Water planning and management are faced with increasing levels of uncertainty, complexity and conflict. Multiple decision makers and managers, legislative requirements, competing interests, scarcity of resources, deskilling of management agencies and large uncertainties about the future in a more connected and rapidly changing world, are all drivers for the need to develop improved approaches to aid decision making in the water sector. Under such conditions, it has been shown that “traditional” methods of water management and planning are usually insufficient, as are traditional or “objective” forms of risk assessment. Furthermore, it is unusual that one organisation or level of government possesses all of the relevant knowledge and is in control of all the resources required to successfully implement its own decisions. This means that water managers and policy makers are increasingly obliged to work with multiple institutions, stakeholders, experts and the general public to create more acceptable models and plans, and to implement management solutions. However, exactly how such work in multi-level and multi-stakeholder decision making processes can be aided is less well understood.
This presentation explores this issue through the analysis of two recently implemented multi-level participatory planning processes in Australia and Bulgaria. The Australian process was designed to aid the development of an estuarine risk management plan for a peri-urban region to Sydney’s north and the Bulgarian process was developed to aid capacity building for coping with flood and drought risks in the Sofia region. The evaluation results of both multi-level participatory modelling processes and their organisation are used to provide insights into the factors that facilitate the development and implementation of successful processes. It is suggested that careful management of both the participatory modelling process and the participatory organization process are vital if positive on-the-ground outcomes are to be achieved, and that there are bodies of theory and decision-aiding methods available to aid the development of successful multi-level participatory modelling processes. From the analyses and insights, an agenda of further work required to better understand these processes and to drive sustainable and integrated management is developed.