At a conference of this size, conference planners ponder how to create ways to facilitate valuable personal interaction and discussion between people of different backgrounds. A good example of an interactive event at the Forum happened on Tuesday as one of the interactive program facilitators chatted with people wandering around in the Village of Solutions. She encouraged more than half a dozen people to come in and participate in a collaborative event. This event, intended to make people feel like they were being observed and responsible for serious decision-making, was entitled the ‘fish-bowl negotiation’ session. People gathered around a table in order to discuss a topic. Christine, a zoologist and biologist from Switzerland, led our group comprised of people from around the world including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Mexico, France, U.S.A., and Switzerland, in typical moderator fashion. Our discussion question was “Is Water a Public Good?” This impromptu gathering created a role-playing interest group who acted out board level responsibilities; thus creating transparency through open personalized dialogue.
The first round of interaction was expected to be in direct response to the question, with some supporting evidence on why participants responded in a certain way. Opinions related to the question on public vs. private rights to water were mostly geared toward the ‘human right to water.’ It was pointed out that it was also important to consider ecological needs for water. Listening to different opinions in this setting was quite educational. Arguments for considering ground water an important public resource included a variety of issues related to boundaries, water use, and prioritization of needs. Those who did not agree to ‘water as a public resource’ had political concerns or thought that water should be privatized. Privatization, they argued, makes water more appreciated and more efficiently used when priced in comparison to more expensive resources.
The next steps of the role-playing exercise included a second round that encouraged participants to think about each other’s statements and come up with mutually agreeable values. The third round of discussion permitted people to make closing statements. More people agreed that to really create depth within the context of the question, a framework or organization of outcomes was necessary. It was also pointed out that student voice was valuable and sometimes overlooked.
To wrap up the role-play exercise, opinion drivers and other observations were noted. Interestingly, two of the ten players got up and left during the process for unknown reasons. It could be suggested that they were either not engaged or decided to do something more personally relevant. This idea is a great one to consider when thinking about how to keep stakeholders engaged through the end of negotiations. While this was a fun exercise to encourage interaction, it also pointed out the necessity for pre-meeting educational materials, which provide context and set expectations. With planning, our discussion would have been more productive.
It was wonderful to meet other conference attendees from the World Water Forum in a relaxed setting and hear a range of opinions. Through half an hour of discourse, this group was able to relay several of the strong conference priorities regarding sharing resources, geographical boundaries, communication, and how to approach change. This experience helped participants gain insight into high level meetings and what could be going on at the forum in closed level sessions.