Collaborative Preparation of Legislation on Environmental Objectives for Water Management and Deviations Therefrom

During spring 2023, a significant legislative change related to environmental objectives for water management was prepared under the leadership of a working group appointed by the Ministry of the Environment. The substantial legal amendment is being prepared by a government working group on a tight schedule, making it crucial to ensure stakeholder participation for achieving an acceptable outcome. Akordi supported the government working group in planning and conducting two hybrid workshops for a broad range of stakeholders.

The workshops for stakeholders were organized early in the legislative preparation process to ensure openness and secure stakeholder influence. Early interaction also allowed for bringing forth all key questions and perspectives of stakeholders in the preparation work. Akordi’s experts facilitated the planning of workshops through a few expert interviews.

In addition to early initiation of interaction, an essential factor was that interaction was not just a formality organized by an external consultant. Members of the working group responsible for the preparation actively participated in workshop planning, discussions, reflections, and results analysis. This contributed to the increase of mutual understanding and the building of trust between all parties. The expertise of an external facilitator provided an understanding of significant aspects of event execution and ensured that participants had equal opportunities to engage in discussions.

Early participation was considered meaningful but challenging.

The workshop activities were seen as meaningful and useful but challenging. The large size of the participant group, varying levels of familiarity with the subject, and the complexity of the substance itself challenged the facilitators in guiding discussions related to the mandate of legislative preparation. However, discussions occasionally diverging from core questions were noted to provide valuable information and understanding for the ministry’s preparers to utilize in other contexts. This brought attention to one of the challenges in organizing interaction: how to structure discussions to serve both the organizer’s needs and the meaningful emergence of issues perceived as significant by participants?

The first workshop focused on mapping the needs and concerns of stakeholders, which was successful, and the generated material and discussions were considered useful in legislative preparation. The second workshop aimed to concentrate on assessing the effects of draft clauses, which proved to be more challenging. The content and wording of the draft clauses drew attention, and articulating views in the language of impact assessment was difficult. However, progress was reasonably made in identifying impacts. In hindsight, it was suggested that a third workshop might have been necessary to address the draft clauses first and then move on to impact assessment. However, the tight schedule of legislative preparation did not allow for this.

The contribution of workshops was perceived as significant and beneficial by the working group preparing the legal amendment, even though not all aspects progressed as far as initially anticipated. Feedback from stakeholders indicated that the collaboration was also perceived as useful and open, but the tight schedule clearly posed challenges and concerns related to the preparation of the matter. It was also considered positive that early participation opportunities created conditions for stakeholders to prepare for future expert hearings, advocacy work, and the upcoming consultation round.

Could a collaborative approach benefit the overall management of water resources?

Regarding the environmental objectives for water management, the workshops identified the comprehensive management of water resources as a common challenge. A holistic approach is necessary because achieving environmental objectives for water bodies depends on various actors who affect water bodies differently, and only some are subject to licensing. However, assessing overall impacts and causation (e.g., diffuse pollution vs. point source emission) is challenging.

One option for managing this challenging situation is seen in a collaborative approach. An approach based on collaboration between actors could bring a new voluntary incentive for improving the condition of water bodies alongside legal obligations. Solutions formulated collaboratively among stakeholders would benefit not only actors planning various projects but also the good ecological status of water bodies. However, collaboration between different actors requires careful professional planning and coordination.

Read more about the legislative preparation for environmental objectives for water management and deviations therefrom on Akordi’s project page or the Ministry of the Environment’s project page (Finnish).