3.1.1. Participatory Session 1: Understanding the Water Governance Situation
The first participatory session focused on developing systemic awareness of the current water governance situation by exploring the participants’ experiences using rich pictures. Systemic awareness, an awareness of the situation as a whole, comes from exploring and understanding cycles, counter-intuitive effects and unintended consequences. The process of developing systemic awareness begins with ’standing back’ and resisting pressures to rush towards a preconceived solution by exploring (or re-exploring) the wider context of a situation using tools and techniques that encourage divergent thinking, such as rich pictures [24
Rich pictures originate from soft systems methodology [25
]. They comprise a pictorial representation of anything and everything that is perceived to be relevant to a given situation by the person (or people) who drew it. The process of collectively creating a rich picture entails both drawing and describing what is being drawn to the other participants in the group; participants should also include themselves within the rich picture to make explicit their own perspectives. The process continues until all of the participants responses have been discussed and recorded on the rich picture (see [28
] for further details).
Working together in small groups, the workshop participants created three rich pictures (one per group) depicting the main actors and elements in the current water governance situation and the relationships between them from their perspectives (e.g., Figure 1
). Subsequently, they were asked to collectively identify themes emerging from their rich pictures. Then, by facilitated discussion, the rich pictures and emergent themes from each group were talked through in plenary. The aim here was to capture their perspectives of the situation and to communicate it to others; furthermore, to start the process of thinking systemically about the problem situation, viewing it from multiple perspectives, and to initiate dialogue between the participants.
The rich pictures depict the current water governance situation as a dynamic and complex ’mess’ of actors and elements. For example, they show conflicting interests within and between different stakeholder groups, cycles of activities triggered by water crises, such as floods, droughts and pollution, as well as governance structures, and the influence of EU and national standards on water governance practices.
From the rich pictures, the participants identified 15 themes (5 per group):
Uncertainty regarding accountability (ownership) of water governance;
Lack of incentives for water/sewerage companies to consider the whole environment;
Principal aim/goal of water governance to achieve EU and national standards;
Need for a call to action; and
Disconnect between water ’managers’ and water ’users’.
Relationship between policy and regulation;
Levels of governance: local-global, top-bottom?
Communication needs to be all ways: up, down and across organisations/sectors;
Scale of systemic governance problem: global and/or local?
Leadership: who has the big picture?
Series of disconnects between actors and elements;
Local government needs an overhaul: the catchment-based approach needs legitimacy;
Current system rewards certain personality types;
Governance has a pendulum effect; and
Key to success is too narrow: leaves out social, systemic effects of EU policies, systemic relationship between soil and water, questions about the efficiency of farming system, as well as the catchment-based approach and Water Framework Directive (WFD) 2021–2027.
The process of collaboratively creating the rich pictures in small groups was effective in terms of initiating and engaging the participants in a dialogue with each other about their experiences of water governance. It enabled them to voice their own perspective and also to see water governance from a variety of different partial perspectives, as well as to appreciate and learn from the different perspectives because of the different insights into water governance that they evoked.
3.1.2. Participatory Session 2: Modelling Water Governance
The second participatory session focused explicitly on developing shared understandings by defining the participants’ system of interest (i.e., the current water governance system from their point of view) using a combination of systems maps, BATWOVE analysis and root definitions to identify the key parts of the system and to formulate a concise description of it.
Having identified themes for consideration from techniques, such as rich pictures, it is useful to identify boundaries within a system of interest and to classify components of the system within a nested set of boundaries. This process helps to develop new insights into the system from the participants’ perspectives. Systems maps, which were developed by the Open University for teaching purposes, are an important modelling technique for this purpose [24
The participants created three systems maps (one per group) identifying the actors and elements incorporated within their system of interest and those in its environment, which affect it and are affected by it (e.g., Figure 2
). The immediate aim was to define the structure and boundary of the participants’ system of interest. In doing so, the intention was to further develop the participants’ systemic awareness, working towards achieving a shared understanding of their system of interest.
The systems maps enabled the identification of the actors and elements in the water governance situation that the participants perceived to be important. By completing the systems maps, the participants were able to appreciate that few people had an overall understanding of the elements in the system (or the system as a whole) and did not always agree on where the boundaries should sit. The task also surfaced issues such as knowing the many acronyms used in the systems maps. The participants stated that they found the task challenging because it was difficult to decide what was relevant or not, but that it was worthwhile in terms of helping them to unravel the complex ’mess’ depicted in the rich pictures. Thus, although the systems maps are a simplified representation of the water governance situation, the task of constructing them implicitly developed shared understandings of the situation and served to inform subsequent tasks in the workshop.
The key to understanding any system of interest is to identify its purpose, which can be done by developing a root definition. Root definition is a part of the terminology of soft systems methodology [25
]. It is a statement that concisely describes a system of interest, and it should include mention of all of the key elements of the system. It takes the form: a system to do P (what) by Q (how) in order to achieve R (why). Various mnemonics have been suggested to help the process of formulating a root definition; BATWOVE (beneficiaries, actors, transformation, world-view, owners, victims and environmental constraints) was used in this instance because it makes explicit the beneficiaries and victims of the system.
Working together in groups, the participants identified the key parts of their system of interest from Figure 2
using the mnemonic BATWOVE and formulated three root definitions (one per group) incorporating all of the key parts (e.g., Table 2
). Subsequently, the root definitions were shared with the other workshop participants in plenary. The aim here was to provide a base from which to identify feasible and desirable changes to improve the current water governance situation and also to alleviate clashes of perspective and purpose that can lead to conflict when identifying such changes or inaction because there is no agreement on what the objective of intervention is, how it should be achieved and for what purpose (why) [24
Albeit that the groups used different wording in their BATWOVE analyses and root definitions, it is notable that there are some significant areas of overlap and consensus about the aim (W) and objective (T) of the current water governance system, as well as about the persons involved (BAOV) and the constraints imposed upon it (E). As with the systems maps, the participants stated that they found the task challenging, particularly in terms of staying focused on the current water governance situation rather than what it ought to be in the ideal world; this is perhaps an inherent consequence of the fact that in trying to understand what is done, there is a tendency for discussion about what could (or should) be done, i.e., how it could be improved in practice. However, at least one of the participants noted that ’staying with the current situation’ and ’having the opportunity to explore it thoroughly from multiple viewpoints’ was particularly helpful.
Note that these root definitions represent the perspective of the workshop participants, and thus, they are relevant only to the participants in the context of the workshop. Other people may have different world-views, and hence, have a different system of interest. Nonetheless, together with the rich pictures and systems maps, the root definitions sufficed to bring about common understandings and shared expressions of the water governance situation from the participants’ perspectives, from which feasible and desirable changes (improvements) were later identified.
3.1.3. Participatory Session 3: Rethinking Water Governance
The third participatory session focused on identifying systemically feasible and desirable changes in the participants’ situation of interest. It used the systems models created in the previous participatory sessions (and the insights that emerged from them) to inform and structure the discussion about the current water governance situation and the actions required to improve it.
Systemically feasible and desirable changes (perceived improvements) can be identified by comparing what ’is’ with what ’ought to be’ from a theoretical perspective [30
]. Working together in groups, the participants compiled a table showing in one column what is happening in the current situation and, in another column, what perhaps ought to be done in an ideal world (Table 3
). The aim here was to think systemically about how the current water governance situation could be improved in practice.
As with the first and second participatory sessions, there were choices of focus in considering what ’is’ and what ’ought to be’ that might well be different with a different groups of participants at a different time. In this sense, the outputs from this session (and for the workshop as a whole) are a snapshot of issues emerging and experiences of relevance to water governance in England. The task concurrently brought to an end the first cycle of inquiry and provided a start point for the second cycle of inquiry. What should be, i.e., what is desirable, and what could be, i.e., what is both feasible and desirable, were key topics in the second workshop, which focused on future water governance in England (see Section 3.2