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.