Wednesday, February 19, 2014

DotMocracy at Work in the Watershed: Citizens Weigh in on the Action Plan for the Next Ten Years

By Sage Passi
Dana Larsen-Ramsay has a full sheet of dots that will soon become her
votes for specific priority actions in the Watershed.

Getting Public Input

Community Confluence participants listen to Erin Anderson Wenz
 (Barr Engineering) explain the public input gathering process.

Every ten years Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District revises its management plan to keep abreast of changes and needs to be addressed in the District. It’s a two-year process from late 2013 to the end of 2015 that has many steps. Our community has insights, values and concerns that we would like to take into account in planning our actions and strategies for the coming decade. This process is a valuable window of opportunity to renew contacts, make new ones, to dialogue, debate and reflect with citizens and decision-makers alike. We will continue to involve the public in multiple phases of this planning process and in the years to come as we implement our plan.

Marlin Rudeusch, Shoreview resident and John Schmal
 (North St. Paul) discuss issues in the watershed.

During the first phase of the public input part of this process, we held a series of public meetings in the fall of 2013 to give citizens the opportunity to offer input and insight on issues that affect our local lakes and streams. Organizing and gathering our contacts for this outreach process began back in July, 2013. This effort involved sending thousands of digital e-mail invitations and hard-copy letters to encourage residents and city and county contacts to help spread the word about providing input at these community meetings. We made phone calls, wrote articles for our Ripple Effect, other newsletters and newspapers and got the word out by putting postings on websites, Facebook and other social media.

Posters on display captured information offered by participants in
 the three fall 2013 Community Conversations held around the District.

During the fall gatherings we collected information from about 100 people who told us which lakes, streams and wetlands they visit, how they interact with them and use them, what they value about them and their issues of concern and suggested solutions. Watershed staff also met with city public works staff in each of the cities in the watershed to hear their concerns, provide updates and gain input. The Board reviewed the data we collected at those three fall meetings and provided further input.

Over 1500 brainstormed ideas and issues were gathered. Barr Engineering consultants helped us process and organize all the input to present at the public prioritizing event, the Community Confluence: Where Conversations Meet event held on January 30, 2014.

DotMocracy at the “Community Confluence” creates the stage for prioritization and decision-making about watershed issues

On the evening of January 30, despite bitter cold temperatures and the aftermath of a morning snowstorm and slippery roads, a crowd of people gathered together at Maplewood Community Center to help the District develop its focus for the management plan for the

Alex Hernandez Abreu offered beautiful
harp and cello melodies during the
Community Confluence event.
next 10 years. We were blessed by beautiful harp and cello music played by musician, Alex Hernandez Abreu who warmed our spirits, energized us and calmed our nerves! Winter driving and survival in Minnesota takes its toll!
The fifteen hundred ideas and issues gathered at the earlier Community Conversations meetings were grouped and summarized to fit into sixty two actions that fit into eight District’s goals.

Two new areas of focus, not in previous watershed plans, emerged in our input-gathering process:

  • Promote Smart Development & Redevelopment and 
  • Support Access to Water Resources. 

Who Participated?

Bill Blesner, Little Canada Mayor, prepares his ballot.

Dozens of residents from all around the District, city commission members, lakeshore property owners, a mayor, naturalists, business owners, Master Gardeners – anyone who was compelled to get involved in a democratic process of voting came together to prioritize key issues of concern and actions to address water quality and related ecological challenges. 
Scott Ramsay casts his vote.

Confluence citizens review the ballot to decide on their priority
actions for the District's 10-year management plan.

What is DotMocracy?

Eight large paper print-outs were mounted to the wall pertaining to the eight goals and sixty-two total priority actions.  Participants contemplated their choices, discussed them with other people and then finally voted by placing their sticker dots next to the priority action items they thought were most important.

At the end of the night the preliminary results were presented and there was time for questions and a brief discussion.


**********What were the results of the prioritization?**********

For a tally of the votes for each goal please follow this link. 
Serious deliberation in the voting process.

This was not a simple vote at the Confluence; a lot of thought and deliberation were visible in the crowd as people tried to make their decisions. We recognize that making choices like this is not easy, neither is the final answer. 

This vote is not the final straw. It’s only a beginning in a longer process of engaging the public in helping make water quality decisions for our Watershed District.  

Didn't get to Vote?  Do our Online Survey!

Taking attendees' suggestions to heart, if you or someone you know were not able to attend the January Community Confluence meeting or didn't know about it, we have created an online version of the DotMocracy process! Please pass the word on to anyone who works or lives in the District who has not already weighed in through this voting process to help us prioritize actions for the next ten years. We have created an online survey with the list of goals and actions to continue to gather public input.

 Here’s the link.

The survey will be open until April 15th, 2014.

What's Next in the Plan Update Process?

We will continue to gather input from our online survey, find ways to interact and engage with underrepresented groups of people through our Community Capacity Assessment project with the University of Minnesota and share our results with you later this year. Watch for an article on that U of M project in an upcoming issue of the Ripple Effect. We will be entering the technical input phase of the planning process. There will be more opportunities for the public to weigh in on the Preliminary Draft and Final Plan as time goes on. 

We’ll keep you updated along the way.

Many thanks to those who attended and for those taking the opportunity today to share your voice through the online survey. 

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