Fresh Outlook Foundation

C5H2O – A Formula for Water Management

Fresh Outlook Foundation

In scientific terms, C5H20 is a molecular formula. In human terms, however, it’s a formula that combines the human elements of creativity, communication, consultation, consensus, and collaboration with traditional approaches to maximize water management efforts.

Arguably, people throughout the ages have talked with one another about common water concerns, and have worked together to achieve shared goals. This informal approach worked well when communities were small, residents were uninformed, and scientific knowledge and water management options were limited. But today – given jurisdictional complexities, economic constraints, legal liabilities, philosophical shifts, public expectations, and scientific and technological advancements – it’s prudent for decision-makers at all levels to enable and promote more sophisticated and strategic opportunities for communication, consultation, consensus, and collaboration.

As well as being morally and ethically appropriate – because constituents have a right to be involved in decisions that affect them directly – the C5 approach generates solutions that are effective, cost-efficient, and meaningful. Effective meaning they address legislative requirements and meet public expectations; cost-efficient because they prevent duplication and maximize budget-sharing opportunities; and meaningful because they reflect the collective vision of key stakeholders and, therefore, encourage short- and long-term responsibility and accountability.

Given stakeholders’ involvement and ultimate support for agreed-upon visions, goals, and objectives, the C5 approach simplifies decision-making for elected officials and staff who believe policies and projects should truly reflect residents’ wants and needs.

What is C5H2O?

Creativity forms the foundation upon which the entire C5 structure is built. Webster defines it as a process that results in something “being created rather than imitated.” Lynne Levesque, in her book Breakthrough Creativity, says it’s “the ability to consistently produce different and valuable results,” and that “everyone is creative. Everyone is not alike in his or her creativity because there is no one best way to be creative.”

Communication is the glue that binds a C5 process. Webster calls it “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior.” To be effective, communication must be appropriate to the situation and target participants, interactive, open, honest, and ongoing.

Consultation sets the stage for innovative and meaningful outcomes. According to Webster, it’s a “deliberate act of seeking advice or opinion.” More to the point, it’s an ongoing process that enables us to interpret and respond to our ever-changing environment. It, too, should be appropriate to the situation and the target audience. For their input to be meaningful, participants must share a common level of understanding about the issues being considered.

Consensus, often the most challenging C5 component, lays the groundwork necessary for successful collaboration. Webster calls it “general agreement” and “group solidarity in sentiment and belief.” While consensus requires compromise, a meaningful agreement will still reflect participants’ core ideologies. And while the ‘science’ of consensus-building outlines specific techniques for reaching agreement, the ‘art’ of it instills a commitment to ongoing responsibility and accountability.

Collaboration is the action component of the C5 approach, meaning participants will work together to achieve agreed-upon water management goals. To collaborate, notes Webster, is to “cooperate with or willingly assist” an individual or group “with which one is not immediately connected.” Collaboration enables you to harness the passion and commitment generated during earlier parts of the C5 process. The collaborative outcome will directly reflect the human and financial resources invested in other C5 components.

Why a new approach?

By no means an inclusive list, the following characteristics distinguish current challenges from those faced by previous generations and contribute to the need for a new approach – not only in the way we do water-related business, but all public business.

Jurisdictional Complexities: Multiple jurisdictions with man-made rather than watershed boundaries, have shaped a system that’s often confusing and comprised of conflicting authorities with dissimilar objectives, poor communication and information-sharing strategies, and duplication of human and financial resources. Many residents – even those with pertinent professional expertise and/or practical experience – are intimidated enough by the system’s size, complexity, and perceived inflexibility that they don’t participate in planning processes or the resulting management projects.

Communities that truly embrace – not only pay lip service to – the C5 approach find that jurisdictional barriers can be removed when all stakeholders are committed to open communication, appropriate consultation, and thoughtful and patient consensus-building. The resulting collaboration provides immediate and long-term social, environmental, and economic benefits.

Economic Constraints: Gone is the freewheeling funding of the past. Today, as government purse strings tighten, regional and municipal governments are left to respond to legislative requirements and residents’ demands for improved service in the wake of skyrocketing infrastructure costs.

So how, you ask, can the C5 approach help address these complex economic issues? No one would argue that overlapping jurisdictions present a risk of duplicating research, planning, and management initiatives. This is not only a waste of time, but also a big waste of money. By communicating openly, consulting regularly, building consensus about whom will do what, and enabling collaboration where appropriate, every dollar spent can be well invested.

Legal Liabilities: When scientific evidence proved we could no longer ignore the consequences of doing nothing, governments introduced legislation to protect human and environmental health. Legislation will become increasingly stringent to reflect residents’ growing awareness and participation in local decision-making. In addition, consumers will begin to hold purveyors legally liable for their policies and practices.

By including these residents in C5 processes, resulting legislation will be custom-made to address specific community concerns. People involved in developing policy will also be much more likely to monitor its effectiveness and contribute to its refinement.

Philosophical Shifts: Unlike indigenous peoples, many of us grew up oblivious to our actual place in the ecological mix. To have dominion over the earth meant to exploit it for personal (read financial) gain. Little thought was given to the long-term consequences of that human-centered approach. As people become more educated and introspective, however, they’re asking questions, revisiting their own behaviors, and demanding accountability from decision-makers. Elected and appointed officials who ignore this growing trend do so at their peril.

By including the C5 approach in planning and water management processes and projects, we can harness enlightened citizens’ resolve for action in appropriate ways that meets community-wide objectives. An organized approach that recognizes people’s participation in positive ways will ensure long-term commitment and a growing volunteer work force.

Public Expectations: Historically, residents unaware of quality and supply issues trusted governments to provide safe and abundant supplies of water. As people become better educated, however, and as waterborne disease outbreaks continue to make headlines, communities are faced with increasing public demand for safe drinking water.

In this regard, the C5 approach helps communities identify residents’ fears and expectations and educate them about the true costs of providing quality drinking water.

Scientific and Technological Advancements: In earlier days, “to dig or not to dig,” was perhaps the most complicated water management decision a community had to make. But today, researchers can track the life cycles of microscopic parasites such as Cryptosporidium, scientists can test these pathogens’ resistance to different chemicals and processes, and engineers can design and build facilities that will inactivate them. Protection doesn’t come cheap, though, and the number of treatment options and combinations of those options can be mind-boggling.

The C5 approach provides opportunities for participants to understand and assess scientific data, and explore technical options and related costs in a comfortable environment geared toward their level of awareness.


What’s so special about the C5 approach?

C5 has widespread applications. C5 principles can be used successfully by individuals in their personal and professional lives and by organizations and communities between and among their internal and external customers.

C5 is flexible. C5 tools can be mixed and matched to meet the unique requirements of any individual, organization, or community. As no two processes or projects are alike, no two outcomes will be identical.

C5 is cost-effective. At first glance, costs associated with C5 components may seem daunting. Cost-benefit analyses, however, reveal the investment to be sound over the long term. A dollar spent proactively today building community awareness and support is better invested than a dollar spent reactively tomorrow responding to community outrage. In fact, the former scenario builds trust and partnerships that can’t be measured in financial terms.

C5 works. Because this new approach represents a philosophical shift by government and supports the philosophical shifts of constituents, it is new and emotional territory for everyone involved. Participants must be respectful, patient, and open-minded enough to fine-tune the process as it evolves and to consider all recommended outcomes seriously. In organizations and communities where participants have done so, the social, environmental, and economic benefits are significant.


Where does C5 fit? 

Traditionally, water management challenges have been met using technical, scientific, and/or political (e.g. legislative, administrative, financial) approaches. People within and among these groups communicated, consulted, reached consensus, and collaborated, but seldom did they involve the public, and even less frequently did they consider these activities worthy of separate and special consideration.

Today, particularly in processes or projects where public health and spending are key issues, C5 principles must be considered seriously, planned thoughtfully, and supported financially. For example, terms of reference should include C5 components, and proposals should be judged on their commitment to providing appropriate and innovative opportunities for communication, consultation, consensus-building, and collaboration.

Joanne de Vries is a communications professional who provides public education and consultation services to businesses, non-profits, and different levels of government. She is one of the principals of Alliance Communications, and the Founder and CEO of the Fresh Outlook Foundation.

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