Dialogue Maps


Meeting Summary

Reply to this Post

Into the Matrix

by | November 13th, 2013

Taking what felt like a deep breath after tough recent meetings in Sacramento-area offices, the Delta Dialogues and its participants returned to the outdoors and to a discussion of alternatives to the Bay Delta Conservation Plan conveyance proposals during their October session.Map Button

The daylong gathering at Rush Ranch, in Suisun Marsh, was among the best-attended sessions of the dialogues, with representatives from every stakeholder in attendance. Jerry Meral, deputy secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency, also attended and participated in the meetings.

“I’m happy to be in the marsh. It’s a lot closer to home, back in the natural world,” said Carl Wilcox of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife early in the meeting. Delta landowner Tom Zuckerman, noting the fall harvest and presence of ducks and geese in the Delta, said he felt optimism, and not just because the time of the year. “I sense the discussion is beginning to open up at long last,” he said, adding that in-Delta stakeholders are beginning to have their concerns heard in debates about the future of the Delta.

The conversation again centered on possible alternatives to the BDCP conveyance, especially the possibilities of multi-intake scenarios that could involve the Western Delta, and the discussion was often difficult, technical and frustrating. John Cain of American Rivers and Jason Peltier of Westlands Water District complained at different points in the day that time was being wasted.

To help things along, facilitator Kristin Cobble, who returned to the dialogues after missing the September session, handed out a picture of a rabbit disappearing down a hole to each participant, and instructed participants to wave the pictures above their heads if the conversation was “going down a rabbit hole.” The rabbits were employed only a handful of times.

The facilitation team also spent considerable time reviewing the rules and practices of the dialogues. In this year’s second phase of the dialogues, nearly half of the participants are new additions who did not participate in last year’s first phase, and facilitators and participants have said it’s important to “strengthen the container” – the metaphor they often use for the dialogues as a contained, safe space where difficult issues can be discussed and understandings reached.

Newer participants were asked to point to their favorite place on the Delta on a map, and in one exercise, all participants were asked to identify things the group had in common.

“We all want to protect the Delta,” was the first.
“We all go to a lot of meetings,” was the second.

After that container-building, the day broke down into four sections.

1. In the late morning, Gwen Buchholz offered a presentation and answered questions about the various alternatives to the conveyance alignments in the BDCP. She described a painstaking multi-year, EIR/EIS process (it took over a year to develop screening criteria, she said) that started in 2008 and is still ongoing. It did boil down many ideas to 15 conveyance alignment alternatives. Find a description of the process here, then an initial screening of alternatives here, and a secondary screening here.

She noted the complexity; it had taken her four hours, she said, to boil down the 200-page appendix explaining the process into a presentation. Despite all the things considered, participants asked about whether variations on some of the alternatives had been considered, or whether combinations of alternatives had been considered. The answer in some cases was no, with Buchholz noting that not every conceivable alternative could be studied and that she and colleagues in other agencies had relied heavily on public comments in the process. They had to answer questions they were asked, she said.

One takeaway from the presentation and conversation was that two tests were crucial to screening alternatives. If the fish agencies said that an alternative wouldn’t work for species, it didn’t have a chance. And if contractors said an alternative wouldn’t work economically, it wouldn’t have a chance either.

Several participants, including Meral, emphasized that the alternatives conversation was important and was continuing. If there’s something better that meets the variety of tests necessary for conveyance, it could be useful. Paul Helliker of state DWR said that viable alternatives could come up late in the process.

2. Following from this conversation, the conversation entered the matrix. Literally, facilitators in collaboration with Cain and Chris Knopp of the Delta Stewardship Council had created a matrix for evaluating and understanding three conveyance possibilities – status quo, the current BDCP proposal, and a multi-intake alternative – on a variety of criteria and questions. The matrix filled two large boards on either side of the screen upon which the conversation was being mapped.

But they only managed to fill in one column of squares on the big matrix. The conversation was detailed, but participants struggled to define terms and decide questions. Several complications were introduced into the process, involving the differences between wet and dry years, and the ability to draw more water in storms.

The conversation was detailed, and full of information, but also frustrating. “I think it’s been great,” said Peltier as they broke for a late lunch. “We are all well meaning and informed, and we can’t even agree on what the questions are.”

Forty minutes were allotted for lunch, but the group decided to go for a walk into the marsh, and it took more than an hour.

Upon their return, Cobble, the facilitator, relayed a conversation she’d had with Meral during lunch, and posed three questions he had raised:

1. What is the largest physical facility in Western Delta that In Delta stakeholders could support?
2. Can In Delta stakeholders live with any North Delta diversion at all?
3. Can the facility be permitted by the fisheries agencies, and would the water contractors be willing to finance it?

The two in-Delta interests — North Delta farmer Russell Van Loben Sels and Zuckerman – both said it was possible to conceive of plans and operations that could be supported, though it would not be easy and the details would be crucial. Van Loben Sels said it was important that any alternatives make as little change and have as little impact as possible. Zuckerman emphasized the importance of having a “firm linkage” between “new dry period yield” of water north of any diversion facility and the operation of such a facility.

Wilcox noted that Western Delta intake could hurt Delta smelt. Pressed on whether there was any chance that a Western Delta intake could pass muster given the presence of smelt and other fish and the velocity of water, he answered: “Very small. Less than 2 percent.”

That precipitated a conversation, including Wilcox, about how to find out more about the impact of a Western Delta diversion. That led in turn to conversation about arranging a meeting or phone call, involving some participants and non-participants, including federal fisheries agencies, to look at the Western option (including impact on fish, questions about where facilities can be located and their size) before the next Delta Dialogues session on Nov. 15.

In closing, facilitators asked two questions: what was most valuable about the day’s discussion? And what question do you most want answered or explored on Nov. 15? In response, members talked about various questions around alternatives, though participants suggested that they needed to come together on specific, simpler questions to drive more productive discussion.

Participant Posts

Reply to this Post

The Power of Sitting in Circle

by | March 20th, 2014

NOTE: This blog post is cross-posted from the Groupaya blog, found here.

One early January morning two years ago, Jeff Conklin, Eugene Eric Kim, and I met at the Peet’s Coffee & Tea in Fairfield and drove on to Sacramento together. We went to talk with longtime stakeholders in the California Delta about a different way of thinking about the wickedly difficult problems of water and the Delta.

Last week was our penultimate meeting of the second phase of the project that resulted from that Sacramento trip: the Delta Dialogues. Over the past two years, the stakeholders have made amazing progress during monthly, daylong sessions and outside gatherings and phone calls. But it hasn’t been easy: I’ve walked into only two of those meetings feeling completely confident we would have a good session; during the other meetings, I’ve had to rely on hope and prayers that they would go well.

What was the difference between the two meetings and others?

The two meetings in which I felt confident were quite structured, with breakout groups that reported out their findings and conversations. The other meetings were not so structured. Yes, we have entered those sessions with clear goals and clear questions, but the process has mostly been one of sitting in circle in dialogue.

In other words, it has been a messy, unpredictable, emergent process. Campbell Ingram, the director and our client, has been remarkably comfortable and patient with the uncertainty and uncontrollability of the process. If he didn’t have the stomach for it, there is no way we could have come this far.

So how far have we come?

Of all of our dialogues, Friday was the one about which I was most happy. Why? More Delta Dialogues participants than ever before went beyond the predictable words that position their particular stakeholder group and instead indicated they wanted to find solutions that work for the whole water question, and for all stakeholders. That these comments and openness came at a time of drought and discord, when stakeholders were feeling how hard the Delta system is to change, was all the more remarkable.

The stakeholders weren’t putting their heads in the sand. One stakeholder declared that nothing could ever change because of century-old water rights. He had a point, of course; senior water rights seem inviolable, even holding up under conditions of drought.

But the response to that comment was surprising, and demonstrated the progress of the process. A farmer said, “Well, I’m one of those senior water rights holders… But nobody wins; nobody’s gonna comes out of this thing if we all sit back and say, ‘My position is sacrosanct and yours is impossible!’”

Those were world-changing words.

IMG_9561-300x200And we heard them again and again. An environmentalist acknowledged to a farmer that we need to find ways to ensure conservation lands serve both farmers and species. A water exporter, who has contributed to a $200 million effort to develop a plan for water conveyance, suggested that perhaps we need to erase the plan and start over.

As I reflected on the day, I was reminded of another dialogue circle I have participated in — my women’s circle – three times a year for over 15 years. When I sit in circle with them in our homes, I get to be in a conversation that is unlike the other conversations in my life. We listen deeply, we challenge one another’s thinking, and there is no goal beyond being together. And yet, we change. And we are different in two ways: We see the world differently, and we make a difference in a new way.

Over the years, I have watched this group of women lead more courageous lives. They’ve stepped off safe corporate paths, leaving the stability and security they provide, to follow their passions, even when it has led to less predictable ways of earning a living.

I believe that this sort of work — sitting in circle, deepening relationships with one another and supporting one another in thinking in more nuanced ways — gives individuals the courage to lead more visionary lives.

And yet, it can be hard to really understand the deep value of sitting in circle without experiencing it firsthand. We haven’t been able to get funding for a Phase III of the Delta Dialogues – it is hard to justify and explain the work that goes into preparing for each Delta Dialogues meeting. And yet for our participants, the value is clear. Despite super busy schedules and other places where they are wanted and needed, our participants keep coming back.

I wonder if they keep coming back for the same reasons why I keep coming back to my women’s circle. I have grown to love the women in the circle like family. They say things that used to drive me crazy, and now I simply feel fondness as I watch them do their thing, the way they do their thing.

I have often described my time in our circle as a “remembering” of myself. As we step back from the busyness of our daily lives, I remember who I am and what I really care about. I always leave renewed and inspired to live from my best self.

The Delta Dialogues participants, some of whom have sued and fought each other for years, have grown comfortable with each other. The meetings are full of laughter. They have a deeper understanding of each other, not only in terms of positioning on water issues but also in personal terms.

If Delta Dialogues participants go out into the world and are more visionary, more holistic in their thinking, more compassionate about other stakeholder groups, and more courageous in speaking up, that is a huge accomplishment. It’s not collective action, which is more tangible and exciting. But it is profound. It is individuals, supported and challenged by a circle, changing the world.

That’s the power of the Delta Dialogues. That’s the power of sitting in circle.

Reply to this Post

Delta Dialogues in the News

by | February 21st, 2013

DD Panel Discussion

Although the Delta Dialogues have been in hiatus, it doesn’t mean we haven’t been busy. On February 6, 2013, the Delta Dialogues was featured in a panel discussion entitled “Is Peace Possible In the Delta Water Wars?” at the UC Center in Sacramento. Panelists were Jason Peltier, Dale Hoffman-Floerke, Russell van Loben Sels, and Gilbert Cosio. Joe Mathews, who usually writes on this blog, was the moderator.

About 150 people attended the hour long panel discussion. Daniel Weintraub, from HealthyCal.org, wrote a nice summary at their website, here.

Reply to this Post

Delta Dialogues Final Report Now Available

by | February 6th, 2013

Delta Dialogues Phase 1 Story CoverFrom May through October 2012, our intrepid storyteller, Joe Mathews, blogged about the first phase of the Delta Dialogues right here, as it happened. Since then, Joe has been interviewing participants, doing research, and fleshing out the story. The result is this wonderful, cohesive account of the whole process, made visually stunning by designer, Amy Wu. It’s a free download, so please share it widely, and let us know what you think in the comments below!

Reply to this Post

Is Peace Possible in the Delta Water Wars?

by | January 17th, 2013


On Wednesday, February 6, 2013, several of our Delta Dialogues participants (Jason Peltier, Dale Hoffman-Floerke, Gilbert Cosio, and Russell van Loben Sels) will be telling the story of our process in a panel discussion hosted by the UC Center in Sacramento and moderated by our storyteller, Joe Mathews.

Is Peace Possible in the Delta Water Wars?
February 6, 2013, 12:00-1:30pm
UC Center Sacramento, 1130 K St.

Free event. Lunch provided.

The conventional wisdom is that change in the Delta will come slowly, or not at all. Too much conflict. Too many stakeholders. Too many competing interests. All that litigation. But over the last year, a group of stakeholders in the Delta — representing a wide range of interests including agriculture, fisheries, environmental NGOs, local government, water agencies, levees, state and federal agencies — engaged in a novel process, the Delta Dialogues, in an attempt to come together. It wasn’t a negotiation, but an intense, facilitated conversation — with real-time mapping of the dialogue — with the goal of coming to a shared understanding of the Delta’s problems, and potential ways forward. They began these Delta Dialogues not trusting one another, but by the end, things had changed. Four dialogues participants — Jason Peltier of Westlands Water District, Dale Hoffman-Floerke of the State Department of Water Resources, Gilbert Cosio of MBK Engineers, and Russell van Loben Sels of the Sacramento County Farm Bureau — visit the UC Center to discuss what happened and whether the dialogues point a way to peace and progress in the Delta wars. (Moderated by Joe Mathews, Zócalo Public Square).

You can register at the UC Center website. Please spread the word! Looking forward to seeing many of you there.

Reply to this Post

Our Participants Describe What They’ve Learned

by | October 12th, 2012

As the first phase of the Delta Dialogues draws to a close (our final meeting is at the end of this month), we asked our participants to explain what this process was all about, what they learned, what the impact might be, and why we should continue this experiment. Here’s a five-minute video compilation of what some of them said:

Based on what we’ve seen and heard so far, we think it’s essential that this process continue. We’re working on designing the next phase of the Delta Dialogues to extend this work for another year. If you have thoughts, please share them in the comments below. Stay tuned.

Many thanks to Matt Sengbusch for creating this video.

Reply to this Post

A Phase 2 for the Delta Dialogues?

by | September 17th, 2012

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.

Reply to this Post

When seeing is hearing new understandings arise

by | September 13th, 2012

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.

Reply to this Post

Why I’m Participating

by | June 27th, 2012

Russell van Loben Sels is a North Delta farmer and is a Delta Dialogues participant.

Delta Dialogues establishes a forum for discussions related to achieving the co-equal goals of a more reliable water supply for California and restoration of the Delta ecosystem in a manner that protects and enhances the Delta as a place — truly a “wicked problem” without easy solutions. Currently, processes that will have tremendous impact upon the Delta economy, its people and ecosystem are advancing. When these processes recognize and provide for the Delta’s needs, progress on the coequal goals will be achievable. Delta Dialogues can be a powerful tool to attain understanding, and from that understanding, will effect direction and progress.

At each of our meetings, I have learned something new and remain hopeful that our shared knowledge will result in solutions which advance the coequal goals in a manner that truly protects and enhances the Delta as a place. In order to accomplish these goals, we will all need to be prepared to modify our positions and the reasoning and understanding that support them.

Reply to this Post

Why I’m Watching the Delta Dialogues

by | May 23rd, 2012

A big part of my job as a journalist and think tank fellow is to talk about why California’s budget and governing systems don’t work. So about 50 times a year, I explain to audiences around the state how we got into our current mess, and I outline all the policy options for fixing our system.

Each time, someone inevitably stands up and asks, “So I accept your explanation and love all the different ideas for fixing things, but how can you ever possibly get enough people and interest groups in California to come together and agree on any fix?”

And my only reply is: “I have no idea how you do that.”

Mine is an honest answer. And also an unsatisfying one. Which is why I agreed to serve as storyteller for the Delta Dialogues. I want to know how we might progress in getting California out of its crisis.

This is a personal and professional concern. This is my home state. I’m fourth generation Californian and grew up in the San Gabriel Valley. I’ve spent the past 12 years as a reporter and editor here, first for the LA Times, then with the think tank New America, and most recently with a fast-growing magazine called Zócalo. I’ve written two books. Virtually all of my work has involved explaining why California’s politics and government don’t work.

Despite all of this, I’m a strange choice for a storytelling role in a Delta-based project. I live in Southern California, hundreds of miles from the Delta (though I do appreciate the water we receive). I don’t farm or fish or design waterworks (though in the past, members of my extended family have done those things). And, for all my writing and research on California issues, I’ve always avoided the subject of water.

It seemed way too complicated. It was a wicked problem, and I was already consumed by different California wicked problems: our broken budget process and our giant mess of a constitution.

But over the past two years, my outlook and my work has changed. I’ve been trying hard to move beyond describing the budget and governance crisis and to spend time thinking about how we Californians could come together and fix it.

In my search for solutions, I’ve been intrigued by efforts around the world to create deliberative processes with small groups of citizens to resolve very complicated problems. The exact methods vary, as do the specific problems and the locations. (I’ve encountered these processes in Australia, British Columbia, Brussels, Brazil, and Texas.) But in each place, the goal was to bring together stakeholders faced with big, complicated problems, and find some way to understand, cooperate, and compromise.

Of course, reading about such efforts is one thing. Seeing one in person is another thing entirely. And so when I was offered the opportunity to observe a deliberative process like the Delta Dialogues, I couldn’t refuse.

I don’t know if the Delta Dialogues will be a success. I know from my reading that many deliberative processes fail. And I’m very cynical (journalism does that to you) about the ability of people to come together and make progress. But if the Delta Dialogues create a shared understanding of how to address the Delta’s challenges, I’d like to be there to see for myself how the breakthrough happened.

Because if the stakeholders of the Delta succeed in these dialogues, their example could offer lessons for how we might solve all sorts of California problems.

Reply to this Post

Introducing the Delta Dialogues

by | April 24th, 2012

Why are we doing the Delta Dialogues?

I consider myself fortunate to get to work on the Delta. This unique place and ecosystem are not only the backbone of the California water supply, but also a wonderfully rich natural and cultural heritage for California and a really great place to spend time out of Sacramento.

Unfortunately the stressors on the Delta are many. And to date our attempts to address those stressors, and ensure California has a stable, secure water supply while restoring this critical ecosystem, have been immensely challenging.

The purpose of the Delta Dialogues is to bring all of the stakeholders who care about the future of the Delta in to the same room for a different type of conversation. It’s not about winning or losing, who did what to whom, or creating yet another plan. The Delta Dialogues are a forum for a truly inclusive and diverse set of stakeholders in the Delta to listen, build shared understanding, discuss the “why” not just the “what” of the matter,  and build new trusted relationships. In short, the purpose is to have meaningful conversations that could inform and catalyze a new type of shared understanding, and in the long term action, around the future of the Delta.

Who will be the participants?

The Conservancy’s issue-based dialogue allows traditional stakeholders (water purveyors, state and federal agencies), in-Delta residents (farmers, local governments), and other non-governmental organizations (recreational associations, environmental organizations) to talk about what really matters to them.

How many participants will there be?

Our aim is to be truly inclusive of all the Delta stakeholders. This is not meant to be another closed door meeting. For the purposes of enabling truly transformative dialogue, and ensuring we have the consistent participation necessary to build trusted relationships, we are kicking off this process with 20 people representing all of the above interests.

What is the purpose of the storytelling blog?

In order to expand the room without expanding the number of people in it, we will be periodically sharing updates from the Delta Dialogue here on this blog.

The process of aligning around and implementing a collaborative framework for managing the scarce resources and competing interests of the Delta will take years, perhaps decades. But the situation is urgent. The Delta will not wait for a business-as-usual approach.  Future efforts not based on robust shared understanding and shared commitment among stakeholders with competing interests will not be decisive or effective. It will simply lead to more deadlock, as it has for decades.

It is our humble ambition that the Delta Dialogues can help us move beyond business-as-usual and towards a new understanding, and future for the Delta.

-Campbell Ingram

Executive Officer, the Delta Conservancy