Implementation of the Public Participation Principle in Integrated Water Management - With Special Reference to the ICPDR Communication Strategy - page 03


Example of Good Practice: Communication and Public Participation in the Development of the Danube River Basin Management Plan Update 2015-2021 and Flood Risk Management Plan 2015-2021

The ICPDR traditionally supports public participation in its activities at all levels; this support is manifested in the involvement of observer organizations in ICPDR's work and launching of specific activities related to public participation and information supply. The most important among recent ICPDR activities are related to the development of six-year documents: the Danube River Basin Management Plan Update and the First Flood Risk Management Plan. The goal of these management plans is additional protection and improvement of the status of all water bodies, ensuring sustainable and long-term use of water resources and sustainable flood risk management.

These two management plans are based on the WFD and EFD, and they thoroughly support the public participation principle. Given that the management plans are the focus of ICPDR's activities and that the measures they call for will affect the people who live in the Danube River Basin, all activities relating to the development and establishment of the management plans, since the very beginning, have included active stakeholder participation. The ICPDR seeks to ensure a high level of public participation and public debate during the course of development of the plans, through stakeholder workshops, online surveys, and public calls for comments on draft documents. Guidance is also provided for stakeholder activities, to facilitate the establishment of effective public participation structures and mechanisms. Communication activities have intensified as the deadline for the adoption of these documents (December 2015) draws near.

According to the WFD, draft river basin management plans need to be made available to the public for comment not later than one year prior to establishment. Consequently, the ICPDR made the drafts available to the public in December 2014. The drafts can be retrieved from ICPDR's website1 and there are links to other websites that contain information on different countries. All interested parties had an opportunity, since 22 July 2015, to comment and thus contribute to the public participation process. The comments received by the ICPDR are also available on its website; they have been taken into consideration and serve as a basis for revisions and finalization of the plans by December 2015. Another form of promoting public participation is online surveying by means of questionnaires, which have been prepared for each plan separately and can be filled out on ICPDR's website2.

A communication activity that was extremely important for the finalization of the plans from an interactive public participation perspective was a workshop titled "Voice of the Danube". It was held in Zagreb, Croatia, on 2 and 3 July 2015. The goal was to enable direct stakeholder consultation, after submission of comments. The workshop was attended by 85 registered users from different sectors, which represented government agencies, the public sector, professional associations, NGOs, the business sector, academia, and research organizations. The debate was in the form of an interactive discussion – Danube Café, where participants were encouraged to discuss every aspect of the plans among themselves. Prior to the workshop, the organizers and facilitators prepared the necessary information and defined sets of questions by group. The facilitators and rapporteurs rotated, such that every participant had an opportunity to express their opinion about each topic. As stated in the workshop report3, the consultation was conducted in such a way that first the issues were presented by topic, then recommendations and suggestions were made about how the management plans should be revised, and finally key messages were formulated. The participants discussed the following key areas:

  • Pollution of surface water and groundwater by nutrients, organic substances, and hazardous substances;
  • Hydromorphological alterations and other pressures (flood risk management, hydropower, navigation, agriculture);
  • Flood Risk Management Plan objectives and measures;
  • Measures for the implementation of both management plans, and funding of measures;
  • Communication and public participation.

The participants pointed out several basic issues within the context of "Communication and public participation", including clear identification of international and local communication actors. Communication of important messages to the public was deemed to be one of the key issues. Another important comment was that the management plans were not attractive to the general public, as opposed to technical experts. A lack of time for promoting online questionnaires that targeted the public and the need to reach out to a broader audience and increase its involvement in public consultation were some of the other major issues identified at the workshop.

The following specific recommendations and suggestions were made, in order to revise the management plans and improve communication and public participation: straightforward actions and messages are needed; decision-makers should be provided with brief and straightforward summaries of the plans; the parties responsible for the data contained in the plans should be clearly identified; the parties responsible for public participation in connection with the plans on the local level should also be identified; appropriate training should be provided to planners and decision-makers, as well as other implementation actors, in order to involve stakeholders and the public in the implementation of the management plans; communication packages should be prepared for different public groups; various thematic forums should be organized, to involve specific public groups; summaries of the plans should be prepared, to reach the general public; selected messages should be translated into local languages; apart from the content, the messages should have a face and be personalized by involving public figures in the campaigns; the use of media outlets should be increased; and the general public should be empowered by simple messages to encourage decision-makers and enable bottom-up communication.

The discussion was comprehensive and productive, and resulted in several key messages and conclusions, such as, with regard to communication and public participation: communication is very important and needs to be recognized as such and the parties responsible for communication identified. On the local level, the parties responsible for communication should take part in communication related to the implementation of the management plans, hand in hand with technical experts. The plans should be attractive in the sense that they should reach different target groups; simplified and straightforward versions should be provided for each target group, including decision-makers and the general public, given that they are not deemed attractive in their present form. Considering language barriers, summaries of the plans should be made available in local languages, since the goal is to reach the local level. With regard to the effectiveness of online questionnaires, considered to be an important tool for reaching a broader audience, the conclusion was that there was insufficient response, the timeframe was too short, and the questionnaires should have been simplified.

Based on all the above, the workshop participants felt that the two most important communication challenges in the future are how to reach the general public (people "in their homes") and the need to ensure readiness for establishing adequate communication immediately upon the onset of a flood event. As part of their evaluation of the outcomes of the workshop, the participants had an opportunity to express their impressions in a questionnaire4. They were generally pleased with the workshop content, the engagement of facilitators and rapporteurs, and the results. The respondents felt that the interactive part of the workshop (Danube Café) was its most attractive segment, mostly because of the opportunity to voice opinions and interact. A large percentage of the respondents also felt that the workshop provided additional motivation to submit comments on the plans, take part in social media campaigns regarding the two plans, and disseminate information within their networks about the possibility of commenting on the plans in the allotted timeframe.

During the course of the workshop, representatives from the ICPDR Public Participation Expert Group emphasized the importance of social media, art, and young people, in parallel with the significance of technical issues addressed in both plans. In that context, it is important to note that an important communication channel was a social media campaign in connection with the Voice of the Danube5. In collaboration with the ICPDR, the campaign was organized by the Global Water Partnership (GWP-SEE). The objectives of the social media campaign were to strengthen communication and relations with target audiences, encourage discussion, gather public opinion, and share the content and news about the management plans. The main social media communication channel was Facebook, where GWP created an event page. The same organization has a communication profile on Twitter, with the hashtag #DanubeVoice. The main objectives of the campaign were to grow online traffic using social media, increase the number of followers and likes, reach a certain target group on Facebook, increase the number of posts and shares, increase the number of followers on Twitter, and involve as many influential Twitterers as possible. From 14 May to 12 July, according to the organizers' statistics, the outcomes of the campaign were: 20 new followers on Twitter, 186 new Facebook fans, 2905 interactions (including Twitter mentions, retweets, created stories on Facebook) of a total of 2358 unique users, and 927,863 impressions of potential users who had seen content on Facebook and Twitter accounts. During the course of the workshop itself, based on direct tweets and Facebook posts, there were 162 interactions by 96 unique users.

Similar to conventional media, social media communication requires a straightforward communication plan, developed strategies, and worked-out communication methods, as well as skillful communicators. All of these have contributed to the success of the campaign.

1 Danube River Basin Management Plan Update 2015: and First Flood Risk Management Plan for the Danube River Basin:
2 Questionnaire concerning the Danube River Basin Management Plan: and questionnaire pertaining to the Flood Risk Management Plan:
3 Voice of the Danubе: Final Report:
4 Voice of the Danube: review by participants:
5 Social Media Report: