Public involvement and public participation naturally require the inclusion of stakeholders. Stakeholders are individuals or groups in the community that are most affected by a municipality's stormwater program. They have a vested interest in the waterbody and stormwater activities. Stakeholders might include citizens, local school groups, community leaders, local and state government representatives, and business owners in the watershed. Stakeholder meetings can be in the form of a local stormwater management panel, a public meeting, or any type of interactive, information-sharing event.
Each stakeholder has a vested interest in solving stormwater management problems for the particular waterbody. Therefore, stakeholders should be informed of water quality issues in their community and asked to contribute their ideas and concerns. One way to do this is through stakeholder meetings, where participants can hear what others have to say and can contribute their own ideas.
In addition to inviting the stakeholders, representatives from several local newspapers, radio stations, and television news departments should be included. Journalists, broadcasters, and others who attend the meetings can let others know what happened, when the next meeting is, and how they can get involved.
Identify stakeholders. The first step for a municipality is to determine which citizens are most affected by the stormwater program. Stakeholders will need to be identified by whether they live or work in the watershed or by their activities. Involving stakeholders in the stormwater program can be an important first step in forming a watershed organization. To identify stakeholders, an attitude survey can be conducted that seeks to answer the following questions:
- Is a certain segment most affected by the cost of implementing the stormwater program?
- Will a segment of the community (perhaps Hispanic immigrants) have difficulty understanding the program's purpose?
- Will the municipality find support among environmentalists?
- Does a segment of the community object to stormwater regulations as government intrusion?
- Has the municipality established good working relationships with large industries in the community that also have stormwater permits?
- Is the community already part of a strong watershed organization? (If a watershed organization exists, then this group can form the core of the audience for stakeholder outreach.)
Determine how to involve stakeholders. Once stakeholders have been identified, the municipality must decide how to approach them. Flyers and media stories can be used to educate stakeholders and to prepare them for a public meeting. Municipalities might also choose to speak before homeowner, civic, and business groups or to contact a strong watershed organization, if one exists.
Organize a meeting.. After the stakeholders have been informed about the issues, the municipality should work with community groups to organize a public meeting. If the meeting is to successfully involve stakeholders in the stormwater program, the first meeting will set the tone for many others to follow. Rules for conducting the meeting must be agreed upon and can be addressed with the following questions:
- Will the meeting be facilitated?
- Will decisions be made by consensus?
- What approach will the group take?
Once the meeting has been organized, an appropriate meeting place must be chosen. Then invited stakeholders must be notified through mail, Internet, word of mouth, flyers, or posters. Someone will need to be the designated leader of the meeting, so that it will be organized.
Since the audience will be diverse and at all levels of scientific knowledge, some of the best ways to disseminate information at stakeholder meetings is through graphics like photographs and charts. Stormwater management uses a lot of technical terms, such as "watershed" and "runoff." A glossary of commonly used terms might be displayed on a flip chart or as an overhead, or it could be provided on a handout given to participants before the meeting starts.
A question and answer period and a time for comments should be planned. It is often difficult to get people to speak in public, but it is a good way for them to express their opinions and concerns. Someone else might hold the same ideas or might not have thought of these new ideas. When questions are asked or comments made, it is vital that the meeting leader listen carefully, not interrupt, and acknowledge the point(s) made. When giving information, the leader must be sure to be descriptive, nontechnical, and up-front. One of the most important things for the leader to remember is to be straightforward and to answer every question. If the leader is unsure of the answer, he or she can promise to look into it before the next meeting and come to that meeting with an answer.
Some topics that might be addressed at a stakeholder meeting include the following:
- Summary of previous meetings,
- New tasks to be undertaken,
- Selection of various leadership roles (if necessary), such as volunteer coordinator, minutes recorder, or graphic artist, and
- Creation of committees (if necessary).
A local stormwater management panel might be chosen from the attendees. This panel could consist of representatives from the municipalities in the watershed as well as citizen and business representatives. The roles of the panel could include policy writing and meeting organization.
After the meeting has ended, a municipality should be careful about relying on the media to inform the public of what happened at the meeting. The media may report only on disagreements or discussions that are more sensational than substantive. The media can also intimidate people from speaking for fear of being quoted and encourage others to dominate the discussion for the same reason. It can be useful for the meeting leader to prepare a news release that summarizes the results of the meeting and to distribute it to the local media within the next day or two.
The effectiveness of a stakeholder meeting is a function of its organization. Assignments are more likely accomplished if meetings are conducted in an orderly manner. Sometimes the issues might be controversial or might negatively affect some of the participants. These matters should be handled as professionally as possible, so that no one feels disregarded. It should be made clear that some issues will not be solved and some participants will be dissatisfied, but together the stakeholders can arrive at the best compromise.
To be effective, stakeholders must attend the meetings. Finding an appropriate location for the meetings, such as a local school auditorium or a public library, is vital. The location must be easily accessible, able to accommodate the number of participants, and equipped with the appropriate resources, such as tables and chairs, outlets for projectors, and speakers and microphones.
Meeting times are also important. If the stakeholders work during the day, it could be difficult for them to make a mid-morning or early-afternoon meeting. Commutes must also be considered. If the meetings are to be held in a suburban community and most people in that community work in the city and travel a considerable distance each way, adequate commuting time must be allowed. If the meeting is held during dinner hours, refreshments should be served. The better the timing and location, the easier it is for people to attend.
One of the greatest benefits of stakeholder meetings is the variety of ideas from people of all backgrounds and interests. Some participants will be more knowledgeable than others, and they can share their expertise with the other stakeholders. In some cases, stakeholders might belong to other groups with overlapping concerns. In such cases, resources can be pulled together to achieve corresponding goals.
Determining who to include and who to eliminate as potential attendees could be a limitation. People who are not directly affected by stormwater management activities should not be included because they could distract the group's attention from more important issues. Other limitations include finding an appropriate location and time to meet, costs associated with planning and holding meetings, and keeping the stakeholders organized and focused enough to get items accomplished.
The costs associated with stakeholder meetings revolve around planning and conducting the meetings. The flyers, mailings, or other means of announcing the meeting incur costs for design, production, copying, and distribution (e.g., stamps and envelopes). There also might be rental fees for a meeting location. Producing and distributing minutes of meetings might involve additional costs.
Know Your Watershed. No date. Leading & Communicating: A Guide for Watershed Partnerships. Know Your Watershed, West Lafayette, IN.
TVA. 1997. Water Works. Tennessee Valley Authority, Knoxville, TN.