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Increased demand to participate in environmental decision-making around highly contentious and wicked problems has shaped the need for participatory processes that prioritize learning and consensus building. Consensus building addresses one of the core issues and downfalls of hard-bargaining approaches to negotiations over water resources: not having the right or all relevant stakeholders represented. Before deciding whether a consensus building process is appropriate for dealing with a natural resource management issue, and if so, who should be involved and what issues should be at the table, a stakeholder assessment needs to be conducted. Such an assessment was conducted as part of the interdisciplinary “Future of Dams” project, for which the goal is to better understand how science is used in decision-making around current and future management of dams in New England. Due to their influence on environmental, economic, and social systems, as well as their inherent trade-offs, dams and decisions surrounding their management serve as examples of wicked problems. As aging infrastructure, safety concerns, and interests in ecological restoration lead to more New England communities being required to address the future of their dams, it becomes necessary to better understand the social context within which decisions are being made. This presentation will cover key steps of conducting stakeholder assessments, including stakeholder identification, data collection, data analysis (including use of NVivo software), and will conclude with preliminary results. The presentation will also address next steps, including use of results to design and implement a science-based role-play negotiation simulation around dam management.

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Support for this project is provided by the National Science Foundation’s Research Infrastructure Improvement Program NSF #IIA-1539071. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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