The Iijoki Case


1. The Iijoki river

Iijoki river basin is the sixth largest river basin in Finland, located mostly in North Ostrobothnia, just below the Arctic circle. The river was harnessed for hydropower production in the late 1950s during the heavy industrialization of Post-World War II Finland. This blocked the natural cycle of migratory fish like Atlantic salmon and migratory brown trout, causing an enduring environmental conflict in the area. The longstanding conflicthad led to a lack of trust between local interest groups and a halt in the development of the river basin.

In March 2016 the Iijoki Vision and Action Plan process was launched as a part of an EU-funded Iijoki’s otva project (2015–2018), which sought to raise the value of the river by restoring the cycle of the migratory fish in the river, improve water quality in the river basing and by increasing the attractiveness of the local area. Akordi, together with Pöyry Finland Oy and Mapita Oy, was in charge of launching a new operation model to build a shared vision for the future of the water system and to ensure the commitment of various parties involved.

Pictured: The Iijoki watershed and it’s hydropower infrastructure

2. First steps: a preliminary report and Iijoki’s otva project

After an initiative by the Finnish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in August of 2014 about a pilot project set in the Iijoki river basin was made, a preliminary study was compiled by the University of Oulu and the Council of Oulu Region.

The study served as a situation assessment, outlining various problems and issues that local municipalities and interest groups faced in different parts of the river. Downstream the local actors were concerned with worsening water quality . In the middle sections of the river, there was major lack of trust between interest groups mostly because of the highly contested and prolonged Kollaja reservoir plan. Further east at the headwaters the responsibilities and the arrangement of recreational fishing in the river basin was brought up. What was shared was dissatisfaction with the halted state of the area, a strong will to develop the river basin and to restore the once lost migratory fish stocks to the river.

The preliminary report concluded that the possible River Vision should concentrate on the multitude of value increasing projects in the river basin, especially the improvement of the quality of water, and on the restoring of the migratory fish stocks. The report suggested that the River Vision model should “utilize a mutual gains approach that would bring the many actors of Iijoki around the same table.”After winning the public tender as a three company consortium, Akordi Oy, Pöyry Finland Oy and Mapita Oy launched the River Vision process as a part of the Iijoki’s otva.

In 2015 Iijoki’s otva launched with three main goals:

  • creating a joint water area vision called the Iijoki Vision
  • by promoting the recovery of migratory fish stocks and securing of the Baltic sea salmon stock
  • by promoting the implementation of smaller development measures during the project that enhance the value of the river

Iijoki River Vision focused on joint water basin development, building a new operating model trying to combine the various goals of water management, fishery, water management, use of areas and the business sector. Akordi together with Pöyry coordinated the River Vision process.

3. The Iijoki Vision process

Akordi together with the consortium selected the mutual gains approach as the core of the negotiation process. The aim was to strengthen the commitment of the participants by creating a widely accepted vision of the river basin.

The River Vision process was divided into several phases:

Pictured: Iijoki River process phases

Akordi and Pöyry started by interviewing a wide range of interest groups connected to the Iijoki river. A lion’s share of these interest groups would form the The Iijoki Vision advisory board.

Pictured: the process diagram of the River Vision

The Iijoki Vision Process also consisted of a tour of local workshops, a map-based online questionnaire led by Mapita Oy, Iijoki Wiki -page, two Iijoki Forum -events in 2017 and 2018, building an Action Plan and the agreement for the continuation of cooperation. A steering group made up by the representatives of the funding parties oversaw and greenlit the decisions made by the Iijoki Advisory Board. Next we dive deeper into the work of The Iijoki Vision Advisory Board and Akordi’s contribution to it.

The Iijoki Advisory Board

Akordi was responsible for organizing and facilitating the Iijoki Vision Advisory Board meetings. The advisory board was composed of a wide range of stakeholders,  such as representatives from each local municipality, local fishing districts, the Natural Resources Institute Finland (LUKE), the Finnish Forest Administration Metsähallitus, Northern Ostrobothnia Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment, hydropower company PVO-Vesivoima Oy and local recreational fishing communities. The advisory board worked as the main instrument of developing and deciding the actions and goals of the River Vision: for example the Advisory board compiled and approved the goals and key areas of the vision.

Every member agreed to actively participate in collaborative negotiation. Akordi was in charge of facilitating the board meetings as a neutral group ensuring the fair treatment of each group and making sure the agreed rules of negotiation conduct are followed. Akordi played a key role in facilitating and working together with the stakeholders to foster trust and commitment between the different interest groups through at times difficult topics and subjects.

Major decisions and directions were made and approved with the consensus principle: there were no majority decisions to erode possible gained trust. Discussions and negotiations continued until every participant was able to accept the decision as the best option for them. This did not mean that they agreed on every aspect of the outcome, but that the formed compromise would be shared with everyone. The consensus principle placed two important duties on each participant:

  1. Stakeholders need to voice their needs and worries, especially when they do not agree with the decision.
  2. Stakeholders need to work to find solutions to others’ needs.

The facilitated workshops and agreed codes of conduct also led to action plans among the stakeholder that were implemented to the Iijoki Vision Action Plan Bank.

Building knowledge: The knowledge production phase

The negotiation process used joint fact-finding (JFF)  and Citizen science in building a shared understanding of the present situation of the river basin.  In JFF the responsibility of knowledge production is given to a group of varied interest groups instead of a single decision maker. The group has to work to negotiate and agree on what kind of knowledge production methods satisfy every stakeholders needs about validity, quality, transparency and availability of the produced knowledge. JFF was implemented in the Iijoki Vision process by having a map-based questionnaire and by a local workshop tour.

The advisory board participated in drafting with Maptionnaire and the consortium a map-based questionnaire to find out the different uses, values , points of contention and interest and needs of the river basin. The Iijoki’s Values -questionnaire was launched to the public in October 2016. In four weeks over 800 people responded marking over 2 700 unique points of interest. The questionnaire gave the Water Vision advisory board  a shared pool of data to discuss and negotiate even difficult topics of the vision process.

Akordi and Pöyry also arranged five open workshops in Ii, Yli-Ii (Oulu), Pudasjärvi, Taivalkoski and Kuusamo together with VYYHTI II -watershed restoration project in late 2016. The workshops showcased Iijoki’s otva -project,  presented the questionnaire’s results and highlighted local trends and points of interest. The workshop worked as a place for local residents to voice their opinions, concerns and questions about the vision process.

Task Forces and local groups

If everything couldn’t be agreed upon during the advisory board meetings the Vision Process stakeholder together with Akordi and Pöyry set up task forces to focus on specific topics, such as quality of water, migratory wish or the attractiveness of the area. Through consensus building the stakeholders would find a feasible solution for everyone to present to and approve by the advisory board.  One of these topics was the application for the Iijoki migratory fish government key project, which would see the building of an intelligent fishway to the Raasakka power plan

Given the generous project length, the process allowed Akordi and Pöyry to set up local negotiation groups to find consensus on difficult subjects. In the case of the Iijoki government key project application the Ii area fishing districts saw that the suggested proposition would worsen and restrict fishing opportunities in the area and thus objected to the application. Akordi and Pöyry met together with representatives from Ii fishing districts, Ii municipality and Pohjolan Voima Oy power company to find feasible solutions for everyone for the spearhead project. The local negotiations led to the Raasakka old riverbed restoration project and a consensus decision to apply for the spearhead funding.

4. The Water Vision of Iijoki: results

Akordi was closely involved in drafting the River Vision 2030 document together with the  consortium and the advisory board. The final River Vision 2030 focuses on five key areas. The advisory board set tangible goals for each of them. The agreed key areas where:

  1. Attractiveness of the river basin  and livelihood opportunities
  2. Migratory fish
  3. Cooperation and communication
  4. The quality of water and the watershed wellbeing
  5. Recreational use and the quality of living

To ensure the continuation and commitment to the vision, A set of actions was agreed upon after the ending of Iijoki Vision. During the making of the Vision document a large action plan bank was assembled that would advance the agreed areas. The advisory board would continue to operate, focusing on communication and inter group relations, and the interest groups agreed to hold a yearly Iijoki Forum -seminar.

Pictured: the five key areas of the Iijoki Water Vision and the commitment process

What changed?

After the end of the Iijoki otva the municipalities of Ii, Oulu, Pudasjärvi and Taivalkoski, PVO-Vesivoima Oy, Metsähallitus, Vapo Oy / Turveruukki Oy, and ELY Centre of North Ostrobothnia made the Iijoki River Agreement (2019-2023). The agreement continues the work started in the Iijoki Vision by raising the value of the river by restoring the migratory fish stocks, improving water quality by watershed restorations, and developing tourism, recreation and livelihood opportunities. The latest Iijoki Forum was held in Ii in August of 2021, and the advisory board meets twice a year.

The Iijoki Agreement has seen the building of the downstream migration lane for smolt at Haapakoski hydropower station. The project has its beginnings in the joint application of PVO-Vesivoima Oy and Metsähallitus for the Iijoki migratory fish government key project. The application was drafted during the Iijoki’s otva and River Vision collaboration.

Afterwards the Iijoki Vision was seen positively by its participatory stakeholders. The consensus building process, its various collaboration techniques and the emphasis of trust building with enough time allocated to negotiations were praised. The collaboration started in the River Vision process has led to a multitude of projects and action plans in the river basin. Locally led watershed restoration projects Tyräjärvi-Koviojärvi area and Ruosteoja-Savioja are now concluding, a research and project partnership including VYYHTI and CircLab is in the works. Iijoki River Agreement has kicked off for example Ojasta allikkoon -forest industry watershed conservation project, a rapid restoration project in Livojoki and Loukusanjoki and a peat production areas’ wetland conservation project Neova.