Bureau of Reclamation Banner
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 8

Select and Set Up

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

pretty border

Now that alternatives have been evaluated and ranked, the decisionmaker selects one and sets the stage for implementing.

pretty border

navigate in the page--Purpose

Everything has been evaluated ; you have a recommended solution that looks like it will work. Congratulations! Celebrate this success --Getting a plan to solve the problem is a major achievement!!

  • To decide on the course of action
  • To finalize agreements and establish commitment among participants
  • To set that action in motion

pretty border

navigate in the page--Why?

Don't use dragons to light a stove--chose the simplest option.

The quality of the decision determines the quality of the solution. Participants have worked out tradeoffs and compromises to find solutions that will work and fit the situation and environment. Impacts and interrelationships have been evaluated. Now the decisionmaker can use this as a basis to select a balanced, workable alternative.

pretty border

navigate in the page--How?

The difference between advice giving and decisionmaking is one of responsibility. Doctors or mechanics can give advice, but they are not ultimately responsible for your life or your car--you are. In the same way, technical experts can give advice, but they are not ultimately responsible for the decision. The decisionmakers should have been identified early on and kept informed throughout the process. Now they take the lead. If these decisionmakers have not yet been identified, find out who has the authority to make the decision and determine who the decisionmakers are. Contact them. Recognize the problems the delay has caused and get them up to date on the decision process.

Review the Decisionmaking Climate

The politics and amount of conflict will determine the degree of control over a decision.

The context for the decision will determine how the decision will be made and the solution accomplished. Re-examine existing relations with politicians, agency and department heads, and influential people on national, state, and local levels. These relations will fall on a scale somewhere between pro-active (working with groups to find a supportable, workable solution) and re-active (responding to requests and influences). Work within the context to determine how to communicate and what can and can't be done.

Identify the Showstoppers

If a dragon coughs, it doesn't mean he is going to eat you. Putting you in the stew pot and lighting the fire might.

Identifying showstoppers is akin to the preacher's last call to "speak now or forever hold your peace" at a wedding.

Showstoppers are issues, concerns, needs, or values that are worth stopping the process now. Recognize that the solution won't please everyone completely. If a showstopper is really worth stopping the process, document the situation and then fall back and regroup. Otherwise, keep track of potential showstoppers throughout the decision, implementation, and followup. Demonstrate how these showstoppers were addressed and resolved and then document how you followed through on those resolutions. Sharing this with the affected publics, decisionmakers, and other participants can forestall or avoid court battles and build support for your solution.

To clarify potential showstoppers and gauge their strength, ask participants about:

(Why are you involved? What do you care about so much that you are willing to invest your time?)
(What needs do you see being met by this process?)
(What concerns give you heartburn? What are you losing sleep over?)
Warning signs
(What are the red flags in the process? What would mobilize your constituency or other groups or organizations?)

Document these concerns. Set up and consistently apply procedures for dealing with them. For example, if you know that existing water rights holders will not support your new actions unless their rights are secured, make it clear upfront each time that the new uses are not a threat to the old, established uses. Or, if you know that noise or dust is a concern, develop and publicize a contingency procedure for dealing with potential occurrences of excessive noise or dust.

Make the Decision

Deciding not to act is also a decision--and the rationale must be documented.

When making a decision, try to select the alternative that best accommodates the resource and solves the problem. Look at the results of the evaluations to determine the most effective solution. But this is not enough. The decision must strike a balance between support and effectiveness. Consult with implementors to be certain that the decision you select is doable.

Document the Rationale

NEPA/CEQ and the Administratives Procedures Act are examples of requirements to document the rationale for a decision.


Solutions cannot be all things to all people--someone is going to get hurt. But uou still have to make the decision. Promising everything will be great for everyone will puncture your credibility quickly.

Document and share your reasons for the selection to show everyone what drove your decision and why. This should be presented in a decision document, such as the record of decision*definition required under NEPA. This will:

  • Help rally support needed to make the decision a reality
  • Show participants in other decision processes what aspects are important now
  • Demonstrate to supporters of other alternatives that your decision was a reasonable one
  • Avoid active opposition by giving reasons to support or at least accept the decision
  • Help prepare for active opposition if people do sue, veto, or delay the action

If the recommended alternative is selected, the rationales given in the recommendation can be used. If not, you will have to show why your reasons for choosing another alternative overshadowed the recommendation. For example, if the selection board determines the top three applicants for a position and explains why they were selected, the selecting official can base the decision on their procedure. However, if someone other than the top three candidates is selected, then the selecting official will have to explain not only the rationale but the entire process--including why the top three were rejected.

Put the Plan in Motion

The details are necessary to get the thing done.

Responsible implementors are like symphony conductors. They use each player's skill to create a harmonious, intricate whole.

click for comics

(Get folks to pull the same ways.)

Decisionmakers can do some basic things to help accomplish the solution:

Select a responsible implementor.
You need to have a person who has authority but who is still close enough to the work to understand and coordinate the details of translating the plan into reality. To do this, appoint a responsible person who will be accountable for the implementation. If participants (both internal and external) agree on this person, it will be easier to focus on the real work and avoid sabotage. This will effectively and consistently help translate the solution into reality. Remember that this responsibility needs to be coupled with authority.
Confirm and re-establish ground rules
Since there will be many new players and since circumstances have changed drastically, review the ground rules with the responsible implementor and see if changes need to be made. Incorporate these into the plan.
Provide a support team.
The composition of the team will vary, depending on the action. When selecting this staff, include diverse styles (deep thinker, crazy innovator, precise planner, etc.) and technical expertise to get a complementary mix. Consider comfort levels*definition and skills.
Communicate the plan .
While most people may have been involved in the decision process, everyone needs to be at the same level of understanding now. This helps ground implementors and shows the plan's rationale.
Set up continuing communication.
The decision-maker and responsible implementor need to consult on a regular basis. The decisionmaker must explain overall developments in issues and priorities that might affect the action. The implementor must discuss current actions, changes, and potential problems and solutions.

Decisionmakers need to communicate with responsible implementors often, early, and too much! These two individuals must understand each other's expectations and actions.

pretty border

navigate in the page--Tools

See the toolbox for more tools.

Tools at earlier stages provided the decisionmaker with the information needed to make a balanced decision. Now use tools to strengthen working relationships to ensure decisions can succeed. These may include:

Decision Process Results

Participants in the decision process have worked together to find the most effective solution to the problem. Use the knowledge, understandings, and agreements forged so far as a tool for taking action.


Figure out who has credibility in the process. Work with these people to understand the issues and rationales as well as explain your decision to others. Work with politicians to explain the issues. Don't be confrontational--strong-armed tactics are expensive in the long run.

Issue Tables

Retrofitting is expensive.

Tracking issues arising through implementation is critical. People don't stop thinking about issues after the decision is made--they want to see what happens in real life. Participants will hold you accountable to keep all promises made and to abide by all agreements. When showing the rationale for your decision, also list all the issues and show how each was resolved. Add potential showstoppers to the issue list. You might keep this on a wall that everyone can visit. Continue to note what actually happened.

Sample Issue Table


Resolution/ decision

Implementation plan

Implementation notes


Briefly discuss the issue

What you decided to do about it

Who will do what

Who did what, what happened

Was this satisfactory? What changes needed to be made?


Put in erosion control measures

Contractors will compact side slopes

Chemicals in the workplace

Measure levels of chemicals

Contractors will institute measures x and y


Safety training and drills

Each office will develop training and schedule drills

pretty border

navigate in the page--Look Forward

The decision is actually the easy part. Once you know where you are going, set the solution up to succeed by communicating and getting the support you need.

Communicate Your Decision

There are times to have an old sage present your case. There are times when a young princess is more effective.

"Fairly" does not mean that everyone got their way--rather it means that ideas were heard and considered equitably.

How you communicate the decision will determine if the solution works or gets bogged down. Two groups really need to understand the decision, but from varying perspectives:

Internal staff and managers need to understand how the decision relates to their jobs and missions. Clearly articulate how the decision relates to the work Reclamation needs to do. Focus on the future--how will this decision promote Reclamation's mission in the years to come. Caution: relating this decision to one or two instances where staff feels there were problems will surely backfire, as people will resent the implications and predict a negative result.
Participants will have a wide variety of agendas and needs. This decision is sure to upset someone out there. If you can use open and honest communication to demonstrate that you are playing fairly, people who oppose the decision may go along with it. Clearly explain that there is a serious problem and show why you think that this is the most responsible way to deal with that problem.

If the process has not been fair (or if some participants feel it has not), address this before going any further. Otherwise, an active opposition will spring up.

Set the Solution Up to Succeed

Thank people for being involved to bost morale. Just be careful to remember everyone!

Tell everyone what they need to know so they can take action. This includes:

  • What the decision is
  • How the solution will be put into place
  • How it will be monitored and evaluated
  • How changes will be decided on and made

Make certain that:

  • People responsible for implementation, followup, and monitoring as well as affected publics have been contacted and support the decision.
  • They have the resources to put it in place.
  • Commitments to act and monitor are understood and agreed to

Motivate People

Persuading people that the work has only just begun is a difficult but vital task now. First, let everyone know that you appreciate the work done so far. Little things, such as certificates of appreciation, tee-shirts with the program's name, gym bags, or lunches mean a great deal. They will:

  • Show participants that their efforts mattered. (My name is on the poster by the Crystal River Bridge.)
  • Help strengthen the identity of the group. (I worked on the Crystal River Basin Program rather than I opposed the so and so's who were going to ruin the river).
  • Let people celebrate their accomplishments.
  • Rally participants to focus on solving the problem.

Use lots of imagination and humor to find something that fits the situation.

pretty border

navigate in the page--Go On

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

Evaluate <---- >Implement

pretty border

PreviousStep 7, Evaluate Alternatives

NextStep 9, Implement

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