Since January 2010, the Massachusetts Sustainable Water Management Initiative – a collaborative decision making process involving state agencies, water suppliers, and environmentalists – has worked to develop new water policies that address urbanization and its impact on natural ecosystems. The goal is to more sustainably balance water withdrawals and ecological water needs under the state’s Water Management Act. A principal question is how to use science and better decision making processes to promote innovative policies that integrate technical issues like water quantity, water quality, and ecology with non-technical concerns like coordinating different agencies’ regulatory programs and engaging key stakeholders.

Tyler Corson-Rikert (MCP ’11) studied these processes and the policies they produced, and found that the science itself and its use within the Sustainable Water Management Initiative significantly impacted participants’ opinions of the policy proposals under development. Stakeholders’ reactions to the science and design of the process then influenced the prospects for building consensus and discussing innovative policy ideas that could move Massachusetts toward more integrated and sustainable water management.

Corson-Rikert concludes that despite the gains, the Sustainable Water Management Initiative alone is unlikely to achieve politically acceptable and truly sustainable water policies without additional changes. The state should consider giving stakeholders more influence over the selection and interpretation of scientific information, and a greater voice in the design of processes. Corson-Rikert also calls for a more prominent role for a neutral mediator in the process. These changes, he claims, could speed the development of the policy innovations the state’s communities and ecosystems urgently need.

You can learn more about this topic by reading the full thesis, “The Role of Science, Stakeholder Engagement, and Decision Making Process Design in Advancing Innovation Around Water Management in Massachusetts,” written by Tyler Corson-Rikert.