Participatory values-based risk management for the water sector
Water planning and management are faced with increasing levels of uncertainty, complexity and conflict. Multiple decision makers and managers, legislative requirements, competing interests, scarcity of resources, deskilling of management agencies and large uncertainties about the future in a more connected and rapidly changing world, are all drivers for the need to develop improved approaches to aid decision making in the water sector. This paper proposes a "participatory valuesbased risk management approach", designed to help to make uncertainties explicit, structure complexity in more understandable forms, increase collaboration and manage conflict. The approach will be explained through a case study example: the creation of the Lower Hawkesbury Estuary Management Plan in NSW, Australia. This process, driven by local government, included three interactive stakeholder workshops based on stages of a generalised "participatory modelling process to aid decision making" and the Australian and New Zealand Standard for Risk Management (AS/NZS 4360:2004), as well as an external scientific and legislative review. A range of stakeholders from state and local governments, the water authority, local industries, community associations and residents took part in the process stages of: "initial context establishment" including the definition of estuarine values, issues and current management practices; "risk assessment" based on the stakeholder defined values (assets) and issues (risks); and "strategy formulation" to treat the highly prioritised risks as input to the estuary management action (or "risk response" plan). As the plan has not been finalised or implemented, the external process effectiveness can not yet be properly gauged. However, preliminary evaluation results appear to demonstrate that the process is efficient from time and budgetary perspectives and has a number of other potential benefits which will be outlined in this paper. Other lessons learnt and possible suggestions for best-practice when using such an approach in future water sector applications will also be highlighted.