• collaborative planning;
  • collaborative modeling;
  • systems models;
  • water management;
  • water resources planning;
  • adaptive management;
  • participatory methodologies


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Rationale for Shared Vision Planning
  5. Pillar I: Traditional Water Resources Planning
  6. Pillar II: Structured Public Participation
  7. Pillar III: Integrated Computer Model
  8. Applications of Shared Vision Planning
  9. Conclusions and Future Directions
  10. Literature Cited

Participatory planning applied to water resources has sparked significant interest and debate during the last decade. Recognition that models play a significant role in the formulation and implementation of design and management strategies has encouraged the profession to consider how such models can be best implemented. Shared Vision Planning (SVP) is a disciplined planning approach that combines traditional water resources planning methodologies with innovations such as structured public participation and the use of collaborative modeling, resulting in a more complete understanding and an integrative decision support tool. This study reviews these three basic components of SVP and explains how they are incorporated into a unified planning approach. The successful application of SVP is explored in three studies involving planning challenges: the National Drought Study, the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Study, and the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint/Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa River Basin Study. The article concludes by summarizing the advantages and limitations of this planning approach.


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Rationale for Shared Vision Planning
  5. Pillar I: Traditional Water Resources Planning
  6. Pillar II: Structured Public Participation
  7. Pillar III: Integrated Computer Model
  8. Applications of Shared Vision Planning
  9. Conclusions and Future Directions
  10. Literature Cited

Approaches to water resources planning and management have changed dramatically during the latter half of the 20th Century and continue to evolve in the 21st Century. Large-scale, centrally controlled federal projects are becoming increasingly uncommon. New projects now focus on smaller and more adaptive solutions to emerging challenges. In addition, water resources professionals are increasingly focused on improving the management of existing projects or implementing nonstructural solutions to problems involving activist stakeholder communities. This new focus coincides with a greater emphasis on environmental priorities and a greater degree of stakeholder involvement and other forms of public participation. Regulatory processes continue to gain importance in water resources management, and have become a major factor in shaping nonfederal water projects. These trends bring new challenges to the practice of water resources planning and management. In contrast, existing federal policies for water resources planning remain designed for capital investment decisions of an earlier era and are increasingly incompatible in today's environment.

New and innovative approaches are needed to deal with today's water resources challenges. One such approach, Shared Vision Planning, combines traditional water resources planning, structured public participation, and collaborative computer modeling to formulate water management solutions. Whereas the goals of some water resources studies may be limited to developing acceptable water allocations, the goals of Shared Vision Planning efforts are to improve the economic, environmental, and social outcomes of water management decisions through the cogeneration of information by water resource experts and stakeholders – goals which are made explicit throughout the planning process.

Shared Vision Planning was developed to utilize emerging computing technology to address the limitations of traditional water resources planning. In the late 1970s, supply managers in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area used a simple simulation model in a gaming exercise to demonstrate the cost effectiveness of operating three separate jurisdictions (Northern Virginia, Southern Maryland, and the District of Columbia) as one system (Wright et al., 1980; Palmer et al., 1982; Sheer, 1982). Later in the 1980s, more generic software (such as STELLA®, High Performance Systems, Lebanon, NH) made the use of object-oriented simulation models easier and more effective. These explorations of object-oriented simulation, disciplined stakeholder engagement, and traditional water resources planning and management principals were combined and integrated during the National Study of Water Management During Drought conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and documented in the study's final report (IWR, 1994). Shared Vision Planning was applied to six case studies as part of the national study, and has since been applied in many diverse water resource problems. Despite these applications, and a continual process of refining the approach, Shared Vision Planning has not yet been documented in the peer-reviewed literature. Instead, there are only references to the process in the open literature and various government reports (IWR, 1994; Delli Priscoli, 1995; Lund and Palmer, 1997; Jeong et al., 2003; NRC, 2004a), in conference proceedings (Punnett and Stiles, 1993; Keyes and Palmer, 1995a, b; Palmer, 1998, 1999; Cardwell et al., 2004; Conner et al., 2004; Werick and Palmer, 2004), and on government websites (

This study demonstrates the advantages of Shared Vision Planning in today's planning environment. This article begins with an explanation of the rationale for applying Shared Vision Planning. The three pillars of Shared Vision Planning (planning, public participation, and modeling) are then presented. Next, applications of Shared Vision Planning and similar approaches are described. Finally, conclusions and directions for future research are suggested. Throughout this article, the reader will note a general philosophy that has been highlighted by others (Lund, 2008; Reed and Kasprzyk, 2009) that incorporates the notion that most water resources planning processes are composed of many “wicked problems” (Liebman, 1976) and that (paraphrasing Dwight Eisenhower) the planning process may be, in the end, more important than the plan itself.

Rationale for Shared Vision Planning

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Rationale for Shared Vision Planning
  5. Pillar I: Traditional Water Resources Planning
  6. Pillar II: Structured Public Participation
  7. Pillar III: Integrated Computer Model
  8. Applications of Shared Vision Planning
  9. Conclusions and Future Directions
  10. Literature Cited

Shared Vision Planning is founded on principles that were developed through decades of water resources planning policy work and is focused on project evaluation (Lord, 1986; Schad, 1986; Hobbs et al., 1989). In addition, Shared Vision Planning incorporates many aspects of collaborative planning and participatory modeling that are actively being pursued in emerging planning communities. In this section, characteristics of Shared Vision Planning are contrasted to other approaches.

Traditional federal planning criteria use cost-benefit analysis to evaluate projects. The “Green Book” (U.S. Inter-Agency Committee on Water Resources, 1958) represented the first formal description of federal policies and procedures for evaluating public water projects. The Green Book defined the overall benefit of the project as the change in the national output of goods and services (expressed in monetary terms). Subsequent works – for example, U.S. Senate Document 97 (1962) and the U.S. Water Resources Council's Blue Book – expanded federal water project planning to incorporate a multiobjective approach (Hobbs et al., 1989) and eventually evolved into what became known as the “Principles and Standards” (U.S. Water Resources Council, 1973).

Principles and Standards elaborated a multiobjective framework for evaluating water projects (Schad, 1986) that included national economic development, regional economic development, environmental quality, and other social impacts. In 1983, Principles and Standards was replaced with the Principles and Guidelines (P&G) (U.S. Water Resources Council, 1983). The P&G returned federal water planning to a single economic objective, though it has been argued that multiobjective planning still occurs under the P&G framework (Stakhiv, 1986).

There has been much less demand for new large projects in the past few decades; the most promising projects have already been built, and the Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) have given nongovernmental organizations far greater standing in decisions about the construction of new projects. Water planning and management increasingly includes regulatory decisions required by the Clean Water Act (e.g., permits for local water supply projects; see Shabman and Cox, 2004) and modifications to existing infrastructure (e.g., the operation of Missouri and Columbia River systems). A panel of the National Academy of Sciences described these evolving priorities for water resources management and argued for changing the Corps' planning methods (NRC, 2004b).

The planning environment is further complicated by the growing requirement for more substantive public participation, collaboration in the planning process, and increased activism by some water management stakeholder groups. The flaws in commonly used public involvement methods (especially public meetings/hearings) have long been recognized (Mazmanian and Nienaber, 1979; Cortner, 1993; Laird, 1993; Renn et al., 1993, 1995; Moote et al., 1997). In the 1980s and 1990s, innovators in the fields of planning and policy sought more collaborative decision-making techniques for involving stakeholders and the public at large (Cortner, 1993). These collaborative methods are more common today and can be seen throughout the water management arena (Kenney, 2000; Beierle and Cayford, 2002; Lubell et al., 2002; Koontz et al., 2004). Indeed, the Corps has embraced this trend in its Civil Works Strategic Plan (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 2004) and in its guidance on “Planning in a Collaborative Environment” (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 2005).

Recent research has focused on how best to implement participatory water management. von Korff et al. (2012) provide an excellent summary and overview of the theory, practice, and evaluation of these efforts in a guest editorial to a special issue devoted to this topic. They explore not only the general topic of participatory water management, but the use of models to facilitate the process. Pahl-Wostl has explored the use of models in natural resource management (Brugnach and Pahl-Wostl, 2008), models in support of adaptive management (Tàbara and Pahl-Wostl, 2007), and the need for societal learning through what she terms as “triple-loop learning.” Pahl-Wostl has investigated how the “underlying values and beliefs and worldviews are reconsidered if assumptions within a world view are no longer valid” (Pahl-Wostl et al. 2011).

Although increased public participation and stakeholder collaboration are now the rule rather than the exception, some analysts have shown that collaboration does not always result in successful planning and decision making. Specific problems include ignoring the broad public interest, overemphasis on procedural success rather than better outcomes, and undue influence by well-funded special interests (Coglianese, 1999; Kenney, 2000; Gregory et al., 2001).

In addition to conceptual critiques of collaborative decision making, a host of problems associated with decision making in general can be particularly problematic in a collaborative environment. Lord (1979) and Ingram and Schneider (1998) describe the challenge of distinguishing between facts and values in public debate. Fundamental value disagreements are often masked as factual disputes, which hinders productive decision making. The factual disputes themselves become the focus of the process (Stephenson, 2003), and a situation of adversarial science or “dueling experts” (or “dueling models”) arises. Challenges can also arise between the information provided by experts and that actually needed by decision makers (Sarewitz and Pielke, 2007). Often the information or science provided is either not what is desired or in a format that is not easily incorporated into decision making.

Shared Vision Planning's integration of three distinct elements – multiobjective planning, structured public participation, and collaborative modeling – addresses these problems while maintaining a collaborative process. A collaborative modeling effort helps avoid problems of adversarial science and dueling experts (Ehrmann and Stinson, 1999) and results in a valuable decision support tool. Unlike the traditional modeling process that is often structured using conventional planning methods (including economic and environmental benefit analysis that individual stakeholder groups might not request or even support); the modeling process in Shared Vision Planning is comprehensive and addresses issues relevant to both the broad public interest and the values of affected stakeholders. Cogeneration of knowledge, between stakeholders, “experts,” and managers, results from the collaborative development and use of a computer model for plan formulation and evaluation. The next three sections describe Shared Vision Planning in detail.

Pillar I: Traditional Water Resources Planning

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Rationale for Shared Vision Planning
  5. Pillar I: Traditional Water Resources Planning
  6. Pillar II: Structured Public Participation
  7. Pillar III: Integrated Computer Model
  8. Applications of Shared Vision Planning
  9. Conclusions and Future Directions
  10. Literature Cited

Traditional federal water resources planning is based on the principles formulated in the P&G and supported by numerous analytical and administrative procedures for planning new projects (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 2000). Analytic procedures include prescribed methods for assessing economic costs and benefits of projects, dealing with risk and uncertainty, and assessing potential environmental impacts (benefits or damages). The Corps' Planning Manual (IWR, 1996) summarizes the prescribed administrative procedures for public involvement, report preparation, and internal review of decision documents. Federal water planners will find much of the shared vision planning process familiar, but Shared Vision Planning requires the development of decision criteria and team building specific to the issue at hand. Shared Vision Planning is applicable to operational as well as construction decisions, and includes the development and application of systems modeling as an inseparable part of the planning process. Similarities and differences are identified in brief in Table 1.

Table 1. Comparison of the Principles and Guidelines (P&G) Approach and Shared Vision Planning (SVP)
SVP StepShared Vision PlanningaTraditional P&G PlanningKey Differences
  1. a

    These steps are taken from the National Drought Study (IWR, 1994) and describe the Drought Preparedness Studies (DPS) method. When applied since the National Drought Study, the DPS method has taken the name Shared Vision Planning.

1Build a team and identify problems1. Specification of the water and related land resource problems and opportunities

In addition to identifying problems and opportunities, SVP calls for building a team of:

• Stakeholders that can affect or are affected by the decision,

• Decision-makers needed to affect the solution, and

• Experts who can inform the process and solution

2Develop objectives and metrics for evaluationNot singled out as a step; main objective is setSVP puts repeated emphasis on identifying objectives and decision criteria because of their importance in the success of the process (note that these often differ from the national objectives and metrics used in the P&G)
3Describe the status quo2. Inventory, forecast, and analysis of relevant water and related land resource conditionsThe description of the status quo is based on a collaboratively-built model of the system and linked to objectives and decision criteria
4Formulate alternatives to the status quo3. Formulate alternative plansFormulation and evaluation of alternatives is accomplished iteratively with input from the team. This often involves solutions that are not within the power of any one entity to implement
5Evaluate alternatives4. Evaluation of the effects of alternative plansThe team uses a collaboratively-built model (the SVPM) to evaluate impacts of alternatives based on decision criteria. Formulation and evaluation is performed faster and less expensively, so there are more iterations in SVP than in a P&G study
5. Comparison of alternative plans
6Select and implement an alternative6. Recommend a planThe P&G ends with the ranking of alternatives based on the decision criterion for Federal projects, then a local decision to build that project or send a recommendation to build to the President and Congress. In SVP, the SVPM shapes, and is shaped by, the process of collaboratively ranking alternatives in a process similar to “informed consent.” Once a collaborative decision is made, it is implemented by the decision makers identified in Step 1
7Exercise, update, and use the planNot specifiedPeriodic exercises of the plan for a range of operational conditions to ensure that the plan is implemented as designed and is updated with new information

Shared Vision Planning incorporates the foundation of the P&G's traditional six-step planning process (Table 1), but with key differences in approach and priorities. First, a diverse team is assembled. The team includes those institutions, groups, and individuals with a stake in the problem under consideration rather than just self-selected stakeholders. The team of experts, decision makers, and stakeholders works iteratively (although not always linearly) through the steps in Table 1, starting with identification of objectives and performance metrics. This broad and persistent inclusion of stakeholders throughout the planning process contrasts with the traditional notion of water resources planning as primarily the responsibility of technical experts in project-driven agencies.

Once objectives are defined, the Shared Vision Planning process addresses the same important need, as in traditional planning, in the development of detailed inventories of physical, environmental, social, and legal resources in an effort to establish an accurate assessment of the status quo. The difference between these two approaches is that all of this information, to the degree possible, will be documented in a systems dynamic model in the case of shared vision modeling. This effort to create a repository of information is no less important in Shared Vision Planning than in traditional planning. However, the collection of the data is guided by the goals and objectives generated defined by the planning team.

Shared Vision Planning encourages interest-based negotiations (Fisher and Ury, 1981) by focusing on stakeholders' fundamental objectives (interests) rather than their preferred alternatives (positions). These stakeholder interests are translated to planning objectives, and progress toward meeting those objectives is measured. Incorporation of stakeholder objectives and performance indicators into the analyses is crucial because stakeholders need clear evidence that their interests will be met even if the collective decision is to support a position other than their own (Keeney, 1996; Gregory et al., 2001; Gregory and Keeney, 2002).

Once planning objectives are identified, Shared Vision Planning emphasizes the iterative and collaborative formulation and evaluation of alternative plans by stakeholders. Individual values and preferences become better defined during the process of decision making (Fischoff, 1980; Slovic, 1995; Gregory and Slovic, 1997; Payne et al., 1999). Experience indicates that iterative processes provide an opportunity to enhance an individual's understanding of planning objectives and constraints, and provide the opportunity to reform objectives and alternatives creatively as the process proceeds. Because the process of formulating and evaluating alternatives is a collaborative coknowledge-generating exercise, Shared Vision Planning participants listen to and consider viewpoints and interests of all participants and must also articulate their perspectives in terms that others can understand. Even the final decision is developed in an iterative process.

As part of the learning exercise, decision makers are encouraged to attempt to make a decision early in the process when only some of the results are available. This “practice decision making” creates more confidence in the final decision by allowing participants to refine their objectives and more thoroughly understand tradeoffs between interests in concrete, quantitative terms. Practicing the decision process throughout the study helps assure that study research is targeted to the needs of decision makers rather than the interests of researchers. The Shared Vision Planning Model (SVPM) is the obvious departure from traditional water planning and is described in more detail in the section entitled Pillar III. The final step in Shared Vision Planning, exercising and updating the resultant plan, also departs from traditional planning based on the P&G. Whereas the P&G was created to plan for new water projects, Shared Vision Planning was created to better plan for and manage water during challenging periods (such as floods, droughts, or system failures). An annual exercising of water plans, such as the annual drought management exercises conducted by the Interstate Commission for the Potomac River Basin, is a practical example of plan maintenance. This continual plan evaluation is a specific form of adaptive management (Holling, 1978). Shared Vision Planning is an excellent precursor to and supporter of adaptive management because the SVPM consists of a set of hypotheses that connect changes in water to changes in the things people value – the environment, economy, and other issues. Decisions can be tested with the SVPM and refined after initial management decisions are made. The functions and activities that the Shared Vision Planning process identifies as most uncertain or controversial, and which drive the management decisions, become the prime candidates for monitoring and amendment, with the consequent adaptive changes in resource management.

Pillar II: Structured Public Participation

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Rationale for Shared Vision Planning
  5. Pillar I: Traditional Water Resources Planning
  6. Pillar II: Structured Public Participation
  7. Pillar III: Integrated Computer Model
  8. Applications of Shared Vision Planning
  9. Conclusions and Future Directions
  10. Literature Cited

The second pillar of Shared Vision Planning is a structured participation process. Although public participation has been a part of water resources planning and management for decades, the manner and degree of public involvement has changed over time (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1972, 1979; Cortner, 1993; Creighton, 1983; Langton, 1998). Cortner identified four historical eras in American water management: closed participation, maximum feasible participation (driven by post World War II legal requirements for agencies to publicize decisions), environmentalism (NEPA-style public involvement), and collaborative decision making (welcoming, rather than mere acceptance of earlier public involvement). The eras overlap chronologically, and most case studies today exhibit characteristics of the last two.

Today, public participation is widely viewed as an integral part of water resources planning and management. Public involvement is explicitly required in Corps regulations (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 2000) and policy (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1999, 2005), and is well codified in United States (U.S.) natural resources management. Examples beyond the NEPA requirements for public meetings include the Unified Federal Policy for a Watershed Approach (USDA et al., 2000), the recent White House initiative on cooperative conservation (Executive Order 13352 August 2004;, and the Western Governors' Association's Enlibra approach (loosely defined as a balanced approach to environmental management and a shared commitment to stewardship of the environment), which is also supported by state laws and regulations ( There are many discussions of applied collaborative problem-solving methods throughout the policy analysis and planning fields (Selin and Chavez, 1995; Blumenthal and Jannink, 2000; Daniels and Walker, 2001; Geurts and Joldersma, 2001; Gregory et al., 2001; Beierle and Cayford, 2002; Koontz et al., 2004).

As noted in the literatures, public participation can have negative impacts if performed poorly. Critics cite a lack of accountability, a distortion of the democratic process (by allowing vocal interest groups to gain disproportionate influence over use of the public resource) (Coglianese, 1999; Kenney, 2000), an unjustified discounting of traditional human uses of water resources (World Bank, 2003), and an increase in time and costs to reach decisions. Shared Vision Planning avoids many of these pitfalls by integrating more meaningful participation into all aspects of a traditional planning process and maintaining the traditional analytical approaches that evaluate overall benefits.

Shared Vision Planning seeks to resolve and integrate the perspectives of stakeholders and experts. One approach that has been used to accomplish this goal is the use of “Circles of Influence” to balance the desire for broad participation in all planning activities with the need for planning efficiency (see Appendix J, Managing Water for Drought, IWR, 1994). This approach is similar to “Orbits of Participation” (IWR, 2002). The Circles of Influence approach organizes stakeholders or subsets of the interested public according to their interests and capability of understanding complex technical issues. This can be visualized as a series of concentric circles. As an illustration, suppose there are four concentric circles, with Circle A being the innermost and Circle D being the outermost. The innermost circle (Circle A) includes the primary analysts from agencies and contractors. Circle A members coordinate regularly and execute the formulation and analysis process by collaboratively building the planning model.

Circle B, a larger group of individuals, includes the most interested stakeholders who, because of a combination of time, energy, and aptitude, can be involved in the technical work and who individually command the trust and respect of many other citizens with similar concerns. Circle B also includes other analysts and experts who serve as reviewers and validators of the SVPM. Participation in Circle B might take the form of bimonthly conference calls, quarterly workshops, and more intense interaction with Circle A team members on specific areas of technical interest or expertise.

Circle C contains other members of nongovernmental groups whose charters encompass the issues addressed in the Shared Vision Planning exercise. Examples could include members of boating organizations, local chapters of the Sierra Club, or homeowners' associations along the shoreline. Public involvement efforts typically target this larger group through mass mailings and open public meetings, and their feedback may be solicited through websites and paper questionnaires.

The Circles of Influence approach utilizes social networks to build paths of trust and communication between Circles B and C, supplementing if necessary with direct communications from Circle A at Circle C meetings. Shared Vision Planning managers actively recruit individuals for Circle B who are active, known, and trusted by stakeholder groups. If planners engage the Circle B participant effectively and honestly, the Circle B participant can collect and disseminate information to Circle C far more effectively than planners could do directly. Of course, dishonesty or lack of effort on the part of a planner or Circle B participant can undermine this strategy. The simple premise is that there are often well-informed people who have existing lines of communication with stakeholder groups and whose opinions will more likely be valued and trusted than would “propaganda” from planners.

Circle D contains political decision makers who provide direction to the efforts and activities of the other circles and receive information from those circles to support decision making. Politicians, their staffs, and appointed officials all may play roles in Circle D. It is important to note that communication is passed both throughout the circles (between members) and across circles (between groups of planning participants) and this information flows in all directions.

Pillar III: Integrated Computer Model

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Rationale for Shared Vision Planning
  5. Pillar I: Traditional Water Resources Planning
  6. Pillar II: Structured Public Participation
  7. Pillar III: Integrated Computer Model
  8. Applications of Shared Vision Planning
  9. Conclusions and Future Directions
  10. Literature Cited

The third pillar of Shared Vision Planning is the collaborative construction of a decision support tool that facilitates the goals of the planning process; that is, the identification and evaluation of alternatives that directly address the planning objectives. This support tool is referred to as a “Shared Vision Planning Model” (SVPM) to emphasize its integration into the planning process. The primary purpose of the SVPM is to provide a computational environment in which alternatives can be generated, refined, displayed, and evaluated. Like most water resources models, SVPMs incorporate the hydrology, hydraulics, and physical features of the water resource system and include essential economic, environmental, and social impacts. But unlike other modeling approaches, SVPMs emphasize stakeholder involvement in their design, development, and use (see Maguire, 2003 for a discussion of why such features are important). Typical characteristics of a SVPM include:

  • Custom built to address specific stakeholder needs and concerns identified in the planning process. This characteristic typically leads to the development of a customized model rather than the application of a generic model, to ensure comprehensiveness and flexibility.
  • Collaboratively built. Planning participants, stakeholders, and water resources professionals jointly construct the model, increasing their engagement and their confidence in the model's results.
  • Highly interactive, encouraging participants to use the model throughout the planning process, and ensuring that it addresses issues at an appropriate level of detail and accuracy.
  • Places emphasis on the systems dynamics that are most important to the water resource decisions to be made, and contains those features of the system that influence decision making.

The primary reason for developing customized models in Shared Vision Planning is the need to answer decision makers' questions and concerns as explicitly and directly as possible. SVPMs must be sufficiently flexible to address distinctive planning objectives, unique measures of system performance, and other variables that occur when diverse groups are crafting a common basis for making decisions. Although traditional models often attempt to include a wide range of potential features, they typically emphasize individual disciplines (hydrology, reservoir management, water demand forecasting, water distribution, or economics), and there is typically a gap between model outputs and the answers needed by stakeholders and decision makers. SVPMs are designed in an iterative process to answer the most important questions relative to the decisions to be made. The iterations often lead to changes in the participant's understanding of the system under study as well as the model. It is possible that a legacy model can be modified to become a shared vision model. Most river basins in the U.S. have been modeled by an agency, and in some cases the models have a wide range of outputs. The obstacle to the use of such models is that most were not written for broad distribution or easy use and are seen as “black boxes” by stakeholders.

A second important feature of Shared Vision Planning is that the participants are actively engaged in the planning process, including construction and use of the decision support tool. When stakeholders are involved in creating a SVPM and customizing it for their specific use and needs, they naturally develop an understanding of the assumptions contained in the model, including its strengths and its limitations. This also facilitates review and endorsement of the model by stakeholders. The model's “transparency” provides a common platform for analysis and a common tool to support discussions and/or negotiations between stakeholder groups. Use of SVPMs in the planning process requires that the stakeholders define what needs to be contained in the model, who will use the model, and how the model will be used. This is once again facilitated by the model's transparency. When such transparency does not exist, it is difficult for stakeholders to accept the model's results.

Proper construction of a SVPM can greatly reduce the adversarial nature of the planning process, facilitating agreement on the facts and reducing the mystery associated with the modeling process. The collaboratively developed model becomes a single-text negotiating device where all the information and model process are contained in one transparent, trusted decision support tool (Delli Priscoli, 1995).

Because SVPMs are designed to be used by stakeholders, the model must be highly interactive. Use of the model empowers stakeholder groups to envision alternatives and to investigate their implications. This cannot be accomplished without engaged participants and a decision support tool designed specifically for their use. Not only must the underlying physical relationships and their mathematical representations in the model be visible to stakeholders, but the data must be easily accessible, and the model must be well documented with an intuitive interface. Such features are critical to building understanding and trust in the model as well as the broader planning process.

Stakeholder use of the model provides many timely benefits; including insuring that throughout the process the data and conclusions are consistent, relevant, and accurate. Vigorously exercising the model allows stakeholders to report concerns about the planning process, as well as the model itself. Often, questions related to the level of detail incorporated into the model can be best resolved through continued use and testing of the model by stakeholders.

To ensure its active use in the planning process, the model must have all of the attributes defined previously, and more. Stakeholders have to be able to use the SVPM easily. This often requires organizing the model interface by either planning objectives or planning impacts. The SVPM must execute quickly, so that users can explore many options in their evaluation. All the impacts of interest to the stakeholders should be considered during model building, but some may not be included. For instance, there may be expert consensus that there will be no impact, or the essence of the concern may be captured with a different but parallel impact analysis that is more affordable or has a better theoretical underpinning (economic benefits may mirror changes in income and expenditures, or tax revenues, or long-term community prosperity). Decision makers should be interviewed to help ensure that the model answers the seminal questions they seek to ground their decision making. Often, the need for relevance and applicability requires simplification. To obtain this goal, a well-designed SVPM incorporates those features that are essential in understanding the tradeoffs between planning objectives and the alternatives. Features not essential to this evaluation may be moved from the foreground to achieve a balance between the level of detail and simplicity.

Many SVPMs have been built using a generic object-oriented programming package (STELLA; Extend, Imagine That Inc., San Jose, CA; Goldsim, Goldsim Technology Group LLC, Issaquah, WA; Powersim, Powersim Software AS, Litleåsvegen, Nyborg, Norway; and so on), but other types of software (such as spreadsheets) can also be used. Shared Vision Planning only requires that the technical analysis is transparent, integrated, and credible (as determined by experts and stakeholders involved in the decision). The choice of analysis tool should be driven by the needs of the process.

There are several challenges in applying the SVPM approach. The requirement to engage stakeholders in the creation and use of the model implies that time and resources must be allocated to train them. In past applications of Shared Vision Planning, this has been achieved with remarkably cost-effective results.

Because of the conservative nature of the engineering profession, there is often concern over allowing stakeholders such a significant role in the modeling process. This concern is misplaced. SVPMs are by nature dynamic and changing, and this can create anxiety in those who see the planning process as static and linear. However, SVPMs better reflect the actual nature of planning, which must be both dynamic and flexible.

Another potential challenge in instituting Shared Vision Planning is that specific interest groups may insist that a very fine level of detail is necessary for their area of concern, and that a “simplified” representation in a SVPM will not suffice. It then becomes necessary to work with the interested group to determine a level of detail that is suitably accurate to build trust, yet sufficiently succinct for the model to remain transparent, tractable, and useful for decision making. Functions developed in more detailed process-specific models are frequently incorporated into the SVPM. For example, hydrodynamic models and GIS can be used to develop stage-damage functions coded in the SVPM. This hierarchical encapsulation of detailed narrow focus modeling into the SVPM (some refer to it as “emulation”) can serve many purposes:

  • It encourages more participants to develop and test a wider range of alternatives because the evaluations can be done quickly in the SVPM and without additional contract support for the specialty modelers.
  • The review that takes place when SVPM modelers integrate the analytic power of specialty models also provides an important review of those models. In almost every SVP case study to date, this systems engineering of the modeling process has uncovered significant problems in specialty models that eluded normal peer review and quality control processes.
  • The process of emulation helps assure that the focus of the specialized model is the decision at hand.

Applications of Shared Vision Planning

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Rationale for Shared Vision Planning
  5. Pillar I: Traditional Water Resources Planning
  6. Pillar II: Structured Public Participation
  7. Pillar III: Integrated Computer Model
  8. Applications of Shared Vision Planning
  9. Conclusions and Future Directions
  10. Literature Cited

Shared Vision Planning has been applied to numerous water resource problems over the last 15 years. Three brief descriptions of past applications are given below to provide a more complete understanding of the application of this planning approach. Several other studies are cited in Tables 2 and 3.

Table 2. Shared Vision Planning Studies Reviewed in Table of Process Issues in Shared Vision Planning Cases
CaseDate of StudyFocus of Study
ACT-ACF Basins1994-1996Management of water resources for an entire three-state region (Alabama, Florida, and Georgia).
Boston Metropolitan StudiesEarly 1990sWater supply in the metropolitan Boston area. Issues included water quantity, water quality, environmental quality, and drought. Part of National Drought Study.
Cedar and Green RiversEarly 1990sWater shortages during drought conditions, issues around instream flows, dissolved oxygen, sufficient water to cover fertilized fish eggs. Part of National Drought Study.
Gila River2005-presentRegional water supply in arid New Mexico.
James River Drought PreparednessEarly 1990sWater supply for five Virginia cities during drought conditions. Overreliance on groundwater pumping producing saltwater intrusion. Part of National Drought Study.
James River Shared Vision PlanningOngoingWater supply in upper reaches of James River. Provide cumulative impacts context for regulatory decisions.
Kanawha RiverEarly 1990sStrike a better balance between water quality, lake boating, and white-water rafting below Lake Summerville on the Gauley River. Part of National Drought Study.
Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River2000-presentDesign a new regulation plan to accommodate changing requirements of stakeholders.
Lake Powell/Lake Mead2005-2006Allocation of Colorado River water for consumptive use, hydropower, and environmental purposes.
Los Angeles Urban Watershed1999-2006Development of an Integrated Resources Plan to address issues related to water, wastewater, and runoff management.
Marais des Cygnes-OsageEarly 1990sDrought preparedness study. Drought could produce significant impacts on municipal and industrial users in Kansas and Missouri, as well as impacts on power production and the recreation industry.
Middle Rio Grande2001-2002Future water supply for three-county region.
Mississippi Headwaters2001-presentOperating plan for Mississippi River Headwaters Reservoir system, taking into account tribal trust, flood control, environmental concerns, water quality, water supply, recreation, navigation, and more.
North Branch Potomac River2005-presentRevised operating plans for upstream reservoirs to address recreation (boating and fishing) and fish habitat issues.
Northern California Drought Preparedness2004-2007Drought preparedness for agricultural and urban uses in a northern California county.
Pacific Northwest Climate Change2005-2007How to institutionalize forecasts of global climate change into Pacific Northwest water resources system.
Rappahannock River2002-2006Water allocation of the Rappahannock River to satisfy different consumptive and nonconsumptive uses of the river now and for the future.
Snake Plain AquiferOngoingConflict over conjunctive management of surface and groundwater resource under Idaho's appropriation doctrine.
Susquehanna River Studies (Conowingo Pond)2002-2006Management plan for the Conowingo Pond, a 14-mile-long interstate water body created by construction of the Conowingo Dam on the Lower Susquehanna River.
Upper Rio Grande RiverOngoingInstream flows and water rights on Rio Grande River.
Willamette RiverOngoingWater quality (temperature); temperature banking. Operations of Corps dams.
Table 3. Other Shared Vision Planning (SVP) Efforts and Similar Work
Study Name and Lead AgenciesPurposeSVP or Other Approach?Outcomes

Potomac experience

Interstate Commission for the Potomac River Basin

Assure municipal water supply for the metro Washington regionOther (precursor to SVP)A Corps study originally identified more than a dozen main stem reservoirs to assure water supply reliability. Through a collaborative process that focused on technical analysis of the system, other alternatives were developed and implemented. The collaborative process for water supply now manifests itself through the Coop program ( (See Sheer, 1982.)

Rappahannock Water Supply Planning

Virginia Tech & Rappahannock River Basin Commission

Develop consensus across 14 jurisdictions on principles for future water managementSVPThe Rappahannock River Basin Commission developed a collaboratively built integrated model for water demand and supply. This modeling process enjoys strong support from the river basin commission and is currently used to support river basin planning (Conner et al., 2004).

Mississippi Headwaters

Corps St. Paul District and IWR

Develop new reservoir operating plan for a multireservoir systemSVPA shared vision model is being built with input from various interest groups. The model will support an iterative plan formulation and evaluation process and is linked to an optimization model (HEC PRM) (Cardwell et al., 2004).

Cooperative Water Resources Modeling in the Middle Rio Grande Basin

Sandia National Labs

Develop long-term water supply plan for the Middle Rio Grande RegionOtherA systems dynamics model was collaboratively developed and used to formulate and evaluate long-term water management scenarios. The model was used to characterize tradeoffs between municipal water demand, agricultural water demand, and environmental impacts. (See Passell et al., 2003.)

International Upper Great Lakes Study

International Joint Commission

Develop new regulation plan for Lake SuperiorSVPIJC will change the way releases from Lake Superior are made based on this 2007-2012 study by an independent U.S.-Canadian study board using Shared Vision Planning to find a robust release plan despite irreducible uncertainty about future climate.

The Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Shared Vision Planning Study

The purpose of the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Study (LOSLR Study; International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Study Board, 2006, is to formulate new operating rules for a dam that provides control over water levels in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. Previous studies identified potential operational changes, but public support was divided. The International Joint Commission (IJC), an independent bi-national organization established by the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, concluded that it did not have sufficient information to adopt the changes (IJC, 1999).

The original plan for the LOSLR Study did not include SVP, and in fact, it did not address the planning methodology. The LOSLR Study Board recognized that a formal method would be necessary to structure the study and support the ultimate decisions the Study Board would make regarding new regulation plans. In a series of meetings, the Study Board was presented with information on the approach, viewed as a “mock” SVPM, and ultimately voted to apply the method.

SVP helps direct budget decisions by creating a mathematical linkage from fact finding and research to the objectives of the study; study managers have a formal structure against which to test the proposition, and can effectively ask, “If this research is successful, how much difference will it make in the objectives we are trying to achieve?”

The LOSLR Study included extensive stakeholder participation and millions of dollars of original research funding to investigate the economic and environmental impacts of water management. The participation of analysts, scientists, administrators, and stakeholders from both the U.S. and Canada was not originally structured according to the Circles of Influence framework, but some elements of this approach (in particular, finding and working with the most influential and trusted representatives of different groups) were applied over time. The technical research on economic and environmental impacts was integrated into a SVPM constructed in a series of electronically linked models and several specialized modules (e.g., one simulating erosion processes). The SVPM for the LOSLR Study supports formulation and evaluation of alternative operating rules and calculates the resulting levels and flows throughout the basin. The model also includes algorithms for calculating economic benefits for hydropower, coastal living, commercial navigation, recreational boating, and municipal and industrial water supply. It calculates over 400 environmental indicators, of which 32 were determined to be environmentally significant, relatively certain, and sensitive to water regulation. These indicators were then incorporated into the decision process.

The LOSLR Study's SVP approach addresses many of the challenges discussed in the section entitled Pillar II. Facts concerning water level regulation are particularly contentious (e.g., How much erosion do water levels cause? How do water levels affect coastal wetlands?). The SVPM addresses the scientific issues objectively, thus providing information for productive discussions of values and tradeoffs.

In the spirit of SVP and to avoid a situation of “dueling experts,” it is most productive if technical questions are addressed collaboratively. Collaborative development of the LOSLR Study's model has increased trust in the technical analysis in at least two ways: (1) it allowed for informal peer review by technical experts, who uncovered errors, inconsistencies, and unrealistic assumptions; and (2) the model's flexibility allowed modifications to address emerging or changing concerns. Through this process, stakeholders developed trust that the model adequately and faithfully captures their interest and that it is not a typical “black box.”

The analysis performed to support decision making was complex. In addition to the multiple economic and environmental indicators modeled, the LOSLR Study formally addressed the robustness of plans under four climate change scenarios and used synthetic hydrology in addition to historic data. To create an environment suitable for progressive learning among the Study Board (decision makers for the LOSLR Study), the decision-making portion of the planning process was repeated iteratively, with increasing technical detail as scientific studies were completed. The Board and public participants used an interface to the SVPM (known as the “Board Room”) to display evaluations of the latest plans. The Board Room also contained the decision criteria for each Board member, with each criterion linked to the most relevant output graphs and tables. The model demonstrated the limited ability to control coastal erosion through water level regulation and helped establish both the synergistic opportunities and unavoidable tradeoffs between wetland health and economic impacts. This discovery process helped the Study Board engage in fewer debates about the scientific results and focus instead on appropriate tradeoffs. The collaborative development of the integrated model helped settle factual disputes and has allowed for more productive negotiations about how the system can be best managed balancing impacts among various interests. A final report from this five-year study is available at

National Drought Study Shared Vision Planning Application

Shared Vision Planning was first formalized in five drought preparedness case studies performed for the National Drought Study (IWR, 1994): Kanawha River (West Virginia, North Carolina, and Virginia), James River (Virginia), Marais des Cygnes-Osage Rivers (Kansas and Missouri), Green River (Washington), and the Boston Water Supply Study (Massachusetts). In each case, a team of stakeholders (federal, state, and local agencies, tribes, environmental groups) collaboratively developed a model of their river system to evaluate alternative actions during a drought. The five case studies developed shared plans for how to operate reservoirs during drought, as supported by the analysis in the collaboratively developed models. The exercise on the Kanawha resulted in operational changes at Summersville Reservoir (West Virginia) that preserved fall water quality and avoided significant economic losses to the white-water rafting industry during droughts (Punnett and Stiles, 1993; IWR, 1994). In the James River study, a collaborative model was developed and used to simulate drought impacts and collaboratively examined alternatives including regional management and conjunctive use of emergency wells. In the Marais des Cygnes-Osage Rivers study, participants reported that the collaborative modeling process helped improve understanding and cooperation between the states and the Corps, but there has been no formulation of alternative plans. In the Green River study, the computer-aided process enabled stakeholders to arrive at a consensus on an appropriate refill strategy in a straightforward manner. This was accomplished by enabling a greater number of scenarios to be investigated, and by providing the opportunity to perform sensitivity analyses. Because of these benefits, the use of the collaboratively developed, integrated model of the Green River Basin is likely to continue (IWR, 1994).

Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa and Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Shared Vision Planning Application

Shared Vision Planning was utilized for the Comprehensive Study of the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa and Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACT-ACF) River Basins (Palmer, 1998). Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and the Mobile District of the Corps elected to use SVP for the ACT-ACF Comprehensive Study because they had failed to agree to any other planning approach. The collaboratively constructed SVPM integrated the results from numerous studies of agricultural production and water demand, groundwater availability and interaction with surface water, recreation activity and economics, riverine and lacustrine environments, municipal and industrial water use, navigation availability and cost savings, and hydropower. Each state and the Corps were represented by two members on a basin-wide management working group responsible for model development. Starting in 1994, the University of Washington hosted a website where data, models, and study meeting notes were accessible to all. Although this has become commonplace, in 1994 not all members of the team were using e-mail, and the use of a website for model and data distribution was very unusual. (Many analysts are constrained by training or agency loyalty to specific software which they then force fit to individual case studies. The early use of the website is a simple example of how Shared Vision Planning encourages team members to suggest technology that best fits the problem.)

The models were reviewed and certified by the participants to ensure their accuracy. The models encouraged participants to formulate their own alternatives in a “control panel” environment to create combinations of individual and multiple reservoir operating plans, new reservoirs, structural alternatives to the current navigation project, municipal and agricultural water conservation, and revise the routing of Atlanta's water supply diversions and wastewater returns.

When the models were essentially complete, the states entered into a set of interstate compacts, the first interstate water compacts in the Southeast. The compacts established temporary commissions to negotiate water allocation agreements among the states for each basin (ACT and ACF). The states were free to extend the compacts with unanimous agreement if more time was needed for resolution of the conflict. Compact legislation passed in three state legislatures (Florida, Alabama, and Georgia) and the U.S. Congress. Regretfully, the three states allowed the compact to expire in 2003 after a number of extensions, and this tristate water war is returning to court. Thus, one of the best technical examples of Shared Vision Planning led to what must be considered one of the best opportunities to learn about the limitations of Shared Vision Planning.

Other Applications of Shared Vision Planning

Other projects have been based on Shared Vision Planning or similar approaches. Some of the studies employed a SVP approach because of direct involvement of one of the authors, whereas others have used very similar approaches despite being developed independently of the SVP technique. Some of these efforts and their characteristics are summarized in Table 3.

Similar Approaches

Today, the use of computer models to support collaborative planning is well established. Indeed, others have developed approaches that share some similarities with SVP. Of specific relevance and overlap is work being done in the systems dynamics field. Vennix (1996) offers an approach to group model building that emphasizes learning and collaborative problem solving within organizations. Costanza and Ruth (1998) used dynamic systems modeling within collaborative environmental management with the specific goal of building consensus. van den Belt (2004) describes in detail how dynamic modeling can be used to facilitate learning and build consensus for environmental planning problems. There are also clear similarities between SVP and adaptive management (Holling, 1978), further supporting the notion that a SVP effort builds an excellent foundation for adaptive management programs.

Conclusions and Future Directions

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Rationale for Shared Vision Planning
  5. Pillar I: Traditional Water Resources Planning
  6. Pillar II: Structured Public Participation
  7. Pillar III: Integrated Computer Model
  8. Applications of Shared Vision Planning
  9. Conclusions and Future Directions
  10. Literature Cited

Shared Vision Planning combines three approaches for resolving water resources problems: (1) traditional water resources planning, (2) structured public participation, and (3) integrated computer modeling. SVP integrates the three in such a way that stakeholders, experts, and decision makers may plan more effectively. The defining characteristics of the SVP approach include:

  • SVP promotes an interest-based negotiating and decision-making environment by emphasizing the fundamental objectives of stakeholders, and intensively and iteratively engaging them throughout the process.
  • SVP relies on a traditional planning approach to protect the broad public interest and prevent undue influence by well-organized interest groups.
  • SVP uses a collaboratively built systems model that fosters a common understanding of the facts.
  • SVP integrates the technical analysis across stakeholder interests, allowing collaborative learning about goals, objectives, constraints, and alternatives.
  • The SVP process requires transparency throughout the entire process to encourage understanding.

The SVP process combines the best features of more traditional technically based planning processes and consensus-based decision-making processes. SVP is a process that has been successfully applied for two decades, and continues to evolve because it fosters collaboration, uses sound technical analysis in support of decisions, and is structured by the principles of rational, analytical planning.

Shared Vision Planning has been applied in a variety of scenarios. Similar approaches are proliferating throughout the water and environmental management arenas. These various approaches have similarities but also important differences and likely differ in their suitability for particular situations. For example, these approaches may differ in their applicability to problems involving water vs. other resources, problems with intense conflict vs. low conflict, or problems focused on long-term strategic planning vs. operational decision making.

Several research and planning needs remain. Lacking the defining presence of federal water project planning, there is a clear need for the water resources profession to establish new guidelines for water resources planning and management. These guidelines should be flexible, similar to medical standards of practice that provide a reference but allow professional judgment in application. A second need is the development and recognition of more rigorous evaluation methods for the effectiveness of collaborative processes. Our profession should conduct post study reviews of collaboration to determine the degree to which it resulted in better solutions. Finally, although federal water project planning rules represented an agreed state of the practice for economic and environmental evaluation techniques a quarter century ago, there is a need to update many of those techniques, particularly the methods used to evaluate environmental impacts and measure the value of hydropower and recreation.

There is no question that stakeholder collaboration will play an ever increasing role in water resources management, and that computer modeling will continue to provide vital decision support tools. Techniques like Shared Vision Planning can play an important role in merging these two trends. Further research to develop the conceptual foundations of these techniques will help provide appropriate tools for water managers to solve tomorrow's most vexing water resources problems.

Literature Cited

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Rationale for Shared Vision Planning
  5. Pillar I: Traditional Water Resources Planning
  6. Pillar II: Structured Public Participation
  7. Pillar III: Integrated Computer Model
  8. Applications of Shared Vision Planning
  9. Conclusions and Future Directions
  10. Literature Cited
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