Better results with half the effort

Climate change impacts the built and natural environment in complex, inter-related ways. The Victorian Government continues exploring and managing these effects. This includes impacts on the river systems that support economic, cultural and environmental values. Indeed, they found a way to get better results with half the effort.

Better results with half the effort

What was the opportunity?

The Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) oversees the State’s programs to provide water for environmental flows (e-flows) in Victoria’s river systems. E-flows sustain the health of waterways, not just for biodiversity, but also for cultural, amenity and economic values. But climate change puts waterways and the availability of water at risk.

DELWP needed to understand (a) how climate change would affect their ability to provide useful e-flows, and (b) what this meant for their e-flows program (when every public dollar needs to be well spent). It was an invitation to see whether it was possible to get better outcomes with the same or less investment.

How did we tackle the challenge?

First, we had to understand and carefully structure the problem we were trying to solve. We recognised that the effects of climate change would vary across the state, and affect regulated and unregulated river systems differently.

So, we chose three examples of differing river systems in Victoria to gain insights to their varying circumstances and behaviours. With stakeholders who understood the issues of water supply, ecology, agriculture, and recreation within these systems, we mapped their complex behaviour in the absence of climate change.

Then we “overlaid” climate change, to identify all the places and ways in which a change in climate would affect the system’s functioning. In this way, we could assess the risks of climate change over and above other factors affecting these systems.

Having identified the risks, the stakeholder groups helped to identify a suite of actions that could be taken. Actions were prioritised, with preference to those offering the greatest leverage or return on effort across the system.

This suite of actions needed to be integrated into DELWP’s e-flows program. This revealed more opportunities!

What were the results and their impact?

It became apparent that the e-flows program had become ill-defined over time, as stakeholder requests and expectations expanded the work demands. So, DELWP grabbed the opportunity to refresh the program with a sharp focus on delivering beneficial outcomes in a way that recognised climate risks.

Using Program Logic, DELWP described the benefits they aimed to deliver and to whom. Then, we worked backwards from benefits to outcomes, outcomes to outputs, outputs to actions and then to inputs. Using this rigorous approach, we named only those outputs, actions and inputs that were essential to achieve the risk-managed benefits we wanted. By design, the program was both effective and efficient.

Significantly, DELWP identified that roughly half the work they were currently undertaking was not required to deliver the newly defined program and target benefits. In short, a better program had been designed, with a sharper focus on benefits, while managing climate risks, but which required half the current effort.

It just goes to show, you can get better results with less effort, even when tackling complex problems.