A non-partisan, neutral perspective supporting diversity in the color of water

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Greywater Gauntlet

In 1973, political scientists Rittel and Weber coined the term “wicked” for planning problems that have uncertain boundaries, defy absolute solutions, and can be a symptom of larger problems. In 2001, conflict resolution scholar Peter Adler indicated that disputes over water are “...often large in scale, broad in impacts, and laden with values that are at odds with each other. They are emotional to both ‘conscience’ and ‘beneficiary constituents’. At issue in many cases are matters of culture, economics, justice, health, risk, power, uncertainty, and professional, bureaucratic, and electoral politics.”

Much to my surprise, the rulemaking process for greywater reuse in Oregon has become a "wicked water problem".  And that leads to this long posting.

The activities of the Graywater Advisory Group fit into what I would refer to as a typical track for negotiations over a wicked water problem.  The diagram above is from a chapter on water negotiations in this book that Aaron Wolf and I prepared at the invitation of the Stockholm International Water Institute.  The diagram is patterned after Dr. Wolf's approach to helping countries negotiate over water issues using his Four Worlds Framework and the 4i Framework developed by social psychologist Mark Van Vugt in his recent article Triumph of the commons: Helping the world to share.

Aaron Wolf's Four World framework is based upon the work of Jay Rothman who developed the “ARIA” framework for the negotiator’s toolkit. The ARIA Framework focuses on a process of Antagonism, Resonance, Invention, and Action. Antagonism brings out the problem that has been festering and the anger so that it puts them out for discussion. Resonance is the process of emerging harmony brought forth by the deep learning and speaking of what is going on within each disputant. Inventing is the process of brainstorming mutually acceptable options for addressing the conflict. Action builds upon the previous stages by focusing on the implementation of “what” should be done and “why”, by “whom”, and “how” it will be completed.

Wolf determined that comparable processes exist in transforming water conflicts. He compares the many faith traditions where our relationship to the world can be experienced through four types of perception: physical, emotional, knowing and spiritual. I recognized that the core motive influencing decision making, or 4i framework as proposed van Vugt, can be paired with the Four Worlds model to show what motivates decision making.

For the past few meetings of the Graywater Advisory Committee, we have been immersed in the Adverserial stage.  This is not surprising given that few of the participants know each other, and that trust building is an important part of this stage.  The kitchen sink wastewater situation described in previous postings describe the adversarial discussions over "threats", "risk", physical "safety", and "institutional" positions to "protect the public".

In preparation of the March 2010 meeting, the facilitator and chair assigned tasks to be completed by "working groups". This could be interpreted as the "deep learning" phase of the graywater situation, or Stage II in the Four Worlds framework where skills building in collaboration become honed. This is where information from the assigned working groups would be shared and information would serve as the motive for decision making.  In the 4i framework of van Vugt, information gathering promotes listening by each party and joint fact finding. Van Vugt indicates that with better information, parties face less uncertainty and can move towards making more sustainable choices.

Unfortunately, the agenda had been changed by our guides with DEQ unbenownst to the different working groups, so the time-consuming, thoughtful work that the groups had invested in their assigned tasks could not be shared.  This was an unfortunate occurrence because one group was assigned to develop a review of the California rules to serve as a "single text negotiating" (STN) document for discussion.  Students of environmental negotiation acknowledge the STN as one of the more effective approaches to securing consent on process and content - the UN Commission on the Law of the Sea is perhaps the most famous example of the STN approach to environmental negotiation.  The meeting devolved back to the adverserial stage and that is where it will restart in April.

But even with the abrupt change in the agenda, our friends and new neighbors Just Water Savers USA were given 10 minutes to describe the "Australian" experience with greywater.  The Australain story sounds like what Wolf describes as Stage III in the Four Worlds framework, where greywater reusers have moved to thinking about the problem-solving capabilities that are inherent to most groups which begins to foster creative, cooperative solutions. Van Vugt (2009) indicates that incentives are the motivators for appealing to people’s desires to enhancing themselves through seeking pleasure and avoiding pain.  Just Water Savers LLC indicated that the Australian government(s) many times offer economic incentives to citizens purchasing greywater systems and equipment. I think it will be awhile before the Graywater Advisory Committee makes it to this point, but based on what our guides with DEQ indicated at the last meeting, time's a wastin - we now need to be done by August (new schedule).

Finally, one of the members of the public made an articulate, passionate statement about the importance of the Graywater Advisory Committee work, and the importance of graywater reuse in general, again shoved into just the few remaining minutes of the meeting.  Here we were introduced to Stage IV of the Four Worlds framework where the collaborative learning emphasis focuses on capacity-building, primarily of institutions. At first glance, it would seem that the core motive influencing decision making under van Vugt's 4i framework are "institutions". But van Vugt indicates that identity works towards action by connecting groups of competitors to move towards action. Van Vugt indicates it is important to create superordinate identities by thinking of ways to “blur group boundaries” by referencing "we are all in this together".  This knowledgeable citizen's comments, encouragement, and vision about greywater reuse and how it fits into the big picture are consistent with Governor Kulongoski's vision of the Willamette River described as the Oregon Legacy, where the plan is to "Repair, Restore, Recreate” and look beyond the river just as a "working river" for our waste disposal.

Collaborative and cooperative learning within groups takes time.  In my experience in working within collaborative governance situations in the western US, two years is about the norm to get the "tasks" done. But perhaps our guides recognize that time is of the essence with some "grand greywater schemes" planned for Oregon where greywater will be doing some heavy lifting with respect to water supplies.  I hope the changed conditions are not a prelude to Greywatergate.

Next posting will be on Post-modern Protect the Public Paradigm....

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