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Creating space for science-based collaborative solutions

In-person & virtual Talk: Rendezvous for Sustainability
When Sep 27, 2021
from 03:00 PM to 04:00 PM
Where 107 Norman Smith Hall, UMaine.
Contact Name
Contact Phone 207.581.3196
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The United States is one of the most heavily dammed countries around the world. The US National Inventory of Dams maintains a list of more than 90,000 dams, which does not include an additional 200,000 dams that are too small to make the list. Historically, dams in the U.S. provided benefits, such as hydropower, water supply, and recreation. As dams age, they provide fewer benefits and require more maintenance and improvements. Dams also contribute to negative environmental impacts, such as altering stream flow, impairing water quality, and disrupting ecosystem connectivity. Decisions about dams highlight challenges for sustainability partnerships and the science-policy interface, including the difficulty of systems thinking and of managing conflict between interested parties.

We have developed an integrated role-play simulation and system dynamics model to respond to the challenges of dam decision-making. We aimed for the simulation and model to integrate knowledge from researchers and potential users and to create a safe space to bring them together to interact with one another, learn about dam systems, one another’s interests and priorities, and foster innovations in problem-solving. This tool has been applied for research in several place-based workshops with stakeholders in New Hampshire and Rhode Island. Workshop participants negotiated with one another to explore dam management options in the fictional, dammed Pearl River and its tributary, Mill Creek. In contrast to the typical way decisions are made in practice, we found that the negotiated solutions from the workshops usually involve a multi-dam management approach with diversified management options that meet interests to improve fish populations and generate hydropower, while keeping costs low. In response to concerns that negotiated solutions produce conservative outcomes that cater to the interests of the least ambitious stakeholders, we found that some negotiated solutions yielded benefits close to or better than the simulated solutions that optimize across trade-offs. All negotiated outcomes yielded improvements over the “business as usual” outcome. We also found that participants reported learning about collaboration, the importance of engaging with diverse stakeholders, and the usefulness of credible science, data, and models to inform decisions about dams. Our findings highlight the potential for science-informed, stakeholder-engaged approaches to inform decision-making and improve environmental and economic outcomes.


The talk will be held virtually via Zoom and in-person at 107 Norman Smith Hall, UMaine.

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