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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 9 Implement

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

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Once the decision is made, take action.

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navigate in the page--Purpose

  • To solve the problem
  • To continue the support and consent
  • To maintain flexibility

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navigate in the page--Why?

Keep your eyes on the long-term solution so the day-to-day tribulations don't get you down.

This is the bottom line for Reclamation's existence--to accomplish its mission by solving serious problems. Without this step, every effort so far has been wasted.

Implementation is the crucible for proving Reclamation's effectiveness. An agency or organization has only one way to prove that it will follow through on promises and commitments--to actually do it. When a program is successfully implemented and promises are lived up to, then Reclamation gains the credibility it needs to effectively solve other problems. When promises are broken, the lack of action is seen as a reason why people can't trust government.

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navigate in the page--How?

Ideally, all the implementors have been involved in earlier steps. If not, start getting them up-to-date yesterday.

This is the most challenging part of the decision process.

The responsible implementor should become familiar with the history and the foundation to identify potential trouble spots and to understand the reasons behind the actions. No matter how hard participants worked so far, there are still potential conflicts and emotional charges--you may still need to develop consent. Three basic parts of implementation are:

  • Getting and keeping the trust and support needed to act
  • Preparing the work
  • Actually doing the work

Identify the Players

Actually solving the problem will require more time, energy, and resources than it took to come up with the solution.

Identify who will be involved and to what extent . Develop a structure and communication process that is reasonable and doable. Figure out:

  • How much input and what type of input is needed to solve the problem
  • What community involvement and support is needed

Participants are glad the long, hard process is finally over--but the real work is still ahead. Now, more than ever, you need to make sure your resources are in place. Check the following:

Is the recommended solution supported? Is there effective communication?
Have the decisionmakers been involved in the process? Are they ready and able to act?
Is funding available? Have you checked out all the possible sources of funding, partnerships, cooperative ventures, etc.?
Is there still time to solve the problem? Is our timing in sync with partners' timing?

Without these commitments, you can't take action. Putting these in place during the action is far more difficult than getting them in place before you start.

Gather Input

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(Plan. Then do.)

Make sure that all affected publics have had a chance to comment on the recommended solution as documented by the team. Categorize these comments so that the implementors can consider them in their actions. Followup here is useful to pinpoint any potential unresolved problems.

Ask both active participants and those on the sidelines:

  • Did you feel that you had a voice in the process?
  • Do you understand the decision process, the boundaries of the decision, and the objectives of the solution?

Address problems before action is taken. This will build credibility by demonstrating that you listen to concerns and strengthens the solution.

Review Partners

Partners will change their participation as the process shifts from evaluating to doing. Partners primarily concerned with gathering information may lessen their participation. Partners concerned with actual implementation may be just beginning to really get involved. Providing them with an accurate history of what has happened will help everyone understand why you are solving the problem the way you are, rather than assuming hidden motives.

Build Internal Support

Before, action was needed to kill a project. Now, inaction will do the same thing. Implementors need to develop consent and active participation just to get the process going. You'll need to work with both external and internal groups--but in different ways.

The entire decision process, but especially this phase, must be built so that it does not demean (and is not perceived to demean) the implementors. The implementors must be confident that:

  • They will not have to redo their effort or double back needlessly.
  • They are not doomed to be on trial forever.

It is easy to feel that the level of communication and involvement can drop now that the decision has been made. Also, many implementors come with a high level of distrust. They have been involved with or have heard of actions that have failed--and this one may be seen as a risk.

Ways to help build internal support include:

Determine what the implementation team needs to know to effectively do their jobs and to communicate with the affected or interested publics and then set up a training program. Think about informal contacts too--the person lining the canal might chat with the jogger passing by. What does that person need to know to allay the jogger's fears of potential hazards?
In " Step 8 Selection ," the decisionmaker and responsible implementor communicated with the implementation team to get everyone up to speed on the process, the action, and the rationales. Keep communication lines open so that the team can work together to anticipate and address problems and changes.

Build External Support

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(Talk to people in their own language.)

The solution may require a lot of active participation or a very few key people. Document and publicize how you will keep the rest of the participants informed. Clearly explain your process for handling and monitoring unexpected changes.

Do not assume that you have already contacted every interested or affected public*definition . People have lives that have nothing to do with your action, and they may have been more interested in fixing supper than in an action that was a distant possibility. Also, regulators and others may refuse to get involved until this point as they feel it is not their job. This step probably brings the most new players --and they'll probably be the most upset as they confront an actual action (e.g., local law enforcement at a construction site, timekeepers with new forms). You will have a much better position if you go to these groups first. Meet with these publics to find out their concerns. Scoping and participation maps can help do this.


Implementation brings along its own issues, which can be very different than those identified during earlier steps. Set up a procedure to identify these new issues. You might install a hotline, ask followup questions, etc. Issue tables can help track these new concerns.
Most participants do not set up water management programs or build projects for a living. Thus, they need to know the technical terms and the broader applications. Often, it will seem as though you are speaking ancient Sanskrit rather than plain English! Use analogies, simplified explanations, physical models, or other ways to get your point across. Efforts made here will allow participants to provide meaningful input and serve as informed watchdogs.
At this point, too much communication will drown out vital information and promote resentment and suspicion. (This is the fifth report I've gotten this month, and I don't understand any of it. Are you deliberately trying to confuse me?!?) But too little information will entice affected publics to go out of their way to sniff out "cover ups!" (e.g., talk about crash dummies can continue for over 50 years). Maintain a balance by checking back with participants regularly.


People may never look at the material, but they want to know it is there.

Structure your communication to be sensitive to the community's needs, especially those who feel less empowered to gain access to information.

Make materials readily available at an easily accessible location in an understandable, friendly format. You might keep a log, update a report weekly, ask implementors to videotape the progress, etc. You could hire a recorder to document the process. Putting information in a data base accessible by Internet might be appropriate.

Briefly summarize what is being done and tell participants who to contact and where to go for more information. Don't rely on just one source here--make it a goal to reach every potentially affected or interested person with your message at least three times. You may want to use newspapers, newsletters, radio, TV, Internet, WWW, billboards, tourist offices, utility stuffers, etc. Before you advertise, test the system. Dial the number or go to the location as if you knew nothing about the program. Was it easy to find? Were people available to help you if you had a question? The more accessible the information, the more support the solution will have.


Saying that the noise level will be an average of 10 decibels higher during the day means nothing. Having a plane fly low over your head at 2 in the morning is a different matter.

You can't keep fussing around with your armor forever. Sometimes you just have to make the estimate and go with it.

Carefully plan out the action with both internal implementors and external participants. Many problems can be avoided simply by thinking through what it will take to get the actions done. If you haven't yet thought about how the solution will work, be prepared to do a LOT of backtracking!

Keep the psychological balance between all parties, agencies, and participants in mind. The more you understand the timing, requirements, priorities, and interrelationships of reaching the solution, the better you will be able to:

Develop the roles of the external participants .
When participants understand what needs to happen, they can identify their roles more effectively. This will help make their participation more meaningful.
Communicate the plan to the implementors .
This will help them understand how their expertise can be used to better orchestrate their actions.
Integrate changes into the process.
If you know the plan well, you can modify it to accommodate changes efficiently. You can also show clearly how and why things changed so managers, the team, and affected publics understand.

To plan out the details of an action, first break it down into manageable elements. List and categorize these elements. Categories will vary by activity, so put some thought into tailoring the categories to fit your needs. In a construction activity, they will probably be physical actions (e.g., dig the channels, put up erosion control measures, place turnouts). In an administrative action, they may be more institutional (create, test, and publicize the process).

Once you have the categories, meet with technical experts and implementors to list the elements under those categories. If everyone agrees that an action should take place, but no one person is responsible for making it happen, then it probably won't happen. Plan actions by determining who will do what.

To schedule the work, you first need to know all of the details of the action. As this is what will actually be done, you need an on-the-ground level of detail. For example:

I need five bulldozers and their operators for 40 workdays to build the series of dikes at Hollow Ridge.
I need three editorial assistants for 1 week to prepare the national mailing list, finalize the report, and stuff envelopes.

While this will be much more specific than anything done so far, most of the information should already be generated. Break the plan into the level of detail that you need. This may be as detailed as an hourly account of actions needed for a hazardous waste cleanup or as general as an annual account of activities needed to check that a form is being filled out correctly.

Determine who will do each element. Then get with that person and determine:

  • What exactly you are going to do
  • How long it will take
  • What resources you will need
  • Where you will do the task
  • How you will get the resources to the task
  • What are the constraints (e.g., transport, time, resource availability)


  • Do you have access to everything you will need?
  • Do you have the necessary priorities?

With this information, you can draw graphs to visualize the duration and interdependencies of tasks. Check this with all of the implementors. Draw on their knowledge and expertise to guarantee that the process is effective and doable. This will also help identify potential conflicts and gauge how much the system can handle at its weakest point.

Implementing in Stages

If you know how to cook, you can substitute ingredients. If you can't cook, you have to follow the recipe exactly--and pray that nothing will go wrong.

You may not have funding, room, or facilities to do the task at one time. Rather than trying to do everything at once, it is often more useful to break the implementation into groups of tasks to more efficiently use resources and accommodate funding. This is called staging*definition, tiering, or phased implementation. When developing these phases, consider:

  • Physical, funding, and resource constraints
  • Relationships among tasks (what needs to be done first)
  • Availability of information
  • Gatekeepers and key points in the implementation decision process
  • Necessary permits

Check with participants about the phases before you schedule them to ensure nothing is missing. Schedule

After you know what needs to be done, you can figure out when to do it. Develop your action plan .

Now that you have the individual pieces in place, you can put them together by determining where each activity fits in the overall scheme:

  • What can you do simultaneously?
  • What depends on other actions? Why?
  • What can be done independently of other actions?

Don't forget about external constraints , such as permits, timing of activities, and availability of resources. Knowing what the risks are ahead of time can add some flexibility.

Think about contingencies: legal (who might sue and why), political, biological, climatic, social, physical, etc. What would happen if the action did not take place in the fiscal year budgeted? What changes are likely to occur, and what allowances can we make for them? The schedule needs to account for technical and social factors. Merge the two by first putting together a technical schedule with implementors, then determining when reviews and comments are needed with key participants.

Meet with both implementors and key participants to hammer out conflicts. Then look at the action in relationship to other actions. This will help set both internal and external priorities. If you have a high priority, you may be able to twist the tails that need to be twisted. If it is a lower priority, you may need to figure out ways to squeeze it in on the edges of other actions. What are the priorities within Reclamation? For other participants? How does this solution fit in? Estimate

Now that you know the actions needed and the timeframe, you can refine the estimates of the resources needed to complete the work (e.g., time, funds, materials, and staff). These estimates will help participants and decisionmakers understand the extent of the work involved and provide a basis for changing the scope of the work to fit the available resources. Timing and dates of completion may also be affected. A word of caution, however. Don't fall in love with these numbers! Preliminary financial estimates are usually based on physical or organizational requirements (it will take so many gauges to monitor this streamflow, so many mailings for this education effort, etc.). These estimates, however, do not consider the functional costs, the cost of elements needed for the solution to function properly. This is like estimating the costs of a three bedroom home by square feet, without including costs for functional items such as a stairway, driveway, or porch. Unfortunately, people will grab onto the lower costs of the preliminary estimate and will be reluctant when costs rise. As you go along, explain and document the cost changes and the need for the functional costs (e.g., if you don't have a stairway, you can't reach the upper story).

You will need to refine estimates of impacts as well. This will help provide affected publics and participants a better view of what the impacts will actually be. Keeping them informed will help build your credibility and support when you need to make changes. Again, however, keep in mind that these are merely estimates. It is much better to be straightforward about high impacts and then show what changes you can make in the plan to avoid or lessen those impacts than to provide a low estimate and have to weasel word around when the impacts are higher than your estimate. Permits, for example, may have certain threshold limits for air or water quality. If preliminary estimates come above those limits and you can rearrange or redesign to assure that the solution will come under those limits, show and document all the changes you plan to make. Clearly show the rationale for these changes or you will be accused of playing fast and loose with the numbers.

Get Agreement

Now that you have a detailed plan, schedule, and estimate, go to the decisionmakers and participants to make sure that this is what they want. You may need to rework some elements--but again, the more you know about the interrelationships and requirements of the actions, the more flexible your plan can be.

Decide how much you can do and at what level. How much is the issue worth? Actual working details may be different than expectations built up earlier in the process. (I said you could put a sidewalk in, but I didn't think you'd cut down my tree to do it!)

Do It

Doing the work in a carefully thought out way will amply repay the efforts made to plan it, but doing it haphazardly will destroy those efforts. While you are doing the work, keep track of what has actually happened and map that against the original schedule and plan. Conscientiously create an "as-built" schedule by marking off what happened when and noting changes.

Work With Changes

Force field analyses can help determine if the change is worthwhile.

Changes will crop up throughout the process. The way you handle those changes will make the difference between a cost-effective, timely solution and wasted effort. To incorporate these changes:

Identify changes early.
The earlier you know about a change, the more options you have for dealing with it.
Define changes.
Get the decisionmaker to pin down the change. What does it consist of? What does it directly affect? In what way?
Determine the cost.
Figure out how you can deal with the change in the most effective, least expensive manner. Considering the costs of the change with the person who wants it will help determine its importance . Participants who want the change might do or fund the work themselves.
Determine the delay.
Figure out how you can incorporate the change with the least delay to the schedule. Can you do another task first? Then determine how much delay there will be--and demonstrate why.
Sketch out the ripple effect.
Use the defined interrelationships among tasks to determine what kind of indirect effects the change will have.
Document the effects.
Show what the change is, how you will address it (and why) and what effects the change will have on the cost and the schedule.

Share the rationales for the changes and delays with decisionmakers as early as you can. Then determine when to share the changes with the other implementors and participants. This will prove that you are indeed solving the problem in a fair and reasonable manner and trying to avoid cost overruns and delays. Keep in mind that it is easier to convince someone about the need for a 2-month delay three different times than a 6-month delay for six different reasons.

Check for Problems

Implementation is never smooth sailing, and you'll need to keep checking to see if there are any problems. Do a reality check to examine the process. Get with implementors, participants, management, and affected publics to ask:

  • How well are we doing?
  • Are our goals realistic?
  • What is working well?
  • What isn't working? How can we fix that?

Areas to check include:

Personal conflicts.
Are there any unresolved conflicts or issues? How well does the implementation team work together and with other participants? Is there an open, supportive, flexible environment? If not, discuss these issues at the earliest point so they don't get out of hand.
Often, permits and approvals from other agencies are needed. What permits do you need? From whom? Consider Federal, State, and local permitting and other authorizing bodies. Think about how these gatekeepers operate.

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navigate in the page--Tools

tools(See the toolbox for more tools)

Tools here are more often physical or organizational as you put the solution in place. However, keep looking at the decision process and the context to ensure you are on the right track.

Decision Analysis

Often, solutions will be "mini-versions" of the decision process--you can go back through the steps to focus on a problem area. This will help clarify issues, identify changes, and focus the solutions. It will also build support for and show the rationale behind these on-the-ground changes.


Scoping is a vital part of implementation as well as the rest of the decision process. Continue to meet with groups and find out about others who are affected by or interested in the actions. This will:

Participation Map

Participants' involvement and roles change. Use a participation map to keep track of changing roles during each phase of the implementation.

Issue Tables

Use the issue tables generated in Step 8 to continue to keep track of the progress.

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

Contractors compacted sides, added riprap for further control.

Chemicals in the workplace

Measure levels of chemicals

Contractors will institute measures x and y

State lab monitored for QA/QC standards


Safety training and drills

Each office will develop training and schedule drills

Training was provided to safety officers. Drills worked well.

Generalized Standards

Have design standards for a wide range of features. This:

  • Demonstrates global expectations
  • Creates an atmosphere where all the pieces work together
  • Keeps track of various actions
  • Develops cohesive, coherent solutions (e.g., record keeping procedures, architecture)
  • Promotes understanding

The Right Person for the Right Job

If the team and the responsible implementor are not working effectively, then the problem won't be solved. You may need to replace them.

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navigate in the page--Look Forward

You cannot please everyone all the time. The most you can do is explain what you are doing and why.

Solving the problem does not stop with doing an action. Throughout the life of the program, you will need to monitor and adapt. To do this, document activities so that others can readily understand what has been done---and what needs to be done. Documenting the implementation will:

  • Help gather support
  • Build a paper trail to resolve future issues
  • Help avoid or eliminate rumors and misinformation

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navigate in the page--Go On

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

Select <-----> Monitor and Adapt

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PreviousStep 8, Select

NextSstep 10,Monitor and Follow Up

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