The Baix Ter Basin participatory planning process was designed to engage the public and stakeholders in developing measures for managing the Baix Ter river basin in Catalonia, Spain. The process, begun in 2007, was organized by the Catalan Water Agency.
Problems and Purpose
The problems to be addressed by the process included “inter-basin water transfers,” “water flows,” pollution from “agriculture, … industry and urban wastewater,” and “invasive species” (Kochskämper, Schütze, & Ballester, 2018, pp. 78, 80), and the resulting needs to develop 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 Spanish law in the 2000s (Kochskämper et al., 2018). In the Spanish autonomous community of Catalonia, the aims of the process were to assist the Catalan Water Agency in its water-management planning by gathering a diverse array of citizens and stakeholders in order to determine the most pressing water-management “issues and measures” for addressing them (Kochskämper et al., 2018, p. 77).
Background History and Context
As the European Water Framework Directive was being integrated into Spanish national law in 2003 and 2004, Spanish autonomous communities revised their policies to implement provisions of the directive. In Catalonia, one consequence was the introduction of various methods of stakeholder participation, including the Baix Ter Basin participatory planning process beginning in 2007. The first phase of the process occurred in 2007-2008, and a second phase during the period 2009 through 2015.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The process was organized by Catalan Water Agency, with the support of the Catalan Department of Institutional Relations and Participation’s Office of Participation.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The process involved two types of participatory design: “sectoral … workshops” and “multi-stakeholder workshops” (Kochskämper et al., 2018, p. 79), which were preceded by “[i]nformation sessions” and succeeded by “a final plenary session” and “return sessions” (Kochskämper et al., 2018, pp. 78-79, 81). The organizers aimed at involving both members of the public and stakeholders in the sectoral workshops and the multi-stakeholder workshops. In the first phase of the process, recruitment was through the information sessions (which seem to have been focused on recruiting members of the public) and direct invitations to certain stakeholders. In the end a total of 150 people attended the events of the process. Participants included members of the public and personnel from civil-society organizations, environmental groups, business, and government. One factor that may have encouraged involvement was that, in the first phase of the process, events were held in 16 different areas of the river basin. Nonetheless, the agency said there was low representation of “women … youth and immigrants” (Kochskämper et al., 2018, p. 79).
In the second phase of the process, again both sectoral and multi-stakeholder workshops were held, but they occurred in only four areas of the river basin instead of 16, and “one session less” of “the multi-stakeholder meetings” took place (Kochskämper et al., 2018, p. 83). The number of participants was lower than in the first phase, and included fewer personnel from environmental groups and more personnel from “interest groups with expertise in” water (Kochskämper et al., 2018, p. 83).
Methods and Tools Used
In the information sessions, agency personnel distributed “information documents” that also allowed attendees to contribute feedback (Kochskämper et al., 2018, p. 80). During sectoral workshops, agency personnel with expertise on the particular issues being discussed provided information relevant to the issues. In addition, the agency maintained a website for the process, on which were posted the information documents distributed at the initial information sessions as well as summaries of the discussions held during each event.
The sectoral workshops seemed to have been aimed at encouraging participants to share their views on the most important water-management issues facing the river basin, and measures for addressing them. In some sectoral workshops, participants were gathered in “thematic working groups” (Kochskämper et al., 2018, p. 80). Sectoral workshops appear to have been facilitated by “external facilitators” (Kochskämper et al., 2018, p. 80). At the end of each sectoral workshop, issues and measures proposed by participants were displayed and grouped together on the basis of similarity.
The multi-stakeholder workshops seem to have been designed to enable “debate” about the measures proposed during the sectoral workshops (Kochskämper et al., 2018, p. 80).
At the end of the process, the agency gathered the measures proposed during the process, revised them, and integrated them into the Programme of Measures that was included in the official river basin management plan completed in 2009.
In 2008, the agency held “return sessions” to present the Programme of Measures and explain how the measures proposed during the process had been integrated into the Programme (Kochskämper et al., 2018, p. 81).
In the second phase of the process which ran from 2009 through 2015, the information documents contained more complex and technical language, and the events were aimed at “revising already proposed measures” instead of proposing new ones (Kochskämper et al., 2018, p. 83).
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
In the first phase of the process, discussion was focused mainly on identifying issues and proposing measures for addressing them, and facilitators did not appear to encourage consensus or mutual understanding among participants. Participants said that non-expert participants contributed valuable insights based on their local knowledge. Some participants characterized the discussions as “constructive” and well organized. Some participants complained that some important issues were not discussed during the process, including “inter-basin water transfers” and agricultural pollution (Kochskämper et al., 2018, p. 81). Participants said they believed these issues were not addressed because no representatives of Barcelona were included in the relevant meetings, and because of the local political power of “hydroelectric power” and agricultural interests (Kochskämper et al., 2018, p. 81). During the 2008 “return sessions,” agency personnel explained how the measures proposed during the process had been incorporated into the final Programme of Measures (Kochskämper et al., 2018, p. 81).
In the second phase of the process, there were reports that little discussion occurred, and instead participants’ activity was devoted to amending previously “proposed measures” in “working group[s]” (Kochskämper et al., 2018, p. 83). One evaluation praised the structure and organization of the second phase of the process, but one participant criticized the process for lacking flexibility.
In both phases of the process, it’s not clear whether participants made decisions, or, if so, by what method.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
This process appeared to have influenced policy, but those policies did not have any practical effect because no adopted measures were implemented. From the proposed measures developed during the process, the agency fashioned a Programme of Measures containing 240 measures. Most of the adopted measures addressed the priority water-management issues facing the river basin, although the number of measures addressing agricultural pollution seemed smaller than adequate to deal with that problem. Two-thirds of measures were framed at a level of generality so high that implementation might have been difficult, had it been attempted. No measures in the Programme of Measures were implemented because of budget cuts following the financial crisis, and because of changed priorities of a new regional government that came into office in 2011. Participants were generally satisfied with the final Programme of Measures, but some participants criticized the measures for lacking innovation.
In terms of social outcomes, participants reported increased knowledge as a result of the process, concerning “sustainable water management” and the goals of the European Water Framework Directive (Kochskämper et al., 2018, p. 83). Agency personnel reported learning from the participants. There was mixed evidence about whether participants generally learned from each other. Regarding the first phase of the process, participants reported valuing the chance to express their viewpoints over the chance to learn from each other. In addition, there was evidence that trust between the agency and participants had increased, though there was no evidence that trust had increased among the participants. Further, there was no evidence that social contacts or networking had increased due to the process.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Even though this process appears to have had no practical impact on water management in the river basin, the participatory aspect of the first phase of the process was to some extent successful, as manifested in participants’ general satisfaction with the Programme of Measures and the quality of the interaction in the workshops. These desirable outcomes seem to have been due to factors such as effective facilitation, giving participants substantial influence over the outcomes of the process (notwithstanding that the state government did not implement those outcomes), agency officials’ taking time to explain how participants’ outputs had been integrated into the final Programme of Measures, and agency officials’ willingness to learn from the participants. The participatory aspect of the process might have been improved had the organizers and facilitators focused less on producing a diverse and lengthy list of proposed measures and more on enabling interaction and mutual learning among the participants and between groups of participants – including regarding controversial issues -- and had representatives from Barcelona been included in meetings in which the controversial issue of inter-basin transfers was discussed. These changes could have enabled participants to make progress toward resolving the controversies over those issues. Such progress by participants themselves might have enhanced learning and trust among participants, and could have increased public legitimacy of measures addressing those controversial issues.
Kochskämper, E., Schütze, N., & Ballester, A. (2018). Stakeholder and citizen involvement for Water Framework Directive implementation in Spain: Three case studies from Andalusia, Cantabria and Catalonia. In E. Kochskämper, E. Challies, N. W. Jager, & J. Newig (Eds.), Participation for effective environmental governance: Evidence from European Water Framework Directive implementation (pp. 65-89). London: Routledge.