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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 4 Developing Options

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

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With the needs/objectives, and resources/constraints in mind, we can now brainstorm options.

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navigate in the page--Purpose

  • To find as many options as possible
  • To develop a broad set of options that cover all bases and avoid later surprises

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navigate in the page--Why?

Think about new solutions.

Everything that can be invented has been invented. -- Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899.

Options are the building blocks for future alternatives. A wide range of options now means a wider, more comprehensive range of alternatives later. Identifying the widest range of options possible will help build credibility and public trust throughout the process. Not identifying an option may foreclose opportunities and invite surprises. With this broad base, you can show that you were sensitive to all the needs and tried to meet every identified objective.

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navigate in the page--How?

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(consider wild ideas)

The name of the game right now is quantity, rather than quality. Options which are silly on the surface may hold the key to brilliant, workable solutions. Look for options everywhere.

As you develop options, focus on meeting the needs.

Creativity , communication , and foresight*definition are your biggest allies now. Here are some ways to devel op options.

Decision analysis can help categorize information for these options.

Recycle ideas

This helps to avoid reinventing the wheel . There are few issues that have not been examined at one time or another by someone else. Search out previous reports, documents, articles, and theses. Talk with those involved to gather solutions, insights, and data. While these options may have been discarded once, list them now to spark other options which may prove to be more viable. Revisit the foundation. Public values*definition have been known to change over time--something previously unacceptable may be okay now (e.g., waste water recycling or reserving instream flows for fish).

Looking at earlier attempts to solve the problem will yield a treasure trove of information. These atempts may not have fully addressed the problem because they did not take into account the entire context of the problem. They may have overlooked key players, new players , changes in politics , influence, or fatal flaws . However, subsequent changes in participants, physical interrelationships*definition, laws, politics, etc. can also mean a once-viable solution can no longer work.

Brainstorm optionstiny brainstorm

Brainstorming is a no-holds barred, nonjudgmental explosion of ideas, concepts, policies, decisions, and strategies--structural as well as nonstructural--Federal as well as non-Federal. All contributions are valid. Consider options that are outside your jurisdiction. While you may not be able to incorporate these ideas, they can spark other, viable options or cooperative ventures that could solve the problem.

Consider similar actions

Find out what others are doing. What else did they consider? (What didn't work for them may work for you.)

Consider timeframes

Look at options which can be put in place immediately or which can be phased in over time. What monitoring, adjustment, or other solutions might postpone or avoid a future crisis? What actions would have to be taken before other actions? Are there other time constraints (e.g., season, fiscal year)?

Pay attention to troublemakers

A small number of causes is responsible for a large percentage of the effects. Focusing your effort on this troublesome small percent can help find effective, efficient options.

Ask around

Ask not only local communities and organizations, but academic, technical, and resource management communities as well. The Internet now brings an international array of experts to your doorstep you can post notes on bulletin boards, newsgroups, and listservers that deal with specific topics to ask for ideas. (e.g. Don't forget to join our discussion groups.)

Consider Resources and Demands

Resources are used to meet the demand. Don't forget about staff, decisionmakers , facilities, time , and funding !

To generate options, review the work done in Steps 1-3 (needs, objectives, and resources). Focus on resources and demands.

Possible ways to enhance resources include:

  • Increase available resources
  • Develop scarce resources
  • Store resources
  • Increase distribution system efficiency
  • Reduce impact on fragile resources.

Possible ways to address needs include:

  • Reduce demand for scarce or expensive resources
  • Shift resource use over time and place to reduce peak demands
  • Substitute other resources for the scarce resource
  • Improve coordination between resource users


Think about priorities*definition as you categorize.

It may be useful to categorize all the solutions you have identified. Probably, all your options will fall into relatively few categories. Having them grouped will make it easier to communicate the results of this step to decisionmakers and the interested and affected publics (you may find it useful to have the publics assist in selecting categories and sorting options). Categorizing will also make it easier to establish screening criteria and screen options and combine options to formulate alternatives .

The specific categories you choose will, of course, be determined by the nature of your study. Grouping options by location, size, and function helps show what actions could take place where. Grouping by categories such as structural, financial, educational, social, institutional, legal, political, and commercial helps to show what aspect of the problem they address. You may want to develop more than one way of cataloging options to highlight various aspects.

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navigate in the page--Tools

tools(See the Toolbox for more tools)

Pinning all your hopes in one place is extermely dangerous--it precludes a range of alternatives and gambles unnecessarily that the one element will work. Use:

and other methods to ensure options do not all depend on the same factor or element.

Force Field Analysis

Quit is an option that has to be considered in all processes.

To come up with options, examine the forces (groups, other activities, resources, relationships, etc.) that can help achieve or work against the objectives. Brainstorm and list all the forces that could help solve the problem. Have someone play the devil's advocate to generate objections.

Write out various options that would use the force to meet the objective. Take a break and then list all the forces that would work against a solution. This time, write out options that could negate that force. ("May the Force be with you" becomes more than a cliche at this point.)


Use previously generated or new issue maps, influence diagrams, flowcharts, or other tools that display the problem. Brainstorm options to address one cause or area at a time. Check off areas after you look at them. This helps ensure that major pieces aren't overlooked.

Public Involvement

A review brainstorming session may turn up new ideas and will help ensure you've thought of everything.

Public involvement is a two-way communication process. Focus most of your efforts on two groups:

Those who can contribute the most (they will help you develop effective options)

Those who could cause conflict or veto the process (seriously considering their ideas now may help them to recognize that you are considering their input as you formulate alternatives.)

Chart data from ongoing scoping and previous public involvement activities to identify these publics. Knowledge obtained from this involvement can diffuse or head off many conflicts.

Be aware that when dealing with the public, many suggestions or ideas may be packaged as alternatives, containing many components. These ideas will also likely contain a personal or institutional bias , such as fishery interests or wetlands preservation. Break these components into options now. Explain that this will provide much more flexibility for developing alternatives.

Use frequency charts or other methods to keep track of how many times a specific option is mentioned, as this repetition can measure public priority or preference and may identify more acceptable options.

Decision Process Worksheets

Decision trees can help project potential options.

Use a decision process worksheet and list results from each step to provide a comprehensive picture. Use the needs and resources columns to brainstorm ways to meet needs and use resources. These worksheets can be used for one aspect or for the overall problem. Decision analysis can help provide an overall view.


Involve key implementors to:

  • Enhance your credibility
  • Keep options realistic
  • Broaden your perspectives and possibilities
  • Help ensure that the actual implementors support and carry out the selected solution.

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navigate in the page--Look Forward

When you are confident that the range of options is sufficient within the confines of imposed constraints, share your vision with appropriate publics (including decisionmakers). Explain that these are options to examine and ask for other ideas. Identify any options proposed by others, especially those from private entities, states, or other Federal agencies. Ask for their response to help uncover any overlooked options and to identify some criteria to be used in the screening process (the next step). The following questions can help check your range of options:

  • Do identified needs and stated objectives need to be adjusted?
  • Are the identified needs stable or are they changing?
  • Are there enough options to cover appropriate needs, concerns, or issues that have been identified?
  • Do the options address the identified objectives?
  • If there are options that fall within the purview of some other entity, are they recognized and duly noted?
  • Do these options continue to justify your involvement?

If not, re-examine your process. What was overlooked? Is there still a legitimate problem that can be solved?

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navigate in the page--Go On

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

Resources and Constraints < -- --->Screening Criteria

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SpecificIncrease Your Creativity

PreviousStep 3, Determine Resources and Constraints

NextStep 5, Establish and Apply Screening Criteria

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