The Forth Area Advisory Group aimed to engage stakeholders in developing a plan for managing the catchment area of the Rivers Forth and Almond in Scotland. The process, begun in 2006, was organized by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency’s River Basin Planning Unit.
Problems and Purpose
The problems to be addressed by the process included morphology, “connectivity,” “diffuse” and “point source pollution,” “abstraction,” and “invasive … species” (Challies, 2018, p. 101), 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 UK law and policy in the 2000s (Challies, 2018). In Scotland, the aim of the process was to gain input from a select group of experienced and capable stakeholders to shape the water-management plan and measures for the catchment area, and to facilitate implementation of those measures.
As the European Water Framework Directive was being integrated into UK law and policy in the 2000s, the devolved UK governments revised their policies to implement provisions of the directive. In Scotland, one consequence was the introduction of various methods of stakeholder participation, including the Forth Area Advisory Group beginning in 2006. The first phase of the process occurred in 2006-2009, and a second phase during the period 2010 through 2015.
Originating Entities and Funding
The process was organized by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency’s River Basin Planning Unit.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The process involved one type of participatory design: the “area advisory group” (Challies, 2018, p. 100). Ten of these groups met in Scotland; one of these groups was the Forth Area Advisory Group. Recruitment was by invitation only, and targeted governmental entities already involved in water management, and large organizations representing interests including those of farmers and environmentalists. Recruitment was conducted by a “stakeholder mapping process” (Challies, 2018, p. 102) which began by identifying a core group of governmental entities already engaged in water management under existing law and policy, and then branching out to consider other entities, related to that core group and having an interest in water management. The general public and smaller local organizations were excluded from the process.
In the first phase of the the Forth Area Advisory Group process, a total of 11 group meetings were held. From fifteen to twenty-five personnel from stakeholder groups attended each meeting. Participants included personnel from local and regional governments, “forestry, agriculture, … industry, … fisheries” and environmental groups (Challies, 2018, p. 102).
The level and characteristics of participation in the second phase of the process are unclear.
Methods and Tools Used
At each advisory group meeting, which was generally four to five hours in length, agency personnel served as chair. The format of area advisory group meetings seemed to change throughout the first phase of the process. In 2007, in May a “measures workshop” was held, at which agency personnel invited participants to describe practical measures—including measures already being implemented as part of other legal or policy processes—for addressing water-management issues in the catchment area; participants also gathered in smaller groups focused on particular bodies of water (Challies, 2018, p. 102). Then later in 2007, a series of meetings was held, each of which was devoted to issues affecting a particular industry, namely “drinking water, mining and agricultur[e]” (Challies, 2018, p. 102).
In 2008, the meetings featured presentations of drafts of agency documents—first the “programme of measures for the [River] Forth” at the March meeting, and then drafts of the “Area Management Plan” at subsequent meetings—followed by time for participants to comment on the drafts (Challies, 2018, pp. 102-103). After each meeting, agency personnel gathered comments, then “presented” the comments “back to the” group, and also distributed to the group lists of measures (Challies, 2018, p. 102). In these lists each measure was characterized as having been adopted, planned, or “proposed but still lacking funding and commitment”, and each measure was assigned to particular stakeholder organizations charged with implementation (Challies, 2018, pp. 102-103).
Agency personnel also took participants’ comments into consideration in revising the Area Management Plan, which was completed at the end of 2008. In the two meetings held during 2009, participants were gathered in “working groups” tasked with carrying out the implementation of particular measures.
In the second phase of the process, it’s not clear what procedure was used in area advisory group meetings.
Regarding tools, when the final Area Management Plan was published in 2008, the plan included “information sheets”, posted on the agency website, showing the measures to be implemented in each body of water (Challies, 2018, p. 105). In addition, during the second phase of the process, the agency opened a website called the “‘Water Environment Hub’”, showing, for each body of water in Scotland, its “current condition and future targets” (Challies, 2018, p. 106). These online resources likely increased stakeholders’ and the public’s capacity to monitor and engage with the implementation of the measures in the plan.
Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction
Little deliberation among participants was observed during area advisory group meetings. Interactions during meetings generally took the form of presentations by agency personnel, followed by comments from participants to agency personnel about the content of the presentations. Later in the first phase of the process, interactions within each smaller group of participants focused on planning and coordinating implementation of measures, rather than deliberation about policy choices. Further, participants did not seem to engage in decision making during area advisory group meetings.
Regarding public interaction, in 2009, a number of “‘AAG Forum’ events” were planned (Challies, 2018, p. 103), to which the general public and stakeholders who were not participants in area advisory groups were invited in order to comment on the final draft of the Area Management Plan. Yet there was low attendance at the first few forum events, and the rest of the forum events were cancelled.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The Forth Area Advisory Group process produced a completed “Area Management Plan,” consisting of a “summary” and a “catalogue of measures” in the form of “information sheets,” posted on the agency website, about issues and measures concerning particular bodies of water (Challies, 2018, p. 105).
There was somewhat mixed evidence about the process’s influence on policy. On the one hand, the agency said that participants’ input affected the shape of measures, and Challies (2018, p. 106) wrote that “[a]rguably, many of the … measures included in the” final Area Management Plan “originated” in participants’ comments from the early meetings of the Forth Area Advisory Group. On the other hand, records don’t show precisely how participants’ input affected the content of the final Area Management Plan.
“[P]articipants generally accepted” the final Area Management Plan, although some stakeholders experienced conflict about implementing certain measures in particular localities (Challies, 2018, p. 106).
The measures included in the final Area Management Plan appear to have had some practical effect. First, the adopted measures address most of the key issues facing the catchment area, except that the number of measures dealing with “point source pollution” seems insufficient in light of the scope of that problem (Challies, 2018, p. 105). Second, a number of adopted measures had been implemented by the time of Challies’s (2018) report, although some not-yet-implemented measures are framed at a level of generality so high that they may be difficult to implement in the future. Third, water quality in the catchment area improved somewhat during the Forth Area Advisory Group process.
In terms of social outcomes, participants reported greater understanding of “sustainable water management”, of the European Water Framework Directive, and of other participants’ views and concerns due to interactions in which groups of participants shared their comments during area advisory group meetings (Challies, 2018, p. 107). Related to the latter outcome are participants’ greater cohesion and adoption of shared goals concerning “water management” in the catchment area (Challies, 2018, p. 107). Governmental participants also seem to have increased the extent to which they considered “river-basin planning” in the water-management activities that they undertook pursuant to other laws and policies (Challies, 2018, p. 107). Finally, although participants had established networks with each other before the Forth Area Advisory Group process, during the process these networks seemed to have strengthened, along with participants’ ties with the agency, particularly in relation to networks for implementing particular measures. As a result, the overall water-management governance capacity in the catchment area may have increased, and the implementation of several measures and the improvement in water quality in the catchment area may be related to that gain in capacity.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
This process may have had a positive impact on water management in the catchment area, although the evidence is somewhat mixed. In addition, the participatory aspect of the process seemed to some extent successful. Evidence of the latter success appears in participants’ greater knowledge, cohesion, and embrace of shared goals, as well as in networking among participants and the agency, outcomes that may have increased the overall governance capacity in the catchment area.
The participatory aspect of the process might have been improved had the organizers changed the design of the process to (1) enable deliberation among the participants, (2) allow participants to propose new measures (in addition to pre-existing measures) and to prioritize measures, and (3) require agency personnel to report to participants in detail on how participants’ input had influenced particular provisions and measures in the final Area Management Plan.
Challies, E. (2018). Stakeholder engagement in Water Framework Directive planning in the United Kingdom: Two case studies from Northern Ireland and Scotland. In E. Kochskämper, E. Challies, N. W. Jager, & J. Newig (Eds.), Participation for effective environmental governance: Evidence from European Water Framework Directive implementation (pp. 90-113). London: Routledge.