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Key Elements

Triad systematic planning includes three primary elements: establishing the project foundation, constructing and maintaining a conceptual site model (CSM), and evaluating and managing decision-making uncertainty.

Systematic planning includes three primary elements. These are:

Successful systematic planning requires appropriate technical staff and stakeholder involvement. Triad-unique characteristics of that involvement are discussed in greater detail in the section entitled Triad Requirements. Experience with Triad projects has shown that one of the most valuable (yet unusual to some practitioners) aspects of Triad systematic planning is the expectation that face-to-face interactions during in-depth planning meetings will build understanding and trust among stakeholders. Political and social observers have developed the concept of "social capital" to describe the human relations components of modern governance and conflict resolution. The term "social capital" refers to the social bonds and norms for interaction between project players. Social capital increases trust, allows people to express themselves and their concerns, and encourages them to acknowledge the concerns of others. Building social capital persuades parties to become invested in creatively finding equitable, "win-win" solutions.

Because the Triad requires the management of decision uncertainty (beginning with all parties agreeing on what the project decisions should actually be), the "human factor" is as integral to successful Triad projects as technological and scientific ones. Technology will not be able to solve a problem if there is not initial agreement about what the problem is. The convener(s) of a successful Triad project must mediate the building of social capital among all players during systematic planning sessions. The depth of that challenge will vary depending on prior project history for participants and the willingness of each to be at the Triad table. The use of a facilitator can assist in building social capital. Important characteristics of facilitators are excellent communication skills, technical competence, patience, independence, and the ability to elicit team member concerns, cultivate "out-of-the-box" brainstorming, and foster consensual agreement.

Building social capital brings a number of benefits. One benefit is decreased antagonistic conflict, which concomitantly decreases the toll that a project takes on the participants. "Transaction costs" (time, money, and stress investments) are lowered when people work together cooperatively. If they have confidence that mutual cooperation is to their benefit, they are more likely to believe that the other parties are also cooperating in good faith. Social capital sets the stage for meaningful dialogue and increases the chances that airing of competing interests and acknowledgement of uncertainties will lead to creative issue resolution. The intensiveness of Triad project planning invariably surprises first-timers. It usually takes going through an entire project before one fully appreciates how much benefit is gained (and problems avoided) by working together to resolve decision uncertainties. After becoming acclimated to the fact that this level of systematic planning is very different from the expectations of "traditional" projects, participants in Triad projects report great satisfaction in knowing that their interests and concerns were heard and acted upon. The open, inclusive, and helpful tone set by Triad projects can ripple outward to have positive impacts on the site's extended community as well.

The following three subsections discuss each of systematic planning elements from a program manager's perspective. The last section provides example frameworks that have been developed for institutionalizing the systematic planning process, including the EPA's DQO process and the USACE's Technical Project Planning process.

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