WRA Sets New Example for Public Sector with High-Quality Meetings
(English follows Chinese)
CP Yen Foundation Dialogue Newsletter,
Summer Issue May 2021
WRA Sets New Example for Public Sector with High-Quality Meetings
How often do you find yourself in meetings that lead to no decisions, no actions? We all know high-quality meetings open the space for innovation, stimulate open dialogues, and bring time for leaders for deep listening. If superficial conversations can be replaced with meaningful ones, meetings can change our lives and create a better society. The “Meeting the Director General” event at WRA (Water Resources Agency, Ministry of Economic Affairs) , the winner of the second annual CP Yen Golden Dialogue Impact Award, demonstrates how the annual cross-disciplinary meeting opens up mutual trust and collaboration through authentic dialogue and communication.
“Meeting with Director General” event sets new role model for public-private sector dialogues
Due to the multiple disciplines and hard, complex technical facts involved in environmental issues, it’s often challenging to access and present the specialized knowledge in policy discussions. At the same time, public issue discussions often face very diverse opinions. WRA felt the need to strengthen the connection with the public
to better communicate the policies; thus, the event “Meeting with Director General” was organized. As the bridge between the government and the citizens, the “Meeting with Director General” event by WRA is well into its tenth year. It’s more than a mail box filled with letters by the citizens. It’s a dialogue platform for mutual learning, and active listening, a way of direct face-to-face dialogues. The meeting event steadily communicates openly with the public, setting an excellent role model for dialogue between government and the citizens.
Monitoring measures do not need to result in endless confrontations
Under the auspices of Ministry of Economic Affairs, WRA oversees national affairs on rivers and streams, water conservancy, water resources, relevant policies and legislations. In 2006, Legislative Yuan passed the “Flood Management Program” with an 8-year, 1.16-billion-dollar budget for the program. Conflicting interests and ideologies created doubts about the allocation and execution of the budget. Realizing that dialogues can only take place on the basis of information equality, WRA started to organize public hearings, local counseling teams, and then expert-paneled water control meetings in attempt of resolving disputes rationally. Deeply concerned about water conservancy issues, NAPCU (National Association for the Promotion of Community Universities) became actively involved by assisting to establish Water Management Monitoring Alliance. It also played an important role in organizing “Meeting with Director General“ event series.
Yang Chih-Pin, Secretary – General at NAPCU explained that community universities are, with the mission to promote knowledge, are spread all over Taiwan. Recognizing the importance of Taiwan’s water resources, NAPCU started to monitor the rivers in Taiwan and established Water Management Monitoring Alliance. The alliance looks closely at government’s investment and facilitates concerning water resources. Instead of standing on the opposite side from the government, the alliance builds community of people who are concerned about water issues, organizes public hearings, and to open up possibilities of open dialogues so dialogues can become systematic. Through “Meeting with Director General” over the past ten years, the alliance has built a long-term collaborative relationship with WRA. Dr. Chien-Hsin Lai, Director General of WRA said: “The relationship is not about cuddling up together but about growing together.” The “Meeting with Director General” event not only extends the dialogue of public and private collaborations, it also deepens and broadens the interaction.
Building trust with well-prepared meetings
While some government institutions communicate through public relations professionals, WRA prefers to have direct interactions with stakeholders. Dr. Lai pays attention to the preparation work before any communication. He said: “Building trust does not start at the meeting but through prior preparation.” In the internal and external meetings, all the elements of a dialogue occur. To show respect and to build a safe space for open discussions, Dr. Lai always speaks last. He would listen carefully to all sides and wait for all the facts to surface before making any decision.
Easy promises sabotage credibility. Search for solutions with sincerity.
The issues raised in the meetings are often challenging. The issues involved various aspects including ecological preservation, daily lives, family issues, or other issues as well as strategies and ideologies of specific interest groups and lobbying agencies. In facing these questions, how is it possible to reach solutions that satisfy everyone? Dr. Lai refuses to dodge complex issues and strives to resolve rationally. He admits that some of the issues need time. To him, it’s not a good idea to promise lightly. He says: ““Easy promises sabotage credibility. I can easily promise you everything right away. But if I want to make a long-term commitment, I need to know what my teams can achieve first. I cannot commit right away!” He adds: “Sincerity is important. We want to make sure we can maintain the space for good dialogues. And we are always looking for the best solutions.”
Empathy ignites the passion inside public servants
The negative image of corruptions and hidden rules in bureaucratic systems in the past had severely damaged the public’s trust toward civil servants. As the result, even good policies face obstacles in implementation. To ignite public servant’s sense of rightfulness and responsibility, it’s necessary to start internally. The Meeting with Director General serves as a testing stone. Dr. Lai tells us: “We have to start by encouraging our colleagues to speak honestly, free from the fear of being revenged upon. If the work culture emphasizes personal issues over facts, it’s easy to dodge responsibilities in meetings. Without the sense of rightfulness, it’s hard to generate passion. We have all learned hard lessons from modern history.” “Leaders have to ignite the sense of rightfulness inside civil servants. Because actions of any civil servant affects many people. You cannot overlook any decision.” Dr. Lai firmly believes in that.
That is why he never misses opportunities to interact with colleagues. He believes all occasions are important for dialogues. He can understand the difficulties they face and find ways to help them resolve the issues. “If you can’t solve their tiny problems. They won’t be free to work on big issues.” With that, when the Director General works with other departments or disciplines, he tries to resolve their problems first. He feels the role of a leader is to consolidate resources and resolve problems for the common good. It’s also important to be proactive in resolving issues. “Don’t expect someone always being there to solve the problem for you. In theses cross-disciplinary collaborations, no one likes to work with passive people,” said Director General Dr. Chien-Hsin Lai.
Collective wisdom to protect water resources
“Cleaning muddy river sediments is like mopping the floor at home. You never think it’s important until the floor becomes too dirty.” Dr. Lai says. We are facing the most serious drought in 56 years. This is one of the signs of threat from climate change. WRA has been promoting water conservation for decades through various communication channels. Cleaning out the muddy sediments and purifying water are also part of WRA’s routine responsibilities. These quiet efforts are often unseen by the public. Most of the issues only become clarified after the numerous discussions. Fortunately, almost everyone attends meetings with good intentions. Even opponents for certain issues attempt to bring alternative solutions. What we see from these internal and external meetings is the effort by WRA to include key elements of dialogue in its culture as it works to preserve Taiwan’s water resources. We are very excited to see the real conversations in the next Meeting with Director General!
The purpose of establishing the Dialogue Impact Award is to recognize efforts on personal, organizational, and community levels to promote elements of dialogue (effective communication such as treating others fairly, empathic listening, surfacing assumptions, and inclusiveness), facilitate organizational changes/innovative community development and more. Dialogue Impact Award aims to help promote awareness of dialogue in public society, to enhance social harmony and civic cultural literacy through consolidated skills such as focusing, listening and inclusiveness.
The Third Dialogue Impact Award is now accepting applications from organizations and corporate enterprises.