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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

Step 1: Identify Needs

Purpose / Why / How / Tools / Look Forward / Go On

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With the foundation prepared, identify needs and issues that your process*definition may address.

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navigate in the page--Purpose

Needs are the bottom line, the root of the value base*definition. Opportunities*definition are simply ways to meet needs.

  • To determine underlying "root" needs*definition
  • To ensure the study boundaries match the problem's boundaries
  • To decide whether these needs are within the purview of the process and Reclamation's role
  • To identify groups associated with these issues
  • To find a common ground allowing everyone to help solve the problem
  • To reduce conflicts by focusing on actual needs

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navigate in the page--Why?

Needs by themselves do not specify a type of project or resource management--there are many ways to meet these needs!

Identifying the needs is an essential step in decision analysis . as it helps define the problem you are going to address and what conditions you are trying to change. Clearly articulated needs help frame the range of potential solutions and measure the conditions and impacts of no action*definition. Needs also help determine the appropriateness of everyone's involvement.

What participants think is the problem may not actually be the problem (e.g., you may think all you really need is more filing cabinets--but once you get them you find you actually needed a more effective method of managing your papers and computer files. ) Rather than tilting at windmills, uncover the underlying needs for a more accurate and realistic target.

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navigate in the page--How

Review the definition of the problem in your action plan . To quantify needs within complex situations, look at what values may be threatened. Ask participants:) to list the benefits that derive from resources, practices, and physical structures. Then try to categorize these benefits (necessary, nice to have, unnecessary). This pinpoints issues and concerns.

Review the Purpose*definition

click for comics(How not to get hit)

If a problem and purpose statement has not been prepared, you'll need to write one specificaly for your activity. If you have one, review it to confirm that it is still relevant. (If you need to modify it, explain your rationale to the decisionmakers and participants and ensure that everyone approves the changes.) Make sure everyone understands and consents to the purpose. (You may need to do some educating and reformulating.) Keep a lookout for additional, related problems and set processes in motion to address those.

Clearly explain your purpose. For example:

Avoid surprises

People are becoming ill from pollutants in the water


A safe drinking water supply


The level of scoping has probably been limited to a few key contacts. Based on these early results, it may be important to expand on these publics in a more formal and wider scoping effort.

Lay Out Issues and Concerns


Preconceived definitions of the problem will invariably miss the problem.

You will only get reasonable decisions when decisionmakers , team members , and other participants have identified and understood key issues.

Together, issues*definition and concerns*definition delineate the problems that clamor to be addressed and drive your actions. Providing opportunities now for participants to discuss these issues and to agree on what will be addressed will help prevent hassles and court fights later.

Listing and defining these issues and concerns will:

  • Provide a context for the problem and solution.
  • Promote participation in the decision process and commitment to the solution. Participants will not commit to a solution if they perceive that you have not listened to their concerns or that the process tramples their values.
  • Avoid surprises later.
  • Conserve participants' resources by concentrating on relevant issues and concerns.

Ask participants to brainstorm what they think the issues really are. Doing this one-on-one and in small groups will help provide some honest answers about underlying interests and needs. Armed with this list, bring diverse groups together to examine their issues in the light of the whole process and problemshed.

Gather participants to determine which issues are relevant and significant to your process.

Illustrating issues with an influence diagram or issue map will help show interrelationships, identify areas of influence, and measure significance. Examine the context of the process and what you are authorized to address to identify the significant, relevant issues.

Categorize issues to get a picture of how things hook together. This will make it easier to determine their significance and prioritize them. Tools such as affinity grouping and issue maps help show groups and relationships in new ways. Categories will change according to your action, but some general categories may be:

  • The process itself
  • Supplying resources
  • Demand for resources
  • Safety
  • Cost/economic
  • Environmental
  • Institutional/administrative
  • Organizational


Paying attention to someone's issue (no matter how crazy) is the best investment in credibility you can make.

Form a priority stack for the issues by determining which issues take precedence. Review your purpose and authority to show what you can and cannot address . Make sure that everyone understands the rationale behind this determination. Present your findings and recommendations on priority to the agreed-upon decisionmaker and verify the order of your priority stack.

Define the Study Boundaries

Don't put any more effort into the study area detail than you need to at this level. This is more detailed than the foundation, but not yet a full-scale, minute assessment.

Understanding where the problem is operating is crucial to understanding what needs the problem generates. If you can't address the entire area, ensure that you address enough of the area to effectively solve the problem where you want to solve it. The "area of influence" or problemshed is determined by both the source and the impacts of the problem. This area may be administrative, economic, geographic, hydrologic, social, biological, etc.

Describe the study boundaries and develop graphic displays or base maps. These show what really is and is not there, enhancing participants' understanding of real needs and interrelationships. As you move through the process, this definition of the problemshed will become more and more detailed.

Depending on the complexity of your study, you may need to:

  • Ask other agencies about re.g., elevant actions and find relevant reports
  • Determine constraints (What are the water rights? Are there any Indian Trust Assets? What are the relevant Federal, State, and local laws?)
  • Explore the physical locations of resources (e.g., maps with overlays of distributions for people, species, and habitat will provide a pretty good picture of the problemshed)
  • Determine demands (e.g What are the existing and projected uses for water--both kind and amount? What are existing and potential land uses?)
  • Review the history (e.g., What has been tried in the past? What are the important interactions and interrelationships?)

Some of this information fits into other steps (e.g., resources and constraints ). You may need to use decision analysis to determine where this information fits in your process.

Trace Cause and Effect

Not identifying the underlying causes will lead to a superficial, unsuccessful solution. Yet people start hollering about the effects of a problem long before the actual cause shows up. Examine the physical and institutional processes to debug*definition the process and find the cause.

The cause itself may have several different sources in widely scattered areas--trace geographically, socially, biologically, and economically. Define the Needs Translate the issues, concerns, causes, and interactions into needs. Specify and quantify what would be needed to solve the problem, alleviate the threat (issue), and restore (or add) values. Be as specific as possible. For example, if the issue is discharge from old mine tailings in Settler's Creek, needs might be a clean water supply for municipal, rural, and agriculture use; wetlands; and clean flows for fish.

Determine the scope and magnitude of existing and projected problems and needs by examining the issues and the problem. Quantify these needs: How much water is needed for trout? At what time? What water quality standards would need to be met?

Have team members communicate with their counterparts in other organizations and Federal, State, and local agencies. Let counterparts know what you have identified and ask if they can help identify further relationships. This will more fully define the needs.

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navigate in the page--Tools

tools(See the toolbox for more tools)

Tailor the following tools to the complexity and scope of your study. They will each contribute important perspectives about your study to help you identify real needs, the geographic area related to those needs, and public support for your needs identification.

Common Ground

Common ground is probably the most powerful tool for agreeing on what needs should be addressed. Once participants can agree on something (no matter how trivial), you can expand from that.

Trouble Spots

A small number of causes contribute a large percentage of the effects--usually a 20- to 80-percent ratio. For example, concentrate on the two sources of selenium that contribute 80 percent of the problem rather than addressing all eight sources. Likewise, why spend 80 percent of your resources on fixing the fish ladder if the fish ladder only contributes to 20 percent of the problem? Mapping out these trouble spots can help quantify contributions and define priorities.

Cause and Effect

Tools to track causes and effect help pinpoint crucial needs to be addressed. Like pinpointing trouble spots, tracing what causes what helps to identify common culprits (if we raise water flows at Goliath Point, we will improve water quality in Trouble Fork and Settler's Creek as well as provide a steady water supply for Marble Springs). Some tools to help trace causes are:

Fishbone diagrams help trace causes and show connections between actions.
Frequency charts
Knowing how often somethinghappens can help correlate causes
Issue or Process Maps
To show how parameters and issues affect each other, identify and chart needs on a map. This can be a map of a geographical area or a linear process. Maps can be highly stylized spatial accuracy is not required for this overview. Showing needs on a map can highlight relationships, focus efforts, and foster a wider understanding of the problemshed.
Geographic Information System (GIS)
Overlaying areas can help show relationships (e.g., water quality areas with soci0-economic factors or education levels)
Scatter diagram and assumption scatter diagram
Finding where things occur (geographically or in a process) helps track their causes.


Document all perceptions of needs to help participants see their part in the process.

Provide, share, and receive information. Make sure that people who are relevant to the process become involved in the process: decisionmakers, interested and affected publics, and other Reclamation employees. Newsletters, updates, open meetings, informal chats, and interviews help keep everyone connected.

Two-way education and communication at this juncture is critical to promote participation and to identify interrelationships among resources and needs. The core team and people "in the know" need to educate potential participants about the concerns and issues. Outline the purpose of the program and what you can and can't do. Do a little bit of groundwork to see that participants understand the basic interactions involved (ecosystems, physical resources, etc.)

In turn, ask participants about issues, causes, and interrelationships. It may take a lot of patience and perseverance to get people to contribute their ideas and perspectives but this early input will pay off well later in the process. The people in the area may not know there is a problem, may not see it as relevant, may not care. Explain matters from their viewpoints.

Some communication tools include:

Affinity Grouping

Affinity grouping is a group brainstorming method that helps generate, then organize ideas or concerns that are numerous, complex, or not easily organized. This tool works best with a small group.

Clearly define the topic in terms of needs and issues (for example, water supply needs in the Crystal River Basin).

Pass out yellow stickies and ask participants to write down one idea per sticky. Then post the ideas on a board and have people group ideas to show common elements. If you notice a sticky gets moved back and forth a lot, duplicate the idea so you can place it in more than one category. Then develop specific descriptions of the issue or problem for each category. For example, a category consisting of: "approvals take too long,signature process is 90 days,No one sees reviews," and "too many reviews" might be described as "Review and signature process needs to be shortened and more effective."

Often, participants will use this opportunity to vent frustrations, long-stanmding problems, and explore all the problems in the area (whether or not your action can do anything about it). It is useful to schedule a break (either a short 15 minutes or a longer few days, depending on the number of participants and the complexity of the project) and use a facilitator to determine the significance and relevance of the issues. The facilitator can use decision analysis to recap what the affinity grouping exercise showed. This will help air out problems, find connections, and concentrate on what can be done.

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navigate in the page--Look Forward

Agreeing on the needs and purpose (next step) now will help clearly identify what the process will do and where itis going. With this, you can measure success (Did we meet the needs?) and focus on solving the delineated problem.

Needs will continue to pop up throughout the process, and your focus may change. However, you can handle changes with this firm foundation.

Go/No Go*definition

Being willing to say there is no need when you determine that needs don't exist will save time, money, and resources and will add to your credibility. Summarize the work to date in a concluding report and stop the project .

Review what you have gathered so far to make sure you haven't overlooked anything vital. Ask:

  • Have the concerns of the team been identified?
  • Have the affected publics been identified?
  • Have the known concerns, problems, or issues been categorized and prioritized?
  • Are associated national interests identified?
  • Analyze the needs assessment to answer the following questions:
    • Are the needs worth addressing?
    • Are these needs within Reclamation's purview and the scope of our mission?
    • Have we ensured that Reclamation is not competing with private industry?
    • Have we built a foundation of trust that will lead to future cooperation among the various stakeholders*definition ?
    • Is there enough support from the public and participants to continue?

A negative response indicates that either you need to end the study here or change your participation. If some needs are not within Reclamation's purview, you may want to suggest limiting our activities. Or if the foundation of trust does not exist, you may want to stop actions and go back to build that foundation .

Get a decision from the agreed-upon decisionmaker(s) whether to proceed, stop, or change course.


Documenting what you have uncovered (in a fact sheet, brochure, or update to the action plan) will ensure that everyone understands the interactions, needs, and study boundaries.

Definitions may differ! Don't assume that one way of defining the need is the way everyone will define it. Clearly communicate these definitions and agree on how the study will define needs. Use this documentation as a touchstone for existing and new participants.

Ensure that no one's issue is overlooked (people understand how the issue will be addressed or the reasons behind not addressing the issue). New players can then more easily decide if the process was valid and if they should support the solution even though it may be too late to address their particular needs.

Provide management, affected publics, or other interested parties with appropriate documentation that describes the effort, the contributions, the conclusions, and the justification for proceeding to the next step.

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navigate in the page--Go On

Executive Summary Take this car on a fast tour and Process spiral forward Tours:

Before Starting <------> Objectives

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PreviousBefore Starting

NextStep 2, Objectives

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