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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

Define the Problem

Purpose / Why / How / Look Forward / Go On

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This is your initial rough cut proposal to gain funding to address a problem. It will be modified later as more detailed information becomes available. Determine problem's significance and priority

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navigate in the page--Purpose

Choosing the right problem to solve is the halfway mark to success.

  • To provide a preliminary idea of what the problem is
  • To see what you want to do about it
  • To determine the amount of effort and resources to devote to it

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navigate in the page--Why?

Without a clear definition of the problem, no one can take actions to solve it.

This is the first step toward getting funding. Decisionmakers at every stage of the budget process confront a plethora of problems clamoring to be solved. They weed out the ones that are poorly defined or that aren't a priority.

Carefully defining the problem will focus your efforts and reduce waste.

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navigate in the page--How?

At this point, remember you need to seek official sanction to address the problem. Keep in touch with sponsors and decisionmakers to make sure that you can continue to pursue the problem and find funding sources. See if you can help others justify their involvement by showing the significance, the current and future impacts of the problem, and the potential benefits of solving the problem.

Define the Problem

Be aware of what is happening in the area to help define the problem's context and identify the root causes.

At this stage, you simply need a ballpark, conceptual definition you can shape and redefine later. This does not mean that you are taking a wild guess, nor does it mean that you are seeing only part of the picture. Clearly defining the problem now will build a foundation that will be immensely valuable later. Communicate Everyone sees the problem differently, so pull in a wide range of perspectives from all stakeholders*definition at all levels. Listen to existing partnerships--they will have an idea about your proposal and related problems.

Get involved in defining the problem early. This way you will be able to determine how people perceive the priorities and needs--what is important to them.

Extrapolate from what you know. Compare your action with other similar problem-solving efforts. Where there are similarities, see how far they go. Where there are differences, think about what these differences might mean for the study (e.g., if this particular selenium problem involves an additional source of selenium or affects commercial recreation on a reservoir where the other study didn't, then what affect might that have?)

Refine the Objectives*definition

Objectives will change and develop as the process progresses. But starting out with an idea of where you are going will help focus the proposal and allow others to react to something concrete--thus providing better, more useful input early in the process. Find standards or measurements that mean something.

Lay out some clear planning objectives: what, when, where. The more specific the measurements and timeframes, the better. (These can always change later when you get more information.)

Look at Constraints

Examining constraints at this early stage will help shape the study and steer clear of fatal flaws. Check out existing regulations. Look at the constraints on similar actions. Chances are they will apply to your process as well.

Determine the Priority

Priorities determine funding and actions. While the Administration and the Congress will make the final call on funding and priority, your first cut will provide a useful perspective.

Determine the Significance

Figure out how important the problem is and how it relates to funded initiatives. The more significant, the higher the priority and the more likely the funding.


Document the findings so decisionmakers can determine whether to pursue the proposal.

This should include:

The overall picture.
Define the problemshed. Determine what the demands are on the resources and how you will meet those demands. Consider both the local context and the interrelationships with other influences, actions, and problems on a wider scale.
Needs to address.
Define the problem in terms of the number of people who may be involved (and who may gain or lose). Will the solution address one need or many? Some descriptions will be general (e.g., river basin management, water use allocation) while others may be quite specific (e.g., improve flows in Alfalfa National Wildlife Refuge, power rewinds).
Unique aspects.
Every decision is driven by unique, finite facts. Cookbook approaches and automatic assumptions can prove deadly at this point. Consciously looking for what is different about this problem will help you identify key issues, concerns, and resources early.
Future projections.
To manage resources effectively, look at the long term. Talk to demographers, economists, and other experts to predict what the resources and demands will be.
Reclamation's role.
To showcase this problem as a priority that Reclamation needs to fund, show how the problem relates to our mission.

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navigate in the page--Look Forward

Ask yourself: if we solve this problem here, will we just create one in another area? (e.g., if we build levees and dams here for flood control, will the floods simply move downstream?) Keep this question in your hip pocket --you'll probably want to re-answer it throughout the process.

Take yet another look to make sure that what you have defined actually is significant. If not, be willing to say so. It may be that a special interest group has a specific agenda or that circumstances have changed. You might want to refer it to other local agencies who can deal with it on a smaller level or to a partnership dealing with similar problems. Always look around and see if this small problem is part of a larger issue within the watershed.

If it is significant, keep going to get partners, funding, and authority. Emphasize why addressing the problem is important by showing the depth and breadth of the need that the solution would meet. Use the proposal to explain why resources should be spent to address these problems, needs, and opportunities to help decisionmakers effectively set priorities.

Make sure the people who identified the problem know the status of actions.

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navigate in the page--Go On

GeneralBefore Funding

PreviousIdentify Problems

NextDetermine Roles

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