2. A Conversation during an Athenian Drought
- Things are getting worse, the wells are drying up, crops are failing, and conflicts over access to the cisterns still holding water are increasing. Something needs to be done.
- Might I suspect that you favor some bold, ambitious plan?
- Of course. You recall how Peisistratos responded to earlier water shortages by constructing his aqueduct that filled the fountains of the Acropolis. Why are we not considering similar responses today?
- Because he was only able to achieve such a system by imposing severe taxes on his subjects. Surely you are not proposing that we sacrifice our Athenian democracy simply to increase water supplies. You must know that the empowered citizens of today’s Athens are loathe to fund such autocratic endeavors.
- But such ambitious responses need not be autocratic. Even though the citizens are fixed in the shadows1, so to speak, ignorant of the real options to manage current water shortages, I am confident that someone driven by the quest for the pure drought management option2 could identify the correct response that would truly benefit the polis.
- It sounds like you would consider the role of Officer of the Fountains to be one fit for your ideal Philosopher-King3.
- I would, and that seems to be consistent with the way our democracy is heading. I have seen your notes for your pending treatise on the Athenian Democracy where you document how the position of Officer of the Fountains is no longer filled by lot4.
- Indeed, but as much as we cannot let a small group of recalcitrant citizens, based on self-interest alone, reject any collective action to respond to the drought, we must also avoid the temptation to cede all authority to a small group of the elite. You know my views on the importance of a strong middle-class5. That group must ultimately arbitrate the merits of any response to the current drought.
- That sounds to me like a recipe for paralysis. Surely something as important as the management of water during these dry times warrants ceding control to those with the knowledge and experience to discover the correct course of action6.
- I am not sure that the Officer of the Fountains alone could identify such a correct course of action when each citizen brings to the decision his or her own desires and passions. Better to engage the polis in the process of deliberating on what to do. Such a process might not yield the universally perfect drought response, but it might yield something that could practically be implemented7. In addition, there is the issue of uncertainty surrounding this decision. How do we know if the drought will persist or the rains return?
- Uncertainty is indeed tricky. While some would accuse me of being an absolutist in my pursuit for the truth, be it in terms of the proper drought response or any other issue confronting the polis, I am cognizant of my unfortunate friend Socrates who recognized the wisdom of acknowledging what he did not know8.
- It seems then that perhaps you should be willing to ascribe similar wisdom regarding the unknown and uncertain to the Officer of the Fountain. Adhering to an absolute version of the true drought response is not reasonable9. Can you defer to the deliberations of the middle class?
- I cannot. The issue of how to navigate the current drought is simply too important to the survival of the polis to be left to the middle class. I adhere to my conviction that in this case the Officer of the Fountain must indeed by granted the authority of a Philosopher-King. Given the gravity of the situation and import of our response, it would seem that we are not of a like mind as to how best to respond.
- So it seems. Let us hope it rains soon, and if it does not let us hope that our political deliberation, in whatever from it takes, leads to a decision. Doing nothing does not seem like a viable option.
- 1In the Allegory of the Cave (Republic, VII 514 a, 2 to 517 a, 7) Plato wrote of individuals chained in a cave, convinced that the shadows on the wall in front of them are reality. He goes on to speculate how someone freed from the cave would come to see both (i) the real world, he would be able to view the things themselves, the beings, instead of the dim reflections and (ii) his or her responsibility to those remaining in the cave because If he again recalled his first dwelling, and the “knowing" that passes as the norm there, and the people with whom he once was chained, don’t you think he would consider himself lucky and, by contrast, feel sorry for them? 2In his Theory of Forms, Plato (Republic 477a-478e) asserts that there is a difference between knowledge (epistémé) and doxa, translated as opinion. Knowledge is infallible—you cannot know what is false. Opinion, however, can be mistaken. So opinion cannot be knowledge. As Plato applies the Theory of Forms to all things and ideas, he would argue that knowledge about the perfect drought response existed to be discovered. 3Plato (Republic V.473c11-d6) asserts that those with the ability to distinguish between knowledge and opinion should be endowed with authority because unless philosophers become kings or those whom we now call kings and rulers philosophize and there is a conjunction of political power and philosophy there can be no cessation of evils. While there is some debate as to whether Plato felt that all decision should be under the purview of his Philosopher-King, or simply the constitutional decisions, he does make reference to laws and institutions, which are related to the implementation of a constitution, stating that knowledge of what justice is, which requires knowledge of the definition of its essence (form), will in some cases improve judgments about how far possible or actual laws or institutions are just (Republic VI.484cd, VII.520cd). Major water management decisions would seem to be one such case. 4From Aristotle (Athenaion Politeia, 43.1) we learn that among the leadership positions on the Athenian Democracy, the Officer of Fountains was one of the few that were elected by vote whereas most other officers were chosen by lot; so important was this position within the governance system of classical Athens. As such, the citizens of the Athenian Democracy seemed to have already identified the need for a “professional” class of water managers. 5Aristotle (Politics 1296b-1297a 4.12) argues that a large and strong middle class is essential to the stability of a democracy as a stabilizing force against the conflict between the autocratic elite and the disgruntled masses. He writes that the lawgiver in his constitution must always take in the middle class and that everywhere it is the arbitrator that is most trusted, and the man in the middle is an arbitrator. The assumption here is that Plato would not agree that this middle class possessed the sort of training that he ascribed to his Philosopher-King. 6Plato (Republic, Book 6, lines 487d-488e), describing the state of affairs aboard a ship at sea, writes that sailors have no idea that the true navigator must study the seasons of the year, the sky, the stars, the winds and all the other subjects appropriate to his profession if he is to be really fit to control a ship. The inference is that the true captain is in a better position to steer the “Ship of State”. 7Aristotle who wrote that sensation, reason and desire all contribute to action, stressed the difference between scientific knowledge and practical wisdom. Of the latter he wrote (Nicomachean Ethic, Book VI) it is concerned with things human and things about which it is possible to deliberate; for we say this is above all the work of the man of practical wisdom, to deliberate well. Nor is practical wisdom concerned with universals only-it must also recognize the particulars; for it is practical, and practice is concerned with particulars. This suggests that unlike Plato, Aristotle would not expect that a perfect, context independent, drought response to be available to be discovered. 8In his recounting of the trial of his mentor (Apology 21d), Plato suggested that in describing one of his accusers Socrates said I am wiser than this man; for neither of us really knows anything fine and good, but this man thinks he knows something when he does not, whereas I, as I do not know anything, do not think I do either. I seem, then, in just this little thing to be wiser than this man at any rate, that what I do not know I do not think I know either. 9Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethic, Book I) acknowledged uncertainty in the setting of public policy by stating that we must therefore be content if, in dealing with subjects and starting from premises thus uncertain, we succeed in presenting a broad outline of the truth: when our subjects and our premises are merely generalities, it is enough if we arrive at generally valid conclusions for it is the mark of an educated mind to expect that amount of exactness in each kind which the nature of the particular subject admits.
3. Implications for Water Management for the 21st Century
An analysis which fails to appreciate the concern for regret and ambiguity is likely to violate the decision maker’s preferences. Therefore we must work to devise methods for incorporating such psychological variables into the decision analysis, despite the aesthetic and practical complications that will arise when utilities and preferences are context-dependent.[Emphasis added]
- Returning to the XLRM scoping exercise after determining that the performance of the identified strategies is too poor.
- Returning to the XLRM scoping exercise after determining that the vulnerabilities of the identified strategies are too high.
- Returning to the XLRM scoping exercise after determining that the tradeoffs among the identified strategies are too extreme.
- Define decision space. River basin management decisions do not typically take place in a vacuum, rather they emerge from a legacy of prior discussions and decisions. In this step, a thorough review of past reports and plans, as well as interviews with key decision makers, are used to document what broadly defines the decision space, focusing on the legal, regulatory, political, or financial factors that motivate the decision-making process. If there are no such motivating factors present, it may be hard to initiate the RDS practice.
- Map key actors. Once the motivating factors for a decision are understood, the next step involves administering a survey designed to identify which stakeholders should be invited and encouraged to participate in the RDS process, and to define the sorts of information, experiences, and perspectives they will bring to the process. The results are used to produce a map of social networks that highlight potential conflicts and coalitions, as well as a plan to encourage the contribution of information and insights to the process.
- Problem formulation. Once the key stakeholders are convened, a workshop is held to develop a first version of the XLRM matrix framing the decision making challenge. This workshop begins with a session designed to articulate key planning uncertainties, many of which are not contentious. All interest groups, for example, can usually agree that climate change is an uncertainty that has the potential to impact outcomes related to any individual stakeholder desire. This exercise serves to create common purpose amongst disparate stakeholders. The next session focuses on the particular strategies that each stakeholder favors in order to improve outcomes. This discussion can be quite contentious as many stakeholders strongly oppose strategies being offered by others, so no judgement can be cast on any particular strategy suggested at this point. This exercise serves to encourage respect amongst the stakeholders. The final session is the most important, as it focuses on the definition of the distinct metrics of performance that each stakeholder will use to evaluate the outcome of each strategy identified, their own preferred strategy as well as those offered by others. These metrics should be independent of any particular strategy, leaving open the possibility that a strategy proposed by one stakeholder might actually improve outcomes in terms of the metrics defined by another. This is the basis of tradeoff analysis and compromise.
- Tool construction. Once the problem formulation is complete, work can begin to assemble the analytical tools (R) required to capture the articulated uncertainties (X), represent the identified management options (L), and produce the desired metrics of performance (M). In this step, it is important to assure that the analytical tool responds fully to the stakeholder-driven problem formulation. Failure to do so will degrade the creditability of the tool itself while success will further the commitment to knowledge co-creation amongst the participants. This is critical in order to avoid the model as a “black box” outcome that can lead to all too common and unproductive model critiques that divert attention from the real task of balancing the distinct values held by each stakeholder.
- Scenario definition. Once an acceptable analytical tool is developed, a set of scenarios based on the articulated planning uncertainties must be defined in order to construct an ensemble of model runs spanning possible future conditions. This entails defining plausible future ranges for each uncertainty, and here the stakeholders must be involved. The goal is to define endmembers that the stakeholders feel would both stress the system and be easily handled, and to then populate the intervening space with a series of discrete intermediate assumptions. The ensemble of scenarios is constructed by implementing a full combinatorial sorting of each discrete condition associated with each articulated uncertainty.
- System vulnerability. Once an ensemble of scenarios is constructed it is run supposing that current management regimes are maintained. This Business as Usual case is critical to the RDS practice as it allows for an assessment of the baseline vulnerability of the current system in the face of the articulated uncertainties. In fact, the second stakeholder workshop in the RDS practice involves exploring the modeled values for the stakeholder-defined metrics of performance for each member of the scenario ensemble under current management in order to co-create an assessment of the potential vulnerability of the existing system. The discussion of stakeholder preferences in the absence of any analysis of the performance of any particular management options is critical in order to avoid the case where each constituency locks on to the strategy that will produce the best outcome with respect to their particular metric of performance, typically the one they suggested. This workshop also includes the definition of performance thresholds for each stakeholder preference corresponding to the minimum acceptable and maximum aspiration levels.
- Option analysis. Only once the vulnerability assessment is complete, and the sideboards of “could live with” and “would love to have” thresholds are defined for each stakeholder’s individual desires, is the ensemble run again to include representations of the current formulation of the stakeholder-proposed management options.
- Results exploration. When only the Business as Usual case is run, the model ensemble contains a single run for each scenario constructed, each run producing model output associated with each stakeholder-defined metric of performance. The model output database produced from option analysis doubles in size with each proposed management strategy considered. As such, the use of innovative, interactive data visualization tools to explore the outcome space defined by the desired metrics of performance for each combination of articulated uncertainties and identified management options is critical to the success of the RDS practice. This exploration is carried out in close collaboration with key stakeholders in order to promote the creation of shared knowledge and insights about the system and potential outcomes that allow the discussion to focus on the particular values held by each participant and not of the merits of the analytical tools themselves.
- Decision support. Based on the shared insights developed through the participatory exploration of the ensemble model output database, the performance of specific management options can be evaluated relative to the Business as Usual base case and to each other. Using the model results related to metrics of performance of particular interest to each stakeholder, the participants can decide to either reformulate the problem (refine uncertainties, and/or modify existing or propose new management options), leading to the reformulation of the XLRM matrix and the initiation of a new analytical cycle. Eventually, if the process is successful, broad acceptance of a preferred set of options is achieved. Experience with the RDS practice suggests that, following the vulnerability assessment step, it is useful to first configure the set of model runs to represent in isolation the distinct management options suggested by each stakeholder. The results typically suggest that while the strategy will improve outcomes in terms of the particular metrics of performance proposed by that stakeholder, it will have negligible or negative impacts on the metrics of performance proposed by the other. This typically leads to a negotiation focused on defining integrated programs of action that combine key features of several of the distinct strategies originally offered by the participants. The subsequent evaluation of the ensemble output associated with these integrated programs typically leads to the definition of a preferred program of action.
4. Implementing the RDS Practice in the Andes
5. Implementing the RDS Practice in California
6. Discussion and Potential Limitations
- The process is time-consuming, with experience suggesting that the entire process can take anywhere between 9 and 18 months to complete, depending on data availability and system complexity. Participants need to be aware of the time commitment from the outset.
- In addition to being time consuming, the RDS practice requires the sustained participation of the stakeholders in the process. Each workshop is designed to continue the construction of the shared conceptual model that allows the complex data visualizations to be understood and useful. The process is severely hampered by the representatives of the various stakeholder constituencies dropping in or out. This risk should be made clear at the outset.
- There is no guarantee that a consensus preferred program of action that emerges from the RDS process will be optimal in the classic sense of the word as the strategies that are considered are limited by the imagination and creativity of the participants. That said, if the participants each maintain their own value-specific definitions of what constitutes a successful outcome, and agree to a common preferred program of action, there is a high likelihood that it will at least avoid being Pareto sub-optimal.
- Only human beings can directly participate in the RDS process, so the environment will always be a silent party to the negotiations. If the interests of the environment are not being actively defended in the RDS process, there is a risk that the consensus preferred program of actions will not be environmentally sustainable. This is why the active participation of environmental organizations in the RDS process is vital.
- There is always the possibility that some stakeholder or stakeholder constituency will emerge at the end of the process, claiming that they were not involved in the development of the consensus preferred program of action and that they are not in favor of its implementation. Avoiding this eventuality is the reason why the decisions space definition and key actor mapping steps must be taken seriously.
- There always exists the possibility that the participating stakeholders will not be able or define a consensus preferred program of action. While this has yet to occur in any of the roughly ten RDS exercises the research team has implemented in California, Latin America, Africa, and Asia, were it to occur there might be a temptation to characterize the decision space as a wicked problem . Wicked problems generally require authoritarian responses, although it could be argued that a failed RDS process would aid in discovering that requirement, making the eventual implementation of a decision by fiat more politically acceptable.
Now if once again, along with those who had remained shackled there, the freed person had to engage in the business of asserting and maintaining opinions about the shadows…would he not be exposed to ridicule down there?
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|X (Exogenous Factors/Uncertainties)||L (Levers/Management Strategies)|
|Climate change and variability|
Increased per capita demand
Changes in water allocation priority
Expanded agricultural production.
3 new urban system expansion plans
Conservation of bofedales
Reduced urban distribution losses
Reduced agricultural distribution losses
|R (Relationships/Model)||M (Metrics of Performance)|
|Cordillera Real Model (in WEAP)||Urban water demand satisfaction|
Agricultural water demand satisfaction
Total system losses
Reservoir storage levels
|X (Exogenous Factors/Uncertainties)||L (Levers/Management Strategies)|
|Climate change |
|Current system |
12 Yuba IRWMP projects
|R (Relationships/Model)||M (Metrics of Performance)|
|Yuba Model (in WEAP)||Ecological|
|Survey Questions||Responses from Bolivia Case Study||Responses from Yuba Case Study|
|Was the exercise useful?||Yes||Yes|
|How was it useful in extracting valuable information?||The visualization platform was invaluable to our group’s efforts to evaluate the complex quantitative data produced during the RDS ensemble analysis. It helped move us from being overwhelmed to comprehension and gave important insights regarding future conditions and the efficacy of various water management projects.|
|How was the visualization useful in your future management design?||The visualization platform was transformative to our water planning process. We initially started down the well-worn path of traditional water management planning. Following established guidelines, we seemed bound to write yet another formulaic plan that would define desired outcomes for our region and then propose, rank, and elicit funding for the subset of projects that appeared most likely to help achieve our desired outcomes. The visualization techniques allowed us to move beyond conventional wisdom and recognize that the projects included in our plan would likely not get us to where we needed to be as a region. Based on this experience, our group plans to fund a project that would internalize these techniques to our formal planning process.|
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