25 community pilots addressed policy for delivering the water framework directive. A range of public engagement activities were supported in 13 of these pilot catchments.
Problems and Purpose
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) ran 25 community pilots from 2011 to 2013 that were designed to feed into the policy for delivering the water framework directive (WFD) through water-catchment-based planning and actions.
The WFD requires public bodies to engage with community stakeholders, and Defra recognised the need to improve and widen engagement in future WFD planning. The public dialogue project was designed to test ways of enhancing community participation using conceptual models from public dialogue.
The objectives of this public dialogue included to:
- Deliberate the range of technologies and options for improving water quality and sustainability using the catchment as a decision-making lens
- Debate and consider trade-offs and issues related to improving water quality and sustainability
- Support the generation of catchment plans by the end of 2012, which will determine local and national water quality policy
- Provide facilitation and support resources for deep, deliberative dialogues in a number of pilots and lighter facilitation support to further pilots 
Background History and Context
In general, the quality of water in UK rivers, lakes, and streams is improving. For example, between 1990 and 2006, the percentage of rivers of good biological quality in England rose from 60% to 71%. However, these data hide extreme variability. The national picture of water quality is subject to regional variation and has actually shown a decline in some places. This has a heavy cost on ecosystems, soil fertility, and enjoyment of the countryside. The main sources of degradation come from pollutants such as nitrates, phosphates, and pesticides.
Dealing with this water pollution is not easy. A number of new approaches are being tested and implemented including catchment management where the catchment is the area from which rainfall flows into a river, lake or other water body.
In March 2011, Richard Benyon, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Natural Environment and Fisheries, announced that Defra would enter a pilot phase for the development of new approaches to the Water Framework Directive. This centred on 25 community pilots based on catchment areas. These pilots were designed to inform policy and process for the remainder of the country, and Defra’s water quality policy leading up to the European negotiations for the second cycle WFD in 2015.
Resources were provided for public dialogue in 13 of the 25 pilot areas, feeding into the development of local water-catchment-based management plans and informing new policy solutions related to water quality. Facilitator time was invested in engagement planning, training, steering group development, one-to-one mentoring and facilitation of public events in each pilot area. These local activities were supported by a learning framework to identify the role that public dialogue could play in future catchment based management planning.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Commissioning Body: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Environment Agency, Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
- 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.
- The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is a government department in the UK creating policy and working with others to deliver policies in all areas of food and rural affairs.
- NERC (Natural Environment Research Council) is the UK's main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. 
Delivery Contractor: Dialogue by Design
- Dialogue by Design specialises in running public and stakeholder engagement processes using online, paper-based and face-to-face methods.
Evaluator: Casacade Consulting 
Cost of Project: £2, 098, 000 (Sciencewise funding of £218, 277)
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. 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
- over 650 (total)
- 100 (workshops)
- 400 (open surveys) 
The 15 pilot catchments taking part in this pilot project were:
- Bradford Beck
- Bristol Avon
- Frome and Piddle
- New Forest
- Tidal Thames
- Upper Thames (Cotswolds)
According to the Appendix Engagement Report document, there is limited information on recruitment methods with the suggestion that in many cases recruitment relied on self-selection and did not necessarily reflect a representative or diverse sample of the population. The report explains:
There is limited, reported, information available on the types of members of the public engaged. In many instances engagement activities were based on existing networks or on previous engagement activities. This is likely to have meant that the members of the public engaged tended to be interested in water / environment related issues.
There are limited instances of pilots identifying and engaging with specific segments of the public. Identification tended to be on geographic areas which were felt to be priorities for specific issues or for projects. This lack of differentiation was recognised by some of the pilots as a weakness in their public engagement but was felt to be largely unavoidable considering the objectives of their pilots within the context of their time and resource limitations. 
Methods and Tools Used
The project involved three main levels of activity:
1) Individual support to pilot areas
The project involved work at a range of levels with 13 of the 25 pilots over a 12-month period. The focus of the work with the 13 pilots was to help them understand how public dialogue could enhance their catchment management plan, and to provide advice and support to help them do this. In practice, there were three main stages at which public dialogue activities linked with catchment management planning – information gathering to identify issues, testing early work by stakeholders, and prioritisation of issues and actions. The latter, for instance, was carried out mainly in a workshop setting or, in one case, using a mobile gaming approach. 
Dialogue by Design coordinated a network of nine facilitators to deliver engagement support to 13 pilots across England. Four of these facilitators worked with two catchments each. Facilitators were matched with pilots based on geographical proximity.
The role of the facilitators was to help pilots understand how public dialogue could enhance their catchment management plan, and to provide advice and support to help them do this. All facilitators had extensive experience designing and delivering stakeholder and public engagement activities, providing engagement advice, and more generally in building collaborative working relationships amongst stakeholders.
Facilitators supported their pilots with a range of activities, as listed below:
- Stakeholder mapping and analysis
- Design and development of engagement plans or strategies
- Designing, delivering and reporting on public and stakeholder events and workshops
- Provision of engagement training to build internal capacity
- Design of public surveys
- Facilitation of steering group meetings
- Supporting the development of the catchment management plan document
- Attending, contributing or facilitating planning meetings with the lead organisation, steering group, project coordinator 
2) Sharing experience and learning across the pilots
For instance, the facilitator team met at regular intervals to share and reflect on experience and support each other in their work on the ground. 
An online sharing system was set up and managed by DbyD. The project team collated weekly bulletins to provide facilitators with any updates from clients, evaluators, or other catchments. All relevant documents were uploaded onto the shared online system, and there was a forum for discussion between facilitators (and the project team) to enable learning across catchments. 
3) Input to the Defra new policy framework and the development of good practice guidance
The report from the dialogue activities was used alongside the report of the major evaluation of the whole programme of the 25 pilots. Learning fed into the Guide to Collaborative Catchment Management, which was published in August 2013.
Two of the pilots, Eden and Tamar, decided not to take up the engagement support offer. There is therefore limited information on these catchments. 
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The Dialogue by Design report notes varying levels of support across the 13 different pilots.
- High Support (up to 15 additional days): Bradford Beck, Bristol Avon, Douglas, Tame, Teme, Tidal Thames, Tyne
- Moderate support (up to 6 additional days): Forme and Piddle, Nene, Upper Thames (Cotswolds), Wey, Wissey
- Low level support (up to two additional days): New Forest
Aire Rivers Trust (ART), the lead organisation for the Bradford Beck pilot, decided early on to create a plan which was both asset based and linked to place-making, with a practical chance of implementation. A small group of stakeholders sketched out simple themes that could be easily understood and shared with local people and used plain English to convey the aspirations of the plan. The themes were: a clean beck; an accessible beck; a visible beck (presently, the beck is not prominent in many communities); a thriving beck (biodiversity, ecosystems); a cared for beck (ownership and governance); and a water-wise city.
Engagement activities included:
- Two community events to test the draft themes, in neighbourhoods close to the different tributaries of the beck. The events were promoted through VCO networks in the city, the Councils Area offices, and a leaflet drop by ART;
- ART ran a programme of water quality sampling, with analysis from Bradford University, invertebrate sampling, and river clean ups. All these activities were run through a team of volunteers;
- In November, an agreement event was held with stakeholders and members of the public to get feedback on proposed projects to go into the plan, and to prioritise them;
- In January, the project officer and two volunteers met with Asian community leaders from neighbourhoods within the ring road, where the beck is largely culverted and unseen.
The Douglas pilot conducted an early scoping survey (online and paper) to identify issues and establish what were the key catchment issues. This was followed by three strands of engagement activity at a sub-catchment level:
- A gaming approach to prioritisation of issues in Skelmersdale;
- Two multi-stakeholder forums;
- River Douglas walkover for stakeholders.
The Teme pilot developed a catchment management plan that looked at the whole catchment, with the steering group keeping a strategic view. However, the practical actions and activities set at a local level.
Engagement activities included:
- Using outputs from already planned public meetings (run by another strategic partnership in the area - the Upper Clun Partnership) rather than replicating work.
- Two public meetings in two different sub-catchment areas. At both meetings, similar issues were raised: people wanted to see more abundant wildlife, better riparian management, less pollution, and less abstraction. There were disagreements about fencing and public access to the river.
- A website and Facebook page to advertise events, provide updates on progress, signpost members of the public to river-related organisations, and act as an online forum. 
Key messages from the public across case studies
There were examples where individual dialogue activities at pilot level fed into the catchment plans for the area. For example, two public workshops in the Bradford Beck area provided an opportunity for a total of 28 participants to vote for (or not) each of the six themes proposed by the pilot steering group. More generally, public interest was highest for issues that were relevant to them and locally focused, which led some pilots to rethink early drafts of plans which were considered too strategic and ‘nebulous’.
The most significant role played by public dialogue was in the identification and prioritisation of issues. The list of possible river-related issues that could be tackled within catchments was often overwhelming and public opinion could provide a useful steer in terms of areas for focus. Where core stakeholders did early work on drafting themes or key issues to address through the catchment management plan, workshops with wider stakeholders and members of the public were used as a forum to test their assumptions and to add to their work. Early work that was directly with the public could also provide information to give a useful starting point for wider planning, providing a neutral ‘outside opinion’ that stakeholders with different priorities could agree upon.
However, the main focus of the project was learning about the relevance of the public dialogue approach in catchment-based management planning, rather than gaining direct public and community input on the topics of water quality and management. 
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Influence on policy and policy makers
The outcomes from the public dialogue project fed into Defra’s policy framework “Catchment Based Approach: Improving the quality of our water environment – A policy framework to encourage the wider adoption of an integrated Catchment Based Approach to improving the quality of our water environment”, which was published in May 2013. This is an initial framework to facilitate different ways of working towards a better water environment. It sets out a range of ideas about some of the opportunities Defra sees for such ways of working. The framework is designed to support local action. Much of what is described sets out the ‘bridge’ between local actions and the much larger scale actions described in River Basin Management Plans. The project fed in ideas and experience on engaging stakeholders and the public, and these are reflected in the framework which includes, among the key ways of working:
- Using expert facilitation to help catchment partnerships address a range of issues for collaborative working including stakeholder identification and analysis, and engaging with members of the public.
- Engaging with members of the public around strategic (e.g. plan making) and local activities (e.g. sampling) as appropriate to objectives. 
The Catchment Based Approach was launched as a wider national programme by Defra on 3 June 2013, building on the experience and learning from the pilot projects. The experience from the pilots provided the evidence to support the focus of the approach on ‘working together to agree on common objectives and implement solutions’ and recognising that ‘it is important that those involved establish structures and processes that support collaborative working, ensure all voices are heard and help to build trust’.
The project built on previous guidance for water-catchment-based management that framed public engagement largely in terms of consultation. The new policy framework and guidance following this project provides a much wider range of activities and experiences to more deeply involve the public in the development of plans and prioritisation of issues for implementation. 
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The case study observed the following lessons.
What worked well
Most pilots involved some public engagement and there was a wide range of activities completed, including workshops, social media, pop-up events, online surveys and questionnaires, films, catchment walkovers, consultation, and work with local schools. Pop-up workshops by Tidal Thames, the River Story project by the Bristol and Avon catchment, and Agreement meetings in Bradford Beck were all especially good.
Positive aspects of the public engagement in the pilots included the extent of public engagement, the wide range of activities undertaken, good examples of innovation and best practice, and some examples of public engagement having significant influence.
One example of innovation was the development, by the Douglas catchment pilot, of a gaming approach that could be taken around a variety of venues such as pubs, community events, and supermarkets. This fun, highly visual approach allowed the pilot to hold short, focused discussions with many small groups and individuals by presenting issues and asking participants to prioritise them using a mobile board with moveable cards.
More generally, the public dialogue work was seen to have contributed to improving the design and delivery of engagement events (which were better structured and organised, and pilots got more out of them), ensuring outputs from the engagement (e.g. terms of reference and the catchment plan), understanding of the issues in the catchment, and providing an independent voice (to provide perspective and bounce ideas off). 
What worked less well
The level of public response was often lower than hoped for, partly due to a lack of focus in some engagement activities. There was also sometimes a lack of clarity about the objectives and purpose of public engagement, including who to engage with. Generally, public engagement was limited because of lack of time and (less so) lack of money, the size of the areas and populations covered by the pilots, and difficulties in reaching certain publics.
There was relatively little (although some) influence on plans, although there were other benefits such as volunteering, transparency, awareness, and the potential for later influence. The low level of influence may have been because, although a wide range of public engagement activities were undertaken, only a relatively small minority involved deliberation. Others tended to be information provision through activities such as stalls at events, site visits, and river walkovers.
There were also challenges of using public knowledge in WFD processes, partly because there was a lack of correlation between the focus and design of public engagement and the specifics of the WFD. The ability of the pilots and catchment initiatives to address this was limited, reflecting the relatively low level of capacity for public engagement in many pilots.
Some pilots did not feel that public engagement was a priority – and that the focus should be on institutional stakeholders in the initial parts of the process. The successes of some pilots and catchment initiatives indicate that the two are complementary. 
 Sciencewise (2013) “Water Quality and Sustainability: Case Study” Sciencewise-ERC
 Sciencewise (2017) “Water Quality and Sustainability” (ONLINE) Available at: https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20170110132650/http://www.sciencewise-erc.org.uk/cms/water-quality-and-sustainability/
 Cascade (2013) “Evaluation of the catchment based approach pilot stage: Appendix 1: Review of public engagement”, Cascade Consulting, June 2013
 Dialogue by Design (2013) “Support to catchment pilots- facilitation and resources for community participation, learning report”, Dialogue by design, April 2013