Geography Reference
In-Depth Information
Like most large, interdisciplinary research efforts, ours was full of interesting twists and
turns. We learned important lessons about how different systems—biophysical, geopolitic-
al, and socioeconomic—are linked together at different scales. A fair amount of our time
and effort, particularly during the early phases of the project, was devoted to figuring out
how our different scientific disciplines fit together. We found that it was important from
the beginning to define key terms such as system , impact , and stakeholders and to work
on forming consensus between project investigators. Most of the researchers on the pro-
ject agreed that finding a common language—not English or Chinese, but rather an agreed-
upon system of meaning for communicating across scientific disciplines—was the most
challenging endeavor. Nearly all of the project personnel agreed that the inclusion of “sali-
ence” according to the perspectives of multiple stakeholders constituted the most important
achievement of IDAM.
Even within the relatively insular world of engineering and hydrological design, re-
searchers are becoming more aware of their own subjective biases and of the ramifications
of these biases to the environment and to community members whose lives may be altered
forever, but who have little formal power in the decision-making process. By including sa-
lience in the model, our intention was to improve transparency in the decision-making pro-
cesses—which entails not just binary questions such as “to build or not to build,” but also
questions such as “to build here or to build there” or “to build with these characteristics or
those characteristics.”
The larger question is how such a modeling effort can be applied in the real world to affect
the course of policy and decision making. The response to the IDAM among scientists and
policymakers thus far has been mixed. Our research group convened a series of workshops
to solicit critical input on the model: one at an international conference in the United States
that focused on the renewal of the Columbia River Treaty between the United States and
Canada; one in Yunnan in which Chinese government officials, hydropower corporation
executives, andNGOrepresentatives sharedtheirperspectives withus;andoneattheWoo-
drowWilson International Center forScholars in Washington, D.C., to conclude the project
and reflect on its potential applications. In each workshop, our goals were to solicit feed-
back on our approach to measuring dam impacts in a holistic fashion; to test the validity of
the specific indicators chosen for the model; and to discuss practical strategies for encour-
aging policy makers to use this type of tool in their decision-making processes.
The meeting in China, which took place over two days in Kunming, the provincial cap-
ital of Yunnan, was particularly instructive because the term stakeholder ( liyi xiangguan-
zhe ) is quite new in China, as is the process of multiperspective decision making in natural
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