Collaborative Versus Technocratic Policymaking: California's Statewide Water Plan
Abstract. The growing use of collaboration as a tool to resolve policy disputes has spawned a debate among researchers around its efficacy and efficiency. Few studies so far have directly compared collaborative with more traditional planning methods. This research project does so, looking at one of a growing number of collaborative processes occurring in the field of water policy planning in California. It compares the outcomes of the most recent version of the California Water Plan, produced collaboratively, with the previous version, produced more traditionally by in-house staff with the aid of an advisory committee. The study considers not only the resulting plans, but, through interviews with participants, attempts to assess less tangible outcomes such as increases in social and intellectual capital and institutional change. Staff of the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) completed the earlier plan in 1998 through a relatively traditional process, developing the document with public input solicited through hearings and an agency-led advisory committee. The 1998 plan was completed on time, satisfied the bulk of legal requirements, and quantitatively evaluated several policy options. However, a lack of transparency led many stakeholders to question DWR’s analysis, and environmental advocates criticized the plan for relying too heavily on dam construction rather than conservation. For the subsequent plan completed in 2005, DWR hired professional facilitators who led 65 stakeholders through 200 meetings and workshops over five years in an effort to identify consensus recommendations. The 2005 plan was completed two years late, failed to meet certain legal requirements, and fell short of quantitatively evaluating its policy recommendations. However, the 2005 plan reflects a much more complex (and arguably more accurate) understanding of California’s water challenges and opportunities. The 2005 process also appears to have hastened an evolution of DWR’s institutional culture toward greater transparency and interagency cooperation, opened doors for previously marginalized stakeholder groups, and improved the agency’s working relationships with the public. As for other less tangible outcomes, participants of both processes reported increases in social and intellectual capital, although they tended to see more extensive increases in the later process.