A New Kind of Public Stakeholder Workshop: Our Opinion – Our Danube
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the future of the ICPDR’s flagship Public Consultation Workshop looked uncertain. During the last Public Consultation on our management plans back in July of 2015, the event took place across 1½ days at the beautiful Croatian State Archives in Zagreb, offering participants a chance not only to socialize in the capital city of an ICPDR member country, but also to interact face-to-face when discussing the future of our precious shared river basin. Dubbed Voice of the Danube in 2015, the event was a memorable milestone for the ICPDR, including consultation on the very first Danube Flood Risk Management Plan. How could the ‘Zoom era’ of 2021 hope to live up to such an event?
The Stakeholder Consultation Workshop comprises the jewel in the crown of the ICPDR’s Public Consultation Process, which takes place every six years when we update our management plans. It’s an irreplaceable chance for so many of the ICPDR’s most important and most experienced voices to gather and talk shop – so cancelling, delaying, or reducing the event in the face of a pandemic was simply not an option. Furthermore, the scale and complexity of the event left us with the reality that a run-of-the-mill video conference simply couldn’t live up to the task.
Living up to the challenge of adapting our Public Stakeholder Consultation Workshop into a an entirely digital – and COVID-safe – event wasn’t something we’d foreseen during the initial preparations for the Public Consultation Process as both management plans were first getting drafted. Luckily, expert assistance from the team at GWP-CEE, along with the adaptability and experience already accrued by the ICPDR swapping every single meeting to digital formats in the early days of this pandemic, gave us something of an edge. Speeches from ICPDR President Momčilo Blagojević, ICPDR Executive Secretary Ivan Zavadsky, and President of the Sava Youth Parliament Tana Bertić were given remotely from their respective bases in Montenegro, Austria, and Croatia. The zenith of the meeting, our Danube Café workshop turned from a revolving series of round-table discussions with participants physically moving from topic to topic in a conference hall, into a series of Zoom breakout sessions, with facilitators dynamically moving from virtual meeting room to virtual meeting room, bringing fresh topics to participants for discussion.
Our moderator (Steve Chaid, ORF) and participants at the ICPDR's 2021 Stakeholder Consultation Workshop.
As both a seasoned American broadcaster and long-since-adopted Danubian, journalist and moderator Steve Chaid was a natural choice to moderate this event. Chaid guided more than 200 participants, including experts, stakeholders and members of the public, through the first virtual conference of this scale for the ICPDR. It was a new kind of digital event where they could all #HaveTheirSay towards the future of our uniquely diverse and international river basin, shared by over 80 million people. Following a series of fruitful discussions on our variety of thematic areas, the outcomes from all sessions were gathered and delivered on the second day of the event – We Discussed Danube. Naturally, all comments will be taken into consideration during the finalization of both plans due in December 2021, but you can find a summary of what our key stakeholders had to say about the Danube River Basin Management Plan and Danube Flood Risk Management Plan Updates in our next article on page 10.
ICPDR President Momčilo Blagojević opened and closed the unique two-day event with a congratulatory intervention for our many participants:
"There is of course a legal requirement behind a public consultation like this. In essence, it is articles 14 of the European Union’s Water Framework Directive and both articles 9 and 10 of the Floods Directive that require us to conduct some level of public consultation during this process.
However, besides being a legal requirement, it’s also just an unbeatable tool for us here at the ICPDR, and it ensures that all stakeholders have their say and get to give us their input directly."