Deliberative tools for meeting the challenges of water planning in Australia
Australian governments have set an ambitious policy agenda for reform. By 2010, water plans were to have provided for the return of all overallocated or overused systems to environmentally sustainable levels of extraction, however, many communities do not yet have full confidence in water plans or their processes. In two national research projects we developed practical tools for transparent and engaging processes to build confidence in water planning. We observe that inherent politicised risks in water planning mean that current methods of public participation, such as information giving and allowing written submissions, are ‘safer’ and more easily managed. The next article in this special issue sets out the methodology including performance indicators for the tools that we used in the research. To demonstrate their role in building community confidence using best available science we trialled tools which included agent-based participatory modelling, deliberative multi-criteria evaluation, social impact assessment, and groundwater visualisation models. The suite of ‘good-practice’ tools, including Indigenous engagement, is fully described in the following articles of this special issue. Evaluations show deliberative processes have much to offer when applied to questions that have been developed collaboratively and formulated carefully to allow implementation of findings. Interactive tools and those which have high visual impact are consistently rated highly by all sectors of the community, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, and also by water planners. These results have implications for water planning internationally especially where science is contested, social values are uncertain, and communities are diverse. âº Disputes over groundwater effectively managed with independent experts and visual interactive tools. âº Identification of societal values in environmental water assets supports good decisions. âº Deliberation used to achieve consensus and shift entrenched views on water. âº Transparency in trade-offs for water plans enabled by surveys and multi-criteria analysis. âº Indigenous and intergenerational interests need better integration into water decisions.