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February 9, 2013 » 9:42 am

Delta Dialogues

My biggest project last year was around water issues in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. That region is critically important to California, as it provides water for 25 of the 38 million people who live here — two-thirds of our population. This water is responsible for an estimated $400 billion of California’s economy — 20 percent of our GDP.

But there is much, much more at stake than that. There are almost a thousand different species of plants and wildlife in the Delta, much of it native, some of it endangered. California’s salmon industry is dependent on sufficient water flow in the Delta.

Then there are the people who make up that community: a half million people, a half million acres of nutrient-rich farmland, a quarter of a million jobs. These numbers barely scratch the surface of the story of that community: the way of life, the beauty of the region, and the wonderful people who live there.

I fell in love with the Delta while working on this project. This was the only thing that could have happened, because I love California, and I don’t see how anyone who loves California could not also love the Delta.

This simple fact was what made our project possible. Everyone involved loves the Delta. With all of the vicious fighting, name-calling, and litigation in that region over the past half century, it can be hard to see this.

Our team at Groupaya along with my friend and mentor, Jeff Conklin of CogNexus Group, spent much of last year designing and facilitating a process to build shared understanding and rebuild trust in the region. We called the process, Delta Dialogues (one of Kristin Cobble’s many brilliant contributions). I previously wrote a guest post about the project on the California Civic Innovations Project blog, where you can read a brief description of what we did and why we did it.

We hired my friend, Joe Mathews, journalist extraordinaire, California editor of Zocalo Public Square, and coauthor of California Crackup, to observe and write about the Delta Dialogues. He blogged regularly at our project website, and he wrote an amazing wrap-up piece, which we just released last Wednesday.

Go read it now. It’s wonderful: full of characters and color and context and learnings.

It’s also no-holds barred. We didn’t put any restrictions on him, other than a ground rule that participants requested, which was the ability to vet quotes before they were published. (Saying “we didn’t put any restrictions on him” suggests that we had the ability to put restrictions on him in the first place. Anyone who knows Joe knows that this would have been impossible anyway, so we didn’t bother trying.)

So Joe’s account is not all roses and candy. There’s some stuff there that isn’t pretty, specifically his descriptions of some disconnects on our team and of a poorly facilitated meeting in July, which was particularly inopportune in many respects.

Because I left Groupaya, I won’t be participating in the second phase of the Delta Dialogues. It’s one of the many things that made my departure so difficult, especially since we have a lot of unfinished business to attend to. However, it does give me an opportunity to do something that I probably would not have done if I hadn’t left: Write an account of why we designed things the way we did, what we learned, what we would have done differently, what we would have done the same. I will definitely be writing more about that July meeting.

Hopefully, people will find this valuable. At minimum, I know I’ll find it cathartic.

Kristin, Rebecca Petzel, and I will also do a live version of this from 3-5pm on Wednesday, February 20 in San Francisco. If you’re interested in attending, RSVP here for now.

While I tee up my new posts, you can read my previous writings on the project on the Groupaya blog:

If you have specific questions or topics you’d like to see me discuss, please leave a comment below.

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4 Responses to “Delta Dialogues”

  1. I wish there were an html/instapaper/epub version of that big report….

  2. If more people request it, we'll do Kindle + EPUB.

  3. Are the dialogue maps public?

  4. Yes. Everything on the site is public.

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