Institutionalizing Collaboration and Multi-objective Decision Making in Water Resources Planning Processes within the Corps

April 17, 2024

Speakers: Michelle Hilleary & Hal Cardwell (University of Florida)


Collaboration in water resources management in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has benefited from sustained strategic investment and network nurturing. Recent policy directives to look more comprehensively across categories of benefits are moving the Corps to employ more multi-objective decision making techniques in the tradeoffs analysis step of the Civil Works planning process. Applying collaborative techniques in tradeoffs analyses will facilitate better decision-making and increased realization of benefits in the public sphere.

The Corps’ Institute for Water Resources (IWR) was created in 1969 to analyze and anticipate changing water resources management conditions, and to develop planning methods and analytical tools to address economic, social, institutional, and environmental needs in water resources planning and policy. In 2008, the Collaboration and Public Participation Center (CPCX) was named a Corps Center of Expertise within IWR. CPCX is an authoritative source for senior Corps leaders, government agencies, civilian, and international leaders from related industries to study and confer on the tactical application of water resource management and conflict resolution. CPCX was a response to the growing need for alternative methods of dispute resolution in the management of our nation’s waters. USACE's recognition of the need for collaboration, partnering, and public participation in water resources decision making has been documented in both guidance and strategic plans.

CPCX provides technical assistance to USACE Districts and Divisions on collaborative processes, builds USACE collaborative capacity, publishes reports on environmental conflict resolution and collaborative processes, and manages the USACE’s Collaboration and Public Participation Community of Practice. CPCX’s work is focused on its four goals of capacity building, direct services, policy support, and innovative processes. CPCX improves the outcomes of USACE missions by supporting collaborative processes and ensuring that the interests of partners, stakeholders, and the public are addressed.

In accordance with the 2021 Comprehensive Benefits Memo, Corps study teams are directed to “analyze benefits in total and equally across a full array of benefits categories”. These public benefit categories include economic (national and regional), environmental (national and regional), and other social benefits that are valued by the federal government, non-federal sponsor, public, and interested stakeholders. These “buckets” of public benefits along with the guiding principles from the Principles, Requirements, and Guidelines (PR&G) will help inform evaluation and decision-making for water resources investments. Identifying plans that maximize net total benefits will require comparison in performance among various objectives and criteria. Decision analytic techniques may help provide transparency and clarity to distinguish between input of value preferences and technical information in informing a decision. Stakeholders involved in a planning study will bring their own values and preferences; therefore, using structured tradeoffs methods will be vital to both identify the plan that maximizes net public benefits and provide clarity and transparency on the eventual selection of the recommended plan.