The Elbe-Lübeck Working Group was a process of stakeholder participation to develop proposals for managing the Elbe-Lübeck River sub-basin in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. The working group process, begun in 2002, was designed by the Schleswig-Holstein environment agency.
Problems and Purpose
The problems to be addressed by the process included insufficient river connectivity and “diffuse pollution from agriculture,” including “livestock farming” (Schütze & Kochskämper, 2018, p. 51), and the resulting needs to develop policies and practical measures to address those issues. Another cause of the process 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 Schleswig-Holstein, the working-group process was aimed at engaging local stakeholders in the development of measures for applying principles of water-resource management plans, for two reasons: (1) integrating stakeholders’ local knowledge into measures would enable more effective implementation of the European Water Framework Directive; (2) including stakeholders in the development of measures would increase the legitimacy and public acceptance of the measures. The practical goals of the Elbe-Lübeck Working Group were to propose water-management measures, and to choose a designation for each body of water in the sub-basin.
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 Schleswig-Holstein, one consequence was the introduction, in 2002, of “34 working groups” (Schütze & Kochskämper, 2018, p. 52), including the Elbe-Lübeck Working Group.
Originating Entities and Funding
The Schleswig-Holstein Agency for Agriculture, Environment, and Rural Areas designed the working-group process, and co-organized the Elbe-Lübeck Working Group with the water board in the Elbe-Lübeck River sub-basin.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Participants were stakeholders in the Elbe-Lübeck River sub-basin, not the general public, and the included stakeholders were chosen by the Schleswig-Holstein Ministry for Energy, Agriculture, Environment, and Rural Areas. Eight stakeholder representatives participated in each working-group meeting. Participants included representatives of the local water board, local and state governments, an agricultural organization, environmental groups, and “angling and fisheries” organizations (Schütze & Kochskämper, 2018, p. 53).
Methods and Tools Used
The method used in the working-group process remained generally the same, but the meetings grew less frequent in the second phase of the process. From 2002 through 2009, the method consisted of a two-to-three-hour meeting held once a month. From 2009 and afterwards, the method changed to a two-to-three-hour meeting held once every three months. Each meeting was chaired by personnel from the water board in the Elbe-Lübeck River sub-basin. The general pattern of the meetings were for the chair to present a proposal, which was then discussed and sometimes modified by the participants. Less often, participants themselves proposed measures for consideration. Another aspect of the working-group process was site visits. Participants visited other regions to see implementations of measures that the participants were considering, and once some of the measures proposed by the working group had been implemented in the Elbe-Lübeck River sub-basin, participants visited the implementation sites to examine the progress and the consequences. A few measures were implemented very early in the process, for the purposes, according to the ministry, of generating demonstration effects and of allowing working-group participants to learn potential consequences of measures.
Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction
Participants reported substantial levels of co-operation, constructive discussion, and trust in the meetings, and reported believing that they had substantial influence on the policy process. The decision rule was consensus, which was usually achieved. When consensus could not be reached, the decision was handed over to the Schleswig-Holstein Ministry for Energy, Agriculture, Environment, and Rural Areas. The ministry had the final say on the matters decided by the working group, but in practice the ministry accepted the working group’s decisions. Attendance rates at meetings were very high. There was little conflict in the working group, in part because potentially controversial measures – such as those concerning diffuse pollution from agriculture -- were avoided. This avoidance was due to the practical difficulty of designing feasible measures concerning diffuse pollution from agriculture, because those implementing those measures generally involved land transfers that were unlikely to occur for various reasons.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The process seemed to have some impact on policy. The process generated 72 proposed measures, all or most of which were adopted by the ministry. Some of the adopted measures addressed key issues raised by process, but the number of adopted measures concerning diffuse pollution from agriculture was low – as noted above – and seemed fewer than necessary to address the problem. Several approved measures had been implemented as of the date of Schütze and Kochskämper's (2018) assessment, and more were scheduled to be implemented. According to the agency, participants’ local knowledge of the sub-basin plus participants’ learning during the working-group meetings and site visits resulted in measures that were generally effective and capable of implementation. Implementation seems to have increased fish stocks and the number of natural bodies of water and reduced the number of “heavily modified” bodies of water (Schütze & Kochskämper, 2018, p. 57). Water quality did not improve, however, and may have declined.
In terms of social outcomes, participant satisfaction was high because of the constructiveness of the meetings, the working group’s influence on policy, and what participants judged to be generally good quality of implementation of measures. Participants reported improved understanding of “water management” (Schütze & Kochskämper, 2018, p. 57), and substantial levels of trust and “mutual understanding … among participants” (Schütze & Kochskämper, 2018, p. 58). The agency also observed participants’ increased understanding of matters including the working-group process and its goals and the European Water Framework Directive. The agency also reported that participants had “learned from [their] mistakes in the first” phase of the process (Schütze & Kochskämper, 2018, p. 58). Resolution of conflicts during group discussions was generally successful. Participants increased their contacts with each other over the course of the process, but did not create any new networks or organizations.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
This process seemed quite successful in terms of stakeholder participation, but policy outcomes were mixed. In terms of stakeholder participation, participants reported high satisfaction, learning, and trust, because of apparently well-conducted meetings, avoidance of controversial issues, substantial stakeholder influence on policy, and stakeholders’ exposure to evidence of successful implementation of adopted measures. In terms of policy outcomes, on the positive side, several measures were implemented and seemed to improve fish stocks and river connectivity; on the negative side, the process did not have much effect on diffuse pollution from agriculture -- one of the chief problems facing the sub-basin -- because the working-group avoided addressing that issue, in part to maintain harmony among the participants.
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.