"The stakeholders engaged in a joint problem-solving exercise that would not have been possible as part of Chile’s formal process."
When first applying for a MISTI seed fund grant, Professor Larry Susskind of MIT’s Science Impact Collaborative did not expect to end up advising the government of Chile.
The project – Collaborative Decision-Making in the Realm of Hydropower Projects in Southern Chile – got its start when Professor Teodor Kausel of Universidad Austral de Chile (UACh) called Susskind to discuss the proposed construction of several large-scale hydropower dams in Southern Chile. Kausel was concerned that the existing hydropower decision-making process was neither effective nor adequate in terms of engaging the public and addressing stakeholder concerns about land use, water management, energy policy, and the rights of indigenous people like the Machupe. Susskind, who founded the Consensus Building Institute (CBI) and co-founded the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, was intrigued.
Together, Susskind and Kausel pursued a MIT-Chile Seed Fund grant and created a team that assembled in Valdivia, Chile, to study the problem. “We analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of Chile’s system for public engagement around hydropower issues,” says Susskind. “We then applied our analysis to the task of envisioning improvements in policy regulation law and practice. Our goal was to find ways to move the hydropower decision process in a more productive and effective direction.”
Susskind and Kausel applied for and won a second MISTI grant that enabled them to organize a “Devising Seminar” in Santiago, where the team shared its findings. “This was an informal brainstorming session for government and non-government stakeholders,” Susskind explains. “People were invited in their personal capacity rather than their professional capacity, and they engaged in a joint problem-solving exercise that would not have been possible as part of Chile’s formal process.”
The impact of this work continues to ripple outwards. “We’ve created a role play simulation game that shares what we’ve learned with participants in Chile and gets them excited about possible reforms,” Susskind says. “We also received additional funding from the Sloan School, enabling us to work with the new administration in Chile to explore and implement some of the policy proposals that came out of our research and analysis. Our team has opened a satellite CBI office in Santiago and is now facilitating hydropower policy discussions around the country!”
In a few months, the Collaborative Decision-Making project team will publish a monograph of unusual scope. “It covers so much ground,” notes Susskind, “we are convinced that nothing like it exists in print. Many more people are involved now, from both universities, and the ties between us are growing stronger every day. Clearly, this work will continue into the future – and it all got started with MISTI.