leo Winternitz of The Nature Conservancy pointed this out, and argued that the Dialogues, with their stated goal of shared understanding, provided an opportunity to flesh out details and define terms.

He outlined three questions the Dialogues could answer:

  1. What would constitute being “at the table” for in-Delta interests?
  2. Once “being at the table” was defined,” how could in-Delta interests be brought to the table?
  3. If those first two questions could be answered, how could the dialogues “export” those answers to other stakeholders and to the public so that it could shape future work on Delta questions?

To push things forward, participants discussed taking a particular issue — habitat was raised — and trying to dig deeply into that as part of a path to shared understanding. Several participants also indicated the current process, which is scheduled to conclude in late October, does not offer enough time to do this. The possibility of a second phase of the Dialogues, to follow shortly after the current process, was discussed briefly at the meeting, and at more length in an August 31 call.

“I’d say we made good progress today, but we also hit some pretty good barriers,” said Dick Pool, representing commercial and recreational fishing, at the meeting’s conclusion. “And I’d say we’re going to need a continuation of the process.”

NOTE: The writer of this post was absent from the August dialogues, and based this account on video and audio recordings of the meeting and tour, and on conversations with participants.