The Lower Main Regional Water Forum is a process of stakeholder participation concerning policies for managing the Lower Main River sub-basin in Bavaria, Germany. Begun in 2005 and organized by the Bavarian Environment Agency, the forum consists of one, 3-hour meeting each year.
Problems and Purpose
The problems to be addressed by the forum included pressures placed on the Lower Main River and its environment by factors including “diffuse” agricultural “pollution and barriers to connectivity” (Schütze & Kochskämper, 2018, p. 40), and the resulting needs to develop policies and practical measures to address those pressures. Another cause of the forum was the introduction of the European Water Framework Directive, which required some degree of public participation in water resource management, and the integration of the directive into German law in the 2000s (Schütze & Kochskämper, 2018). In the German state of Bavaria, the forum was used to enable stakeholder engagement on the development of a “River Basin Management Plan” for the Lower Main sub-basin, and corresponding “Programmes of Measures” (Schütze & Kochskämper, 2018, p. 41) for implementing the plan. The formal purposes of the forum included “exchang[ing] information, discuss[ing] management issues of regional interest, and elicit[ing] feedback from stakeholders” (Schütze & Kochskämper, 2018, p. 41), although information distribution to stakeholders seemed to be the primary purpose.
Background History and Context
After the European Water Framework Directive had been integrated into German federal law in 2002, German states revised their water laws to implement provisions of the directive. In Bavaria, one consequence was the introduction, in 2005, of ten regional water forums, including the Lower Main Regional Water Forum.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The Bavarian State Environment Agency organizes each meeting of the forum, and is overseen in this activity by the Bavarian ministry of environment and consumer protection (Schütze & Kochskämper, 2018, p. 41).
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Participants were stakeholders in the lower Main River sub-basin, not the general public, and the included stakeholders were chosen by the Bavarian environment and consumer-protection ministry. Other stakeholders could ask to participate, but those requests had to be approved by the ministry.
Methods and Tools Used
The method used in the forum consisted of one, three-hour meeting per year. In addition, before and after each meeting, participants engaged in informal networking, especially between public officials and members of agricultural groups (Schütze & Kochskämper, 2018).
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
From 65 to 90 people attended each meeting, including public officials and members of stakeholder organizations, primarily agricultural organizations and environmental groups. The forum took place in two cycles. The first cycle occurred from 2005 through 2009, and the second began in 2010. The Bavarian State Environment Agency organized each meeting, under the oversight of the state ministry of environment and consumer protection. Each meeting was chaired by personnel from the “district government of Lower Franconia” (Schütze & Kochskämper, 2018, p. 42). During the forum meetings held in 2005 through 2008, the forum procedures provided for presentations by public officials, particularly about the River Basin Management Plan, but not for any discussion by participants. In addition, the forum organizers do not appear to have informed participants before each meeting about the context of the forums, including the goals and requirements of the European Water Framework Directive. In 2009, the procedures were changed to allow participants to discuss and provide comments on the draft of the River Basin Management Plan. In the second cycle of meetings, beginning in 2010, the presentations by public officials focused on how measures in the Programmes of Measures were being implemented.
Schütze and Kochskämper (2018, p. 40) observed that the forum procedures did not allow stakeholders to engage in much “deliberation” or “discussion” with one another. Apparently only the 2009 meeting formally provided for discussion among participants and participants’ commenting on policy. Officials from the Lower Franconia district government moderated each meeting. At the 2009 meeting there was open conflict between participants from agricultural groups and environmental groups. Some participants complained that the facilitation of this discussion was ineffective (Schütze & Kochskämper, 2018, p. 43). Some organizers complained that participants were not adequately informed about the European Water Framework Directive, and that some participants’ comments lacked relevance because the comments concerned local matters whereas the forum was focused on regional policy (Schütze & Kochskämper, 2018, p. 43). The forum had no decision making authority, and did not address “specific measures” (Schütze & Kochskämper, 2018, p. 42).
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
According to Schütze and Kochskämper (2018), forum stakeholders’ contributions did not seem to influence the policy outcomes, and the likely effectiveness of those policies was doubtful, since “most” of the implemented policies “were voluntary” (p. 40). The actual effectiveness of measures implemented during the forum cycles could not be assessed (Schütze & Kochskämper, 2018). During the period of the forum, water quality in the lower Main was reported to have declined, although this may have been a result of “changes in the official monitoring and reporting mechanisms” (Schütze & Kochskämper, 2018, p. 44). Satisfaction with the outcomes and process among forum participants was low, and participants did not report having learned from the forums (Schütze & Kochskämper, 2018, pp. 44-45, 58-59). In addition, this process did not seem to result in resolution of conflicts, particularly those between agricultural interests and those seeking to protect the environment. Participation in the forums allowed for networking, primarily between public officials and members of agricultural groups. Yet little networking was observed between different groups of stakeholders, and little trust developed among stakeholder groups (Schütze & Kochskämper, 2018, p. 59).
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Schütze and Kochskämper (2018, p. 39) concluded that this forum featured limited public participation, and that the focus of the forum was on distributing information to stakeholders instead of on eliciting input from stakeholders. In addition, Schütze and Kochskämper (2018, p. 59) concluded that the forum granted very “limited power … to participants.” Moreover, the organizers of the forum did not seem to adapt to criticisms by participants, as “the design of the … forum was not changed substantially in the second cycle” (Schütze & Kochskämper, 2018, p. 44).
Schütze, N., & Kochskämper, E. (2018). Stakeholder involvement for Water Framework Directive implementation in Germany: Three case studies from Bavaria, Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein. In E. Kochskämper, E. Challies, N. W. Jager, & J. Newig (Eds.), Participation for effective environmental governance: Evidence from European Water Framework Directive implementation (pp. 39-63). London: Routledge.