Stakeholder Engagement

Stakeholder engagement from project inception to completion distinguished WW2100 from many other large scale biophysical and socioeconomic research projects. By engaging stakeholders in the research project, we sought to:

  • enhance advancement in science by placing a deliberate emphasis on societal relevance and adaptation,

  • provide a mechanism for regional and “boots-on-the-ground” project review, and

  • support learning and information exchange among water users, managers, scientists, and educators

To achieve these goals, we employed three strategies to reach various audiences in the Willamette River Basin throughout the project. Table 1 outlines these strategies and this web page highlights two key project components, our “Learning and Action Network” (LAN) and “Technical Advisory Group” (TAG).

Table 1. WW2100's three-level stakeholder involvement strategy.

Strategy Group Outreach and Feedback Strategy
1 Learning Action Network (LAN) - ~215 self-identified listserv participants; 120 people attended at least one WW2100 event Field trips, workshops and webinars designed to foster interaction and shared learning between researchers and stakeholders, and provide regional feedback on model and scenario design (project years 1-5; 2011-2015)).
2 Technical Advisory Group (TAG) - group of ~25 professionals chosen by Research Team based on their expertise, constituency affiliation, and representation; charged with defining assumptions of two stakeholder scenarios. Six half-day meetings in project year 5 (2014-2015), as well as phone calls, and emails on specific questions; provided specific quantities for scenario assumptions, and judgments on future land and water use policies and practices.
3 Regional Outreach – regional audiences of water managers, policy makers and the public 35 invited presentations on the Willamette water system and the WW2100 project; many invitations stemmed from connections made through the LAN and TAG.

About the Learning and Action Network

The Learning and Action Network (LAN) was our primary mechanism to encourage collaboration between scientists and stakeholders.LAN events consisted of fieldtrips, workshops, and webinars, where we encouraged dialogue about water issues in the basin, and introduced and received feedback on WW2100 modeling approaches and analysis. We invited participation in the LAN through professional contacts, and by engaging a representative working in local government (Adam Stebbins) to serve as a stakeholder liaison in the early years of the project. The LAN grew to include county commissioners, managers and scientists from state and federal natural resource agencies, farmers, K-12 educators, and representatives from water utilities, conservation organizations and industry. Over 120 people participated in at least one LAN event, which included:

  • Fieldtrips: Three daylong LAN fieldtrips in project year 1 (April, August, and September 2011) toured the upper, middle and lower Willamette River Basin (WRB). Water managers and scientists gave short presentations at field trip stops which encouraged networking and gave participants an on-the-ground view of geologic controls on hydrology, reservoir operations, fisheries concerns, restoration and water quality mitigation, and water storage and delivery for power supply, agriculture and urban uses. Over 70 people attended the three field trips.

  • Water Scarcity Discussion: A workgroup of the LAN convened in project year 1 (June 2011) to develop a stakeholder driven definition of water scarcity. The session paralleled an effort among the research team to develop a formal academic definition of the concept (Jaeger, et al., 2013). The LAN group’s goal was to develop a plain language definition that reflected regional concerns about biophysical and human constraints on water availability. They reached consensus on the following definition, “Water scarcity occurs when there is not an affordable, attainable and reliable source of clean water when and where it is wanted or needed by humans, animals and plants, currently and into the future.”

  • Focus Group Discussions: We convened six focus groups in project year 2 (May 2012) to establish a baseline of knowledge, needs, networks, and expectations around water sustainability and scarcity in the WRB. The focus groups clustered participants by geography and perspective as managers or research scientists. Seventy-one people participated.

  • Workshops: In years 2-6 we held annual LAN forums where we invited the LAN to review and provide feedback on the model design, data sources, and draft scenario assumptions of the WW2100 modeling effort. Attendance at each forum ranged from 36-74 people. Pre and post surveys on expectations, information needs and knowledge gain were conducted at each of the annual forums.

  • Webinars: In years 3-5 we held 12 webinars focused on different project components, from regional climate projections to modeling land use change. These webinars provided background information on particular components of water supply and demand, and featured related research that influenced development of WW2100 modeling components. The webinars were each attended by an average of 50 people made up of both the research and LAN communities.

  • Electronic Mailing List: Our LAN email distribution list grew to 215 self-subscribed participants. Notices to the listserv included invitations to LAN events, summary newsletters of workshop activities and outcomes, and topical research and news stories.

  • Dialogue: Members of the LAN were encouraged to and felt comfortable calling the BIT to provide input on data, share concerns and suggestions. This provided an additional trusted avenue of informal and formal dialogue between the LAN and the research team.

About the Technical Advisory Group (TAG)

Beginning in project year 5 (Fall 2014) we invited a core group of 25 citizen stakeholders to participate in a series of half-day meetings to define the assumptions for two stakeholder scenarios. Called the Technical Advisory Group (TAG), members were affiliated with municipal, county, state and federal agencies, tribes, agricultural and forestry interests, industry, public utilities, irrigation districts, and farmers. These individuals were approached by the research team and asked if they would volunteer to serve on the TAG. We recruited TAG participants based on the depth and breadth of their knowledge of water issues in the WRB, and for their capacity to represent the broad range of sectoral and geographic water use and management interests and past participation. Many of these eventual TAG members had participated in LAN events in project years 1-3.

Within the larger WW2100 effort, the group’s charge was to define the driving assumptions of two future scenarios. The TAG chose to create scenarios in which multiple scenario characteristics varied at the same time. Early TAG discussions centered on the unifying theme or scenario name that would distinguish one TAG scenario from the other. The TAG ultimately chose the names Extreme and Managed Case for their two scenarios.

Scenario assumptions were defined by specifying the particularities for each of the nine key scenario elements the TAG believed best represented an Extreme versus a Managed Case water availability future (shown in Figure 3c-1). These TAG scenario definition decisions were made by consensus, with each meeting facilitated by a Research Team member. Meetings frequently included presentations by research team members to explain the technical background of the WW2100 Envision model and to present in-process results of research team scenarios, as they became available.

Reflections on the WW2100 Stakeholder Engagement Process

Here we reflect on the successes and challenges of our effort to involve regional stakeholders in an academic research project. This reflection is partially informed by results from a formal assessment of the WW2100 stakeholder engagement process that wass the subject of an OSU master’s thesis (Ferguson, 2015). Ms. Ferguson conducted semi-structured interviews and a detailed online survey to characterize and assess expectations and outcomes from researchers and stakeholders who participated in the LAN and TAG.

We present this reflection in the context of three goals developed by the broader impacts team, the group of researchers that led stakeholder engagement activities. By involving regional water managers and users in the project, we sought to:

  • enhance advancement in science by placing a deliberate emphasis on societal relevance and adaptation,

  • provide a mechanism for regional and “boots-on-the-ground” project review,

  • support learning and information exchange among water users, managers, scientists, and educators in the Willamette River Basin (WRB).


Goal 1: enhance advancement in science by placing a deliberate emphasis on societal relevance and adaptation

LAN and TAG meetings did lead to meaningful discussions about regional water policy that influenced the scope and direction of the project. For example, a LAN meeting in May 2012 generated a list of specific water management policies that attendees felt were regionally relevant, and that they wanted to see incorporated into WW2100 modeling and scenarios. The research team then considered each suggestion and where possible adapted model design to accommodate the suggestions. The TAG process – where a group of representative stakeholders designed the constraints for two multivariable scenarios – is another example of how stakeholder knowledge informed the research process. The TAG designed the thematic direction and assumptions for the Extreme and Managed scenarios, and in the process also influenced the direction of many of the single variable human dimensions scenarios.

However, there was also tension among participants about the role that stakeholders should play in the research process. Some researchers came from traditions and disciplines that placed a strong emphasis on the value of local knowledge. Others raised concerns about the institutional bias that stakeholders might bring, or had little experience working on teams with non-academic partners. In interviews with researchers and stakeholders, Ferguson (2015) found that the most prevalent challenge mentioned during interviews was diversity of visions for the project. This manifested both within the research team and in the stakeholder engagement aspect of the project, as participants pursued different research or stakeholder engagement goals. Other project challenges mentioned by interviewees included: the logistical difficulties of coordinating so many people, the complexity of the modeling endeavor in and of itself, interpersonal differences among participants, and the challenge of merging research styles from different disciplines.

The technical challenge of modeling such a complex system led to frustration for some LAN and TAG participants. Development of the model took longer than expected, and this reduced the time and project emphasis placed on the evaluation of policy alternatives and adaptation strategies to mitigate future water scarcity. For example, stream water temperature played an important role in early LAN discussions, because it affects regulatory requirements to protect endangered fish. Yet by project year 5, the research team had not been able to incorporate stream temperature into the integrated model in the way they had hoped.

Analysis scale was another source of tension between researcher and stakeholder goals. The complexity of the model meant that much of the analysis and interpretation focused at the scale of the entire Willamette watershed, while stakeholder questions and interest often focused on the more localized scale where their management decisions played out. In TAG meetings, participants suggested that analyses at a sub-basin scale could be one direction for future research.

Despite these challenges, Ferguson’s interviews showed that LAN and TAG participants felt that they had contributed to building the model and that the completion of an integrated water model for the basin was a great success for the project. Her survey also showed that participation was positively correlated with participants’ perceptions of feeling heard (rs = .36, p < .001) and valuing the stakeholder engagement process (rs = .39, p < .001).


Goal 2: provide a mechanism for regional and “boots-on-the-ground” project review

We found that LAN workshops created useful checkpoints where researchers could present progress and receive feedback. This feedback sometimes led to explicit model adjustments, for example, changes in assumptions about farmer planting dates, and careful consideration about how to incorporate Bull Run, the large water source outside the WRB for the city of Portland (Ferguson et. al., 2014). But LAN engagement also sometimes led to frustration, when researchers could not or would not adjust assumptions or model components to match stakeholder experience. This frustration sometimes stemmed from the different perspective of researchers and stakeholders. For example, a sub-group of project researchers developed a model for urban water demand that was guided by the academic literature in economics and, based on this literature, identified water price and household income as the greatest determinants of future residential water demand. But some representatives from urban water providers felt that this model did not adequately represent the influence of water conservation education and technology, or the declines in per capita water demand they had observed in recent decades.

The complexity of Envision and its modeling components also hindered the regional review process. Pre- and post-event surveys showed that participants came away from LAN meetings with a much greater understanding of modeling components (IWW, 2012; Ferguson, 2015). But some participants felt that it was unrealistic for them to provide meaningful feedback within the one-day, large group format of the annual LAN meetings. Researchers responded to these concerns with follow-up correspondence and meetings, by developing workshop summaries, and by creating an online FAQ document (IWW, 2012; IWW, 2014; Ferguson et. al., 2014).

The format of the TAG process also helped address these concerns. By involving fewer participants (25) and more frequent (six roughly monthly) half-day meetings, it provided more opportunities for participants to ask questions and share their diverse perspectives. Questions about the limits of the WW2100 model, understanding of the larger Willamette water system, and what constituted Extreme versus Managed futures, prompted further inquiries and conversations between TAG meetings and related model refinements. These questions also led to what several TAG members described as, for them, among the most educational parts of the TAG process.

One of the benefits of the stakeholder engagement process is that it created awareness about the project among regional water managers. Ferguson’s survey showed that active participants in the WW2100 stakeholder engagement process understood the Willamette Envision model better and found the model to be more useful. In the survey, participation was positively correlated with survey respondents’ perception of the Willamette Envision model’s utility (rs = .32, p = .002) and understanding of the Willamette Envision model (rs = .42, p < .001). Interviewed stakeholders also expressed that through the process they gained an understanding of the model and other water users. They also found the Willamette Envision model more credible than they may have otherwise and implied that they could serve as project ambassadors, sharing the information with their colleagues.


Goal 3: Support learning and information exchange among water users, managers, scientists, and educators in the WRB.

In Ferguson’s analysis, the most frequently mentioned outcome of the stakeholder engagement was that participants were learning and had an overall positive experience. Interviewed stakeholders valued the process for the opportunity to build relationships with diverse water users, regulators, and researchers and to begin a constructive dialogue about planning now for possible water availability constraints in the future. Some example interview comments included, “I would say that the discussions and the relationship-building have been more beneficial to me than the actual nitty-gritty numbers that it produces,” and “I think just even having that dialogue amongst the users was probably one of the most successful parts of the project.”

We believe that two key factors enabled these learning successes. First, the goal to develop an integrated model of the Willamette water system created a forum for sharing different regional and sector perspectives. The topic of anticipating water scarcity drew the interest of individuals in many different water-related sectors, and provided an opportunity for different types of water users to learn about and consider how the water system is interconnected. The project’s broad geographic scale and long modeling horizon also freed participants to think about big picture connections. Second, because this was a research project, led by university partners, it created a neutral forum not tied to specific agency perspectives or a short-term management objective. Many stakeholders commented that they had enhanced their whole basin perspective by engaging in WW2100, and that they had few other professional opportunities to build that perspective.


As educators, we count the learning fostered by the stakeholder engagement process as among the greatest successes of the project, and we hope that it will enhance stewardship of water resources in the basin over the long term. WW2100 was an ambitious biophysical and socioeconomic modeling project that emphasized stakeholder participation as a central way of working. Stakeholder engagement in science is not a new concept. The engagement of researchers and stakeholders in discussions and decision making from project initiation to completion sets WW2100 apart in that the process is itself an experiment. Many examples can be cited on how stakeholder input was incorporated into the model. Examples can also be cited on how stakeholders’ thinking was enhanced by working with the researchers and engaging people from different sectors around a common theme.

The project revealed that there are needs and questions around water scarcity, climate change, people, policies, and land uses beyond the scope of the project. With many of the results and their interpretation coming only in the latter half of the fifth and final year of the project, we simply ran out of resources (time and funding) to address the many uses that researchers and stakeholders see as valuable from the project. A final stakeholders’ workshop served as a forum for elucidating, prioritizing, and discussing a future action plan. At this meeting, stakeholders identified such unfulfilled research needs such as integrating fish life history with a temperature model, new ways to explore and predict urban water demand that might include conservation and different infrastructure pricing, anticipating additional drivers to farming and irrigation practices, more in-depth analysis on the impacts of water policies, and perhaps even the role of changing water storage capacity in the basin.

Our project is among the first to describe and analyze the engagement process from project inception to completion. We were not perfect. However, our research of the process has revealed that engagement in science from inception to completion provides a societally relevant peer-review process, one that stimulates critical thinking on the applications and needs for water science.

Related Publications & Links

  • Ferguson L, Chan S, Santelmann M, Tilt B.  2016.  Exploring participant motivations and expectations in a researcher-stakeholder engagement process: Willamette Water 2100Landscape and Urban Planning. 157:447–456.

  • Ferguson LB.  (2016).  Collaborative science-stakeholder engagement: An annotated reference guide for scientific engagement with natural-resources practicioners (ORESU-H16-001). Corvallis, Oregon: Oregon Sea Grant.

  • Ferguson LB.  (2015).  Characterizing and Assessing the Researcher-Stakeholder Engagement Process for Water Sustainability: The Willamette Water 2100 Project. Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon.


  • Summary materials from LAN events:

    • LAN Workshop - December 4, 2015 - Salem, Oregon - Workshop Summary (PDF icon meetingsummary_12_4_15.pdf) - This workshop shared key stories that have emerged over the project's five years, and sought feedback from stakeholders on applying and communicating project findings.

    • LAN Workshop - March 18, 2014 - Salem, Oregon - Workshop Summary (PDF icon march2014_summary_7_15_14s.pdf) - This workshop described the WW2100 modeling framework, and introduced early findings from the Reference scenario, a model of future water availability under expected trends in population and income growth, existing policies and institutions, and a mid‐range climate change scenario.  See also the online FAQ document researchers created following the workshop (PDF icon ww2100_faq_march2014.pdf).

    • Small-group LAN Workshop - February 22, 2013, Salem, Oregon - This workshop brought together 25 stakeholders to provide feedback on elements and assumptions of the Reference Case scenario (the initial modeling scenario) and to provide feedback on metrics designed to evaluate and compare modeling scenarios.

    • LAN Workshop - May 9, 2012, Salem, Oregon - Workshop Summary (PDF icon may2012summary_7_28_12.pdf) - The workshop was an opportunity to learn about and to provide feedback on the project’s effort to model the Willamette water system and to help the project research team understand the current and future water issues facing basin stakeholders and public agencies.

    • Lower Willamette LAN Field Trip - September 23-24, 2011 - Fieldtrip Materials (PDF icon september23-24_2011_lowerwillametteguide.pdf) - This trip focused on water supply for municipal, industrial and power generation in the Portland Metropolitan area. Participants visited the Tualatin River Basin on the first day with stops at Hagg Lake, the major reservoir on the Tualatin system, the Joint Water Commission water treatment plant in Forest Grove, and riparian and wetland restoration projects near Forest Grove. Participants also attended a lecture by Dr. Heejun Chang on his hydrologic modeling work for the Tualatin River Basin. On the second day, participants joined the annual Clackamas River Watershed Tour hosted by the Clackamas River Water Providers. This tour focused on forest management, hydropower generation and waste water treatment in the Clackamas River Basin.

    • Small group LAN Workshop - Albany, Oregon (PDF icon ww2100_lanwaterscarcity_definition_june2011.pdf)- The goal of this workshop was to develop a plain language definition of water scarcity that resonated with workshop participants.

    • Middle Willamette LAN Field Trip - August 4, 2011 - Fieldtrip Materials (PDF icon august4_2011_fieldtrip_guide.pdf) - This trip focused on issues related to temperature TMDLs, operation of water control districts, and groundwater supply and use. Stops included the Talking Water Gardens in Albany, sites in the Santiam Water Control District near Salem, and presentations by OWRD groundwater geologists.

    • Upper Willamette LAN Field Trip - April 21, 2011 - Fieldtrip Materials (PDF icon april21_2011_fieldtrip_guide.pdf) - This trip highlighted issues related to floodplain restoration, reservoir storage, and dam operations with stops at Green Island, Leaberg Dam, Lookout Point Reservoir and Fern Ridge Reservoir.

Broader Impacts Team (alphabetical)

  • Samuel Chan, Oregon Sea Grant

  • David Hulse, University of Oregon (UO) Landscape Architecture

  • Laura Ferguson, MS Student, OSU Marine Resource Management (Graduated: 2015)

  • Maria Lewis Hunter, MS Student, OSU Water Resources Policy and Management (Graduated: 2013)

  • Linda Modrell, Former Benton County Commissioner

  • Anita Morzillo, OSU Forest Ecosystems & Society

  • Mary Santelmann, OSU Water Resources Graduate Program

  • Adam Stebbins, Benton County

  • Maria Wright, OSU Institute for Water and Watersheds


Ferguson LB.  (2016). Collaborative science-stakeholder engagement: An annotated reference guide for scientific engagement with natural-resources practicioners (ORESU-H16-001). Corvallis, Oregon: Oregon Sea Grant.

Jaeger, W. K., Plantinga, A. J., Chang, H., Dello, K., Grant, G., Hulse, D., ... & Mote, P. (2013). Toward a formal definition of water scarcity in natural‐human systems. Water Resources Research, 49(7), 4506-4517.

IWW. (2014). Workshop Summary. WW2100 Learning and Action Network Workshop, March 18, 2014, Salem, Oregon.

IWW. (2012). Workshop Summary. WW2100 Learning and Action Network Workshop, May 9, 2012, Salem, Oregon.

page authors: Wright, Ferguson, Hulse, Chan
last updated: January 2016