A public dialogue engaged the public through seven workshops addressing significant water management issues for the Environment Agency’s River Basin Management Plans.
Problems and Purpose
This public dialogue on Significant Water Management Issues (SWMIs) was designed to enable public views, ideas and concerns to be fed into final plans and priorities for the Environment Agency’s River Basin Management Plans to be published in 2015, and to inform its approach to meeting other Water Framework Directive commitments. The dialogue included seven public dialogue workshops, one in each of the English river basin districts (with Humber and Northumbria combined).
The public dialogue was designed to work alongside the Environment Agency’s stakeholder engagement (with non-governmental organisations (NGOs), water companies, local authorities and others) and its formal Challenges and Choices consultation.
The key objectives of this project were to:
- Allow a sample of the public to engage on, deliberate and, alongside other evidence (such as environmental, technical and economic), feed into key decisions within plans for the water environment
- Demonstrate an open and objective approach to river basin planning, which can help create greater commitment to actions from business and other stakeholders
- Encourage frank and evidence-based dialogue with the public on the cost and benefits provided by our water environment, and how best to manage this environment into the future
- Link across various water planning cycles (such as abstraction plans and flood risk plans) to ensure the Environment Agency has a customer focus and avoids ‘silo’ mentality. 
Background History and Context
The Water Framework Directive (WFD) is international legislation with the following key aims:
- Expanding the scope of water protection to all waters, surface waters and groundwater
- Achieving ‘good status’ for all waters by a set deadline
- Water management based on river basins
- ‘Combined approach’ of emission limit values and quality standards
- Getting the prices right
- Getting the citizen involved more closely
- Streamlining legislation.
In the UK, a number of actions have been taken to achieve those aims. River Basin Management Plans are the cornerstone of the WFD and set out how the EA and its partners will deliver against a shared ambition for the water environment in England and Wales. Updated plans will be published in 2015.
SWMIs are the most significant issues affecting the water environment – as determined by the Environment Agency and others that use or care for the water environment. SWMIs include over-abstraction, chemical pollution, agricultural pollution and destruction of natural habitats. These issues will affect the benefits society gets from the water environment such as clean water, availability of water, amenity benefits, business benefits, fishing, recreation and biodiversity as well as the costs and sustainability of those benefits.
A river basin is the area of land that runs or drains down into a river. The management plan is a detailed account of how the objectives set for the river basin are to be reached in the timescale required. It includes the analysis of the river basin’s characteristics, a review of the impact of human activity on the status of waters in the basin, an estimation of the effect of existing legislation and the remaining ‘gap’ to meeting these objectives; and a set of measures designed to fill the gap as well as an economic analysis of water use within the river basin.
The decisions on the most appropriate measures to achieve the objectives in the River Basin Management Plan involve balancing the interests of various groups. Therefore, it is considered essential that all interested parties are fully involved in this discussion and, indeed, in the preparation of the River Basin Management Plan as a whole. An economic analysis underpins the plans, but it is also considered essential that the process is open to the scrutiny of those who will be affected, which includes the public. 
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Total budget: £200 000 (£100 000 Sciencewise)
Commissioning body: The Environment Agency (EA) is an Executive Non-Departmental Public Body with main aims to protect and improve the environment, and to promote sustainable development.
Delivery contractor: 3KQ
3KQ are leaders in the field of facilitation and stakeholder engagement and were the lead dialogue contractor. They were recruited through competitive tender to deliver the project, working in partnership with Ipsos MORI because of their complementary experience-based knowledge of public dialogues and deliberative research, including recruitment.  Ipsos MORI, part of the Ipsos Group, is a leading UK research company, specialising in social & political research and public dialogue on complex and sensitive issues.
Icarus provides professional support, policy advice and direct delivery, and was the evaluation contractor for the dialogue 
Sciencewise-ERC is a Department for Business, Innovation and Skills funded programme to bring scientists, government and the public together to explore the impact of science and technology in our lives. It helps Government departments and agencies commission and use public dialogue to inform policy making, involving science and technology issues. Its core aim is to develop the capacity of Government to carry out good dialogue, to gather and disseminate good practice, have successful two-way communications with the public and other stakeholders, and to embed the principles of good dialogue into internal Government processes.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
- Public Participants: 986 (199 in dialogue events, 867 in online survey)
- Stakeholders: 7 on the reference group
- Experts: up to 3 per event 
A project group was formed and included 9 members of the Environment agency, 1 member of Sciencewise, and 3 members of 3KQ/ Ipsos MORI.
The planning group met four times. They identified issues to be discussed and useful outputs for the EA, as well as overall process design and scheduling with regards to workshop design, reporting and dissemination.
A reference group was also formed and acted in an independent advisory capacity.
Twenty members of the public were recruited as participants for each workshop. Participants were recruited ‘on-street’ by fully trained Ipsos MORI fieldwork staff. Each recruiter was local to the area where the dialogue event was being held. Participants were approached in the local area around the location of each dialogue workshop. However, when it was deemed relevant for a particular workshop location, recruiters used their local knowledge to try and gain a suitable mix of participants from rural and urban areas. To recruit a range of participants for these workshops, quotas were set for each workshop by:
- Gender: minimum of eight female and eight male participants.
- Age: minimum of three participants in each of the following age groups, 18–24, 25–34, 35–54, 55–64, 65–74 and 75+.
- Social Grade: minimum of three participants from social grades AB, C1, C2, D and E
A total of 119 people participated across the seven workshops. 
Methods and Tools Used
The dialogue process consisted of 7 facilitated workshops. The workshops involved:
- Presentations of benefits and challenges
- Working through challenges one by one and in groups
- Small-group deliberation
- Evaluation questionnaires
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Workshops took place in the following areas:
- Brighton (South East)
- London (Thames)
- Peterborough (Anglian)
- Worcester (Severn)
- Manchester (North West)
- Exeter (South West)
- Leeds (Humber and Northumbria combined)
The initial workshop in Brighton was held as a pilot event and nine separate issues were considered. The volume of information had been debated from the outset of the dialogue design and the Brighton workshop showed clearly that nine issues were too much to cover in a one day session. It was agreed to amalgamate some issues and re-write the stimulus materials so that the following six workshops had seven issues for deliberation rather than nine.
Each workshop ran from 10am to 4pm. The morning session was designed to help people think about the water environments, what they valued about it and what benefits they individually and collectively derived from it. They were then shown benefits identified by the EA.
The significant water management issues were introduced and participants were given a chance to read through the stimulus materials and ask questions of the Environment Agency staff as appropriate. After lunch, participants reconvened in two groups where each issue was discussed in turn, with time for reflection and additional input from the Environment Agency staff. A ‘prioritisation exercise’ followed where people indicated their level of interest in the different issues following the discussion.
The workshops concluded with four small group discussions to cover reflections on the discussion, elicit initial thoughts from participants about ways to pay for necessary measures to address the water management issues, and think about willingness or otherwise to consider ‘lifestyle choices’ in light of the issues considered.
Following the seven initial workshops, there was a final re-convened workshop with a subset of public participants held, on 9 November 2013. Twenty people were invited from the previous workshops and a total of 16 participants attended. This was designed to enable participants to build on their thinking and knowledge from the first workshop session in order to deliberate further about:
- what they considered to be priorities in terms of water management
- the trade-offs and complexities involved in decision-making
- possible measures to address different water management issues and their comparative costs
- what drives local and national priorities 
Key messages from the public
Participants responded enthusiastically to the information provided during the workshops and were keen to express their views. Having learned more, many were surprised at their previous lack of awareness and felt that members of the public should be more aware of the issues and, consequently, would be more likely to support or take action.
Participants identified some SWMI challenges as being of greater interest than others – notably chemicals, fecal indicator organisms and sanitary pollutants, but also phosphates and nitrates – broadly acknowledging that this reflected personal fears or interests.
When considering the fairest way to pay the cost of meeting the SWMI challenges, participants considered general taxation, water bills or increased cost of food/goods as the essential choices we face as a society. Participants acknowledged that, as consumers, they will pay the additional price one way or the other.
When presented with typical dilemmas that the EA faces in managing the SWMI challenges, participants generally favoured spreading resources across areas, in recognition of the need for action everywhere, while seeking the most benefit for the resources they had to allocate. This was mirrored in the accompanying survey, in which over half of respondents indicated that the same level of protection should be given to all water environments. However, participants were very averse to those measures that presented any threat to employment. 
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The main purpose of the dialogue was to feed into River Basin Management Plans being drafted in the light of current knowledge and evidence, including that gleaned from the Challenges and Choices consultation. Information from the public dialogue will be incorporated by disseminating the findings within the Environment Agency and to its partners through:
- Face to face presentations to selected groups involved in drafting the river basin management plans to help enrich their decision-making.
- Making the report freely available to those writing the River Basin Management Plans and working on SWMI.
- Discussing the recommendations and outputs with Executive team to influence current decision-making.
- Working with the national and district river basin liaison panels, and catchment coordinators to enable dissemination and embedding of recommendations. Web-based presentations to wider groups in order to help support ongoing conversations with the public and stakeholders on these ‘challenges’.
- Further workshops/presentations with groups across the organisation to help explain and support the river basin planning process and the difficulties this presents.
- Sharing the outputs of the qualitative and quantitative findings with Defra to help shape future decision-making. 
The evaluation report observes that findings are more likely to impact the development of future consultation material than processes than in the direct influence of policy. 
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The case study observes the following lessons:
A major, unplanned and unexpected impact from the dialogue was on EA staff as a result of the enthusiasm and good will of the public to engage positively in deliberations about water management. An appreciation that a well-planned and facilitated process can create constructive debate with the public has been an extremely positive experience for staff involved, opening up new ways for them to ‘road test’ options and plans. The process has instilled significantly more confidence in the EA to work with the public in future as water management policy and practice develops at national and catchment levels.
It has also been interesting to see the extent to which participants have taken what they have learnt and discussed in the workshops further in terms of personal research, discussing water management issues with others, and changes in the way they use water and products that affect water quality. 
 Sciencewise (2015) “Case Study: Significant Water Management Issues” Sciencewise-ERC, 2015
 3KQ and Ipsos MORI (2014) “Public Dialogue on Significant Water Management Issues: Final Report”, March 2014
 Sciencewise (2017) “Significant Water Management Issues” (ONLINE) Available at: https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20170110132641/http://www.sciencewise-erc.org.uk/cms/significant-water-management-issues-engaging-the-public-on-the-big-issues-affecting-the-water-environment/
 Smith, S and Bovey, H (2014) “Significant Water Management Issues Public Dialogue Process- Project Evaluation, Final Report”, Icarus, May 2014