Twitter served me a slow, sweet softball this morning. Behold, two pictures of very recent meetings on the Friant.
I did not attend either meeting. But we can discern some things, just from the pictures. First, shall we note? The picture of the SJV Water Infrastructure Authority includes no women, and by appearances, perhaps three men of color. Also, they’re all old. Without counting, I can say the Water Solutions Network meeting looks to be half women; youth and people of color were throughout. They are still all listening to an old white dude (Snow), but they’ve got a man at one of the easels (countering the ‘chicks are secretaries’ bias), so I’ll let it pass.
Notice the different room set-ups. The SJV Water Infrastructure Authority reinforces hierarchy. The panel is set up behind a raised dias, listening to (appears to be) a couple technocrats, seated physically lower than the panel. The Water Solutions Network is in a circle set-up without a favored “head” end. I actually tend to find ‘circle of chairs’ a bit exposed and prefer ‘circle of tables’, but it is a physically egalitarian set-up.
I can make predictions from the pictures alone:
The results of the SJV Water Infrastructure Authority will be to double down. They will come out of that meeting decided to do whatever they were doing before (lobbying politicians who look like them, spending money), only MORE. They have not created a meeting that will bring them new ideas, because they have not included the kinds of people who think different things from them. Those technocrats behind the table likely think that their jobs are to predict what the men on the dias want, and to find evidence or means to support what the panel wants to do. Our current system is so good to the men who sit on that dias that they are forced to think that it is a good system, and they will only work to do MORE within their old concepts and structures.
The Water Solutions Network meeting will produce a lot, and a lot of it will be diffuse and hard to implement. I am sure that a lot of the work on those easels will be broad statements of preference (that I almost certainly agree with, but). There will be suggestions that are so different from our current system that it is very difficult to think of policy or technical bridges to that endpoint. Some of the ideas will contradict each other. And, importantly, the concept that will end up doing the work is included in there. A lot of what these participants bring will not get used, but that is not time wasted. Participating builds capacity for the attendees; their input tells the currently powerful in the room where the field is heading.
The organizers of both meetings will get what they wanted from their own meeting. The meeting structure is not neutral; it replicates the forms of societies the organizers want to see (the kinds of participants, hierarchical or egalitarian). I believe the organizers of the SJVWIA meeting should be asking themselves a different question: “will this meeting bring us what we need to advance our project in today’s world?”. But if they were capable of asking that question, they already wouldn’t be holding their meetings in a hearing room.