Interview with Heather MacKay

IPMS 1995
Post-doctoral Researcher, University of Witwatersrand
Water Policy Consultant
Republic of South Africa

(This interview was conducted in 2002.  Dr. Heather MacKay
is currently director at FHB Consulting Services, Lynden and
resides in the USA.)

Current Activities
As a part of her research at the University of Witwatersrand, Heather is conducting a major review of South African water policy and its history. This research forms part of a larger effort supported by the government to determine the best capacity-building strategies for implementing the ecosystem protection aspects of South Africa’s new water policies.

Most Important IPMS Lessons
The lesson that Heather found to be most important from her IPMS experience was an awareness of the importance of providing a social context in which to build consensus around policy. The embedded nature of such a context in the design of the negotiation simulations made the games an effective device for working with people in the development of policy tools.

Applying IPMS Lessons
Upon Heather’s return from IPMS, she contacted South African government authorities to explore ways in which consensus-building techniques could be used to build capacity for Department of Water Resources personnel. With support from the government, she proceeded to organize a one-day training program for department personnel that provided them with an IPMS-based approach to interacting with water resource stakeholders. Participants in the program found it to be extremely useful for developing approaches in which stakeholders could work in partnership with the Department on water resource management initiatives. Previously, technical models had been used without broad stakeholder input in formulating the policy that governed the management of this sector.
In a related area, Heather’s work in revamping national water policy required input from many technically trained professionals. As water laws and regulations had become outdated, such a shift required the development of new policy-making tools. Heather sought to tap into the knowledge of individuals and groups intimately familiar with the policy approaches that were needed most. She achieved this by using her consensus-building skills to create an environment in which people are brought together from industrial, agricultural and non-profit sectors to establish an agreement on the design of new water policy instruments. She attributes her ability to work with such a diverse group of stakeholders to the skills she developed at IPMS.

Suggestions for Improving IPMS
Heather was very impressed with the program, citing its short and concentrated balance of technique and content.   “If ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” she said, quoting the familiar adage.

Suggestions for Other SCF Activities
Apart from the brief, targeted courses that she has organized with regard to water resources management, Heather has had little success setting up broader, regional programs in South Africa that are similar to IPMS. From her perspective, such a program may be too costly if its facilitation hinges upon retaining the services of top quality international faculty. On the other hand, Heather indicates that there may be opportunities to incorporate a substantial body of domestic experience in South Africa concerning consensus-building and environmental sustainability. She points out that the background of a regional program’s faculty, together with the context in which the lectures and simulations are given, should also be appropriate to the geographic areas that the program encompasses. Critical guidance could be drawn from the IPMS model in one way by importing its gaming aspects into the curriculum developed for the regional program.


twitter hyves linkedIn