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This information is intended to convey the underlying concepts for Reclamation's decision processes. It is not mandatory.
See the Reclamation Manual for official Reclamation-wide requirements.

Reclamation's Decision Process Guide

Agree on Context

Purpose / Why / How / Look Forward / Go On

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With funding, authority, and participants in place, you can now determine the shape of your actions.

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navigate in the page--Purpose

  • To identify and define the problem
  • To determine the scope and boundaries of the problem-solving effort
  • To agree on the basis for action
  • To build consent on what needs to be done and why

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navigate in the page--Why?

If the problem is not significant, stop the action. There are enough problems in the world without creating more.

This step will shape the entire journey toward a solution. Defining and agreeing on the basis for action builds the path. Staying on this path will save time and money. This also becomes a ready-made measure of success --did you meet this purpose? As new information and players come to the fore or elements change, the purpose can be refined.

Vague ideas about what needs to be analyzed, who needs to be involved, and what is being solved simply invite trouble. Misunderstandings will force you to spend time and resources fixing problems that have grown larger while they've been ignored or even to go back and redo analyses or steps to accommodate what was glossed over at the beginning. Skipping this step will also needlessly confuse participants.

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navigate in the page--How?

If you decide that Reclamation has no role in the process, stop participating.

You may think the problem and what you will address is already outlined for you--after all, the Congress and the President have given funds and authorization to solve a particular problem. But you need to clearly understand what the problem is, who and what it affects, and how it came to be. You also need to clearly understand the problemshed before trying to solve anything.

Start with the authorization's statement of purpose as a guide. Determine the process' boundaries by asking:

  • Why are people worried about the problem?

What will happen if we don't act ? If no one acts? (This forms the basis for the no action alternative )

Other Processes


Don't put any more effort into the study area detail than you need to at this level. This is a windshield assessment.*definition

Scout the area and ask agencies and participants to inventory other related actions. Related studies' have reached conclusions and determined resources, constraints, and legal boundaries. This information will reduce duplication and help define what you can and can't accomplish.

Talk to the key people in those actions to determine how they will affect you. Look also at how they may affect the environment--will your solution compound those effects? You may not need to coordinate closely, but you do need to understand how the other activities relate to your program. Physical Interactions Communicate with others and look at previous studies on this and similar situations to begin to get a sense of th physical resources and how they interact (e.g., hydrologic, biological, and economic). Consider several levels: large watershed, basin, river reach, point place. Ask for information from the Internet, academic, and other private or governmental entities. Find out who has the data already and who can get it most readily.

Legal Framework

At this point, you need preliminary determination of legal boundaries on your program. These constraints define your authority. They may include:

  • Court judgments
  • Water and land use rights
  • Federal, State, local, tribal laws
  • Organizational regulations, charters, and guidance
  • International laws and agreements

Determine Priority

To further focus what you can address, consider how much internal and external priority your problem-solving effort has.

Ask who wants what done when. Find out how much authority you have to request the necessary resources. Also look around to see what other actions are occurring and how much priority they have. This context will help determine how much you can accomplish and when.

Report the Context

Explain the problems , boundaries, and authorities to ensure that every participant has a rough idea of the context. Continue to refine the context and problem through scoping and communicating with participants. Understand Everyone's Purpose People usually are willing to state their positions on issues, but they are often less willing to state their underlying interests and expectations--what they hope to accomplish as a result of these positions (e.g., preserve a rural way of life, recover endangered species, and promote economic growth). Yet, stating these underlying expectations is a vital step toward reaching a solution and compromises.

Most people would agree that if their underlying expectations can be met, it is perfectly acceptable to make tradeoffs *definition so that other's underlying expectations can be met as well. For example, farmers might be willing to conserve water to preserve their way of life rather than to use all the water they are entitled to and ultimately lose that way of life. Talking with participants to define and write these underlying purposes will provide a more comprehensive view of the issues and concerns. Build Consent to Begin Decisionmakers and key players need to agree on the general purpose at this point or at the very least, agree not to actively oppose the purpose. You can build this consent through communication and compromise. A wide variety of tools can help communicate the diverse purposes and settle on a basis for action. Keep management informed to maintain their commitment.


Clearly and concisely document what you have found out in a working file. This will provide a basis for :

Having a file that defines the purpose, why, and how of a problem early on is the cornerstone in the study foundation.

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navigate in the page--Look Forward

If you don't know where you are going, you'll never know if you got there.

If the context and approach do not fit with the purpose of the authorizing legislation, determine what you can and can't address.

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navigate in the page--Go On

GeneralBefore Starting

PreviousContact Players

NextEstablish Ground Rules

Please contact Deena Larsen 303-445-2584 with questions or comments on this material.