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

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Wasting True Believers in Greywater

I indicated in previous postings a few reasons why I left the Oregon experience in graywater. At the first meeting, the Oregon DEQ staff attempted to indicate that the advisory group process was going to follow a consensus-based approach to deciding upon what topics were important to the rules and regulations governing graywater reuse. But it was obvious from the onset that the DEQ had a pretty good idea of how they wanted the program to go given their debate over some of the words in HB 2080, including, but not limited to, issues of beneficial "use" versus "purpose" and what "disposal" really meant, almost reminiscent of the famous debate over what "is" is.

With that said, it was clear that the DEQ approach was going to follow the traditional "Tech-Reg" model defined by the Three I's of involving the public - Invite, Inform, and Ignore as discussed by conflict resolution scholars Steve Daniels and Gregg Walker. At first I thought I might be overly sensitive with this assessment, so I invited a colleague to sit in on the first part of a subsequent meeting and they agreed with my assessment. And the group had not really started working on any of the hard stuff yet!

According to Judith Innes and David Booher in their 2010 book titled "Planning with Complexity: An Introduction to Collaborative Rationality for Public Policy", the assessment was not off-base.  They indicate "One of the main challenges is that public agencies and public officials tend to operate on the assumption that they have the prerogative and obligation to make their own autonomous decisions. They often do not talk to one another about problems, even when their activities intersect...This tendency, which is clearly at odds with collaboration, is linked to the dominance of instrumental rationality - the ideal of goal directed behavior guided by experts and designed to fit the 'right' policy....we end up with Decide, Announce, Defend syndrome (DAD), which wreaks havoc on public engagement with decision making".

Back to Steve Daniels and Gregg Walker in their important 2001 book "Working through Environmental Conflict: The Collaborative Learning Approach" where they say "Collaboration may allow the discovery of shared values, but only if the participants 'walk the talk'. If agency personnel or community leaders convene a process, it will not be adequate to merely decree that it is collaborative; rather collaborative behaviors will have to be modeled by the conveners, encouraged by the process, and discouraged by group norms and behaviors".

Some members of the Graywater Advisory Committee felt things were going awry a few months back and contacted the administrators of Oregon DEQ, among others, to voice their displeasure with the process. On March 26, I received the following email from Neil Mullane, one of the department heads at Oregon DEQ: "....As with all committees, DEQ is committed to an open and transparent process in which the viewpoints of all Graywater Advisory Committee members can be openly shared and discussed. Periodically, it is worthwhile to step back from the normal technical and policy discussions and assess the effectiveness of the committee to communicate, function, and meet its goals. Consequently, DEQ requests that each committee member fill out the following survey...You’ll notice that the survey is being administered by Linda West, who is not on our committee. Linda works for the Department of Revenue and is a state facilitator".

A facilitator from the Department of Revenue?? You know something is wrong with this picture when the Department of Revenue is profiled as the "pit bull of a debt collector" by Oregonian columnist Steve Duin  who chronicled the trials and tribulations of a homeless person named Jimmy Leroy Grazier who was attacked, needed five stitches, and then was billed nearly $5,000 by the Oregon Health and Science University. While I am certain the facilitator for the Department of Revenue is a competent and nice person, it was clear there was no "complementary interest" with the decision to use an "in-house" facilitator.

And that was the tipping point for me as a member of the Graywater Advisory Committee. Why a state facilitator when, as stated in previous postings, Process is an Oregon export, just like their world class Pinot Noir, Potato Chips, and Pears? The Oregon Way for planning has lead to expertise in Process at the large state universities, including the Oregon Consensus Program at Portland State University, the Program in Water Conflict Management and Transformation at Oregon State University, and the Appropriate Dispute Resolution Center at the University of Oregon. And yet, Oregon DEQ elected to "waste" these resources and ignore Oregon's legacy in process made famous by former governors John Kitzhaber and Michael Leavitt through Enlibra. What a pity.

Judith Innes and David Booher offer another framework based on their many years of experience with much more "wicked" water problems such as CAL-FED. They offer the Diversity, Interdependence, Authentic Dialogue (DIAD) for collaborative rationality. The condition of diversity includes "...agents who are 'deal makers' or 'deal breakers', but also those who have needed information or could be affected by outcomes". Interdependence "...holds that agents must depend to a significant degree on the other agents in a reciprocal way - each agent has something others want". Authentic dialogue "...requires that agents must engage with each other on a shared task...the deliberations must be characterized by engagement...so that they can mutually assure that their claims are legitimate, accurate, comprehensible, and sincere. The deliberations must be inclusive of all major interests and knowledge".

They go on to say that "Many examples of processes are called 'collaboration' fail to meet the conditions of authentic dialogue.  They may not be self-organizing but controlled by their conveners to preclude specific topics...Or they may not maintain ideal speech conditions...because they do not have the expertise to do this...".

What I observed in the Oregon greywater experience was a lack of diversity since most of the members were from the wastewater industry. Given this membership, the interdependence seemingly hinged on who needed permits from the Oregon DEQ or worked as sister agencies to DEQ. Authentic dialogue was not inclusive of those who did not feel that greywater was not a looming threat to "protecting the public" and the "silent voices" and "multiple ways of knowing" that are so important to decision making based on science as described by Portland State University Professor Connie Ozawa.

In my opinion, the DEQ's emphasis on permits and the advisory committee's restrictive approach to greywater reuse will lead to graywater rules that will be Dead on Arrival (DOA) just like the Wisconsin graywater program. Wisconsin's greywater rules recently underwent reconsideration as outlined in previous postings because of how restrictive they were.  The change in the Wisconsin approach has lead to new partnerships between the universities and private industry - it appears that their "fresh" look at greywater may be creating badly needed jobs. Oregon has this opportunity, too, as our new friends from Australia start work in Eugene.

But it is not the first time "true believers" were wasted by Oregon.


  1. I keep running into this...the DEQ says they will be open to discussion, ideas, innovation...they will be transparent....but then I also hear individual staff members bash the Oregon land use system, not understanding obviously, that the land use system in Oregon is about process - The Oregon Way. The DEQ has not learned from the experiences or embraced the power of the Oregon Way because that means they don't get THEIR way.

  2. OWT: Thanks for your comments. As we have observed elsewhere in Oregon where the *process* is trampled, the agencies get *trampled* with push back and peer reviews funded by spaghetti dinners. I appreciate your assessment.

  3. In the spaghetti dinner case, I'm not sure that's correct, when I looked at the website for the process they followed (available online), there were something like six or seven hearings of hours at a time where people could get up and say their bit. And there were revisions of the proposals that were coming out. Of course in big gladiator settings like that, I have to wonder if some of the folks who came were intimidated out of saying their bit. And in those cases, the intimidation can come from both sides. That is ultimate cause for complaint: if the competing interests in a situation are so violent that people don't feel free to speak.

  4. OWT:

    Silent voices start cooking the spaghetti. Thanks.