Advancing Water Resources Planning, Education, and Outreach through Collaborative Modeling and Stakeholder Engagement Methods
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Water resource issues are inherently challenging due to the diversity of stakeholder perspectives and values and because of the inherent and fundamental complexities of socio-ecological systems. These complexities necessitate that water resource planning processes utilize collaboration and adaptive governance principles, as well as highly iterative, participatory techniques that promote social learning and trust. Collaborative modeling and systems thinking are effective participatory techniques for addressing such challenges. This research utilized a collaborative modeling process to engage water resource stakeholders over the course of four years in the Spokane River Basin located in northeast Washington and northern Idaho. In doing so it met the call for universities to be increasingly involved as bridging organizations that engage regional stakeholders as they address societal problems. In this role, university research teams help bridge the gaps between science, society and decision-making entities. This research advances understanding of the strategies, methods and processes that university-affiliated bridging organizations use to enhance long term water resource planning, education, and outreach. This research improves understanding of the role collaborative modeling and stakeholder engagement provides to water resource stakeholders. It supports the body of literature that communicates the importance of building relationships, social capacity and trust, and that learning is an essential component to effective participatory processes. This research demonstrates the necessity of facilitation skills, and the importance of designing an iterative, flexible approach that meets the changing priorities of stakeholders. It concludes with best practices for supporting long-term stakeholder engagement in water resources.