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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

Agreeing on Ground Rules

Purpose / Why / How / Go On

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navigate in the page--Purpose

  • To agree on and communicate how the process will work
  • To manage and plan for changes
  • To establish how you will work together
  • To determine who will work on what

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navigate in the page--Why?

No situation is static--problems, issues, players, and objectives will change. To provide a base for managing change, settle on a basic understanding of how the process will be conducted. This foundation will also help build credibility by ensuring a clear and open decision process. Ground rules help develop support for a successful solution.

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navigate in the page--How?

What form the ground rules take will depend on the problem you've defined, the actions needed, and the people involved.

Develop Your General Approach

Rules may range from a formal document to an informal understanding over coffee.

Lay out:

  • How the study will be conducted
  • What will be considered, when participants can enter or leave
  • How new participants will be incorporated
  • What decisions will need to be made and when.

Look at your expectations (the good you hope to accomplish) and the problem's context to predict the kinds of problems or hurdles you may encounter. Determine how you will comply with constraints. Participants will determine their priorities. Participants need to figure out what the activity is and how they fit in. Determine how partnerships will work. Discussing these roles will help avoid confrontations and misunderstandings later, as well as help focus the study and actions.

Determine How to Work With Decisionmakers and Managers

The more partners a process has, the broader the scope of decisionmakers becomes.

Outline what decisions will be needed and who will make them. Determine the best method of approaching these decisionmakers. How will you work with them? How will they be involved in the process? What will they need to make a balanced decision.

Clarifying positions, agendas, and roles now will help provide support for your actions later. You may need to explain the concepts behind what you want to do and show how you are going to do it. Hint: Figure out how each decisionmaker approaches risk (from "I'll say yes and see how it works later" to "I'll say no; if you can prove later that it is absolutely guaranteed, I'll change my answer").

This is an important key to determining how to approach and communicate with particular decisionmakers.

Determine the Timeframe, Schedules, and Milestones

Sketch out the process of steps and analyses you need to go through to reach and implement a balanced, workable solution. Without a flexible schedule, people will start to think that "there is never time to do it right, but always time to do it over." Set priorities to help ensure that the most important work gets done and to provide more flexibility by identifying actions that can slip or go undone.

Identifying milestones (points that mark accomplishment, such as agreements reached, analyses accomplished, and decision points) and due dates will provide a way to keep the study and schedule moving forward. Gantt charts, timelines, preliminary analyses, and discussions with participants are just a few of the tools available to develop schedules.

Plan for Communication

Affected publics don't want to be potted plants to water sometimes--they want and need toparticipate in substantive discussions.

Determine and document how you will communicate with everyone involved. Regular communication provides a ready-made way to handle:

  • Conflicts
  • Unexpected problems
  • New revelations from the analyses
  • Changes in participants and decisionmakers

Public involvement plans can be incorporated into an overall communications plan to show the interactions between the core team and the publics. You may want to create a matrix table that lists actions and methods of communication:


Communication method



Technical memorandum

Show model

Public meeting (before)

Notices, fact sheets

Introduce action

Public meeting (after)

Follow-up newsletter

List comments

Decision point

Decision document

Show rationale

Plan for Changes

Work critiques and evaluations of the process into the ground rules.

Without flexibility, the study can become an all-or-nothing proposition. Any snag will derail the process. To overcome this, break the study into phases. This allows flexible joints to change players and directions.

The ground rules are by no means set in stone. Changes may occur, analyses may change the process, and you may develop better ways to work. Reassess the ground rules at set intervals so that everyone can agree on changes. Internal procedures for changing team members will minimize disruptions.

Even if the team functions well, a new team member means that the team is not the same anymore, and it takes time to regroup. External procedures for updating new participants and transferring responsibilities when participants leave will also smooth relations, build credibility, and ensure the work is carried out.

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navigate in the page--Go On

GeneralBefore Starting

PreviousDefining the Context

NextStep 1, Needs

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