SMP Nuts and Bolts

Engage Stakeholders

Consider Engagement Approaches

The engagement approach may vary for each stakeholder and should be designed to meet their needs. For example, some stakeholders may not be familiar with the goals and premise of SMPs where others might be fluent. Engagement approaches should employ ample time for up front education and tailored messages that identify the benefits to the stakeholder.

Select Engagement Methods

Focus on relationships with stakeholders. Leverage existing relationships with agencies and local stakeholders and focus on building new relationships to build trust within the community. This step takes time and patience, so beginning to do this as early in the process as possible is beneficial.

Convene like-minded stakeholders to clarify input in advance of large group meetings. Host “user group” (e.g., local government, trans-mountain diverters, agricultural, conservation groups and state government) interviews/calls, or design workshops for specific interest-groups (e.g., agriculture), inviting only members from that community. Considerations such as having attendees among trusted peers and having the meeting managed by a neutral facilitator can help people feel at ease and result in valuable participation and input.

Adapt meetings to the stakeholders involved. Consider the time-of-day, season, venue (webinars or calls as opposed to in-person meetings), and location. It is common for SMPs to cover a large geography; in these cases, consider holding meetings regularly throughout the watershed to minimize travel time for stakeholders.

Engage entities with legal regulatory responsibilities early (town councils, county commissioners, conservation districts, etc.), setting the expectation that they have a seat at the table in the stakeholder group.

Invite people who are skeptical of stream management planning to participate, giving them an opportunity to provide input and take more ownership of the effort.

Give stakeholders a reason to be at the table by clearly articulating the benefit they could receive by being involved (e.g., projects that are aligned with the SMP could be poised for funding down the line).

Bring in interested people early to demonstrate your intent to be considerate of all users.

Use local experts or well-regarded community members as ambassadors to help build trust and confidence among stakeholders. Keep elected officials well informed and included in the stakeholder process. 

Invest in good communication tools to keep all parties up to date with progress and provide ongoing access to information. Transparency is important to achieving long-term trust between the project-lead and the water user community.

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered opportunities for in-person stakeholder meetings. The “Planning in a  Pandemic” peer call offers suggestions and tactics to maximize virtual stakeholder engagement.


  1. The Yampa River Health Assessment and Streamflow Management Plan’s Community Engagement Plan is a template for how to break down stakeholders into discrete groups.  The Final Report’s section on Community Engagement shows how both Community Workshops and small group meetings were deployed.  The Final Report’s Appendix F provides a summary of results for all engagement activities.
  2. Before applying for funding, the Eagle River Community Water Plan Leadership Team conducted peer-group calls with Key Stakeholder groups and used that information to inform the goals and approach of the plan.
  3. The Middle Colorado Watershed Council is a good example of a central website with water user surveys, meeting schedules and background information. They also send out a regular e-newsletter focused on the IWMP.
  4. The Middle Colorado’s Community Engagement Plan provides a template for stakeholder engagement, detailing objectives, key messages, and engagement strategies for each type of stakeholder.
  5. The Rio Grande and Conejos SMP created a story map to explain their project.
  6. The South Boulder Creek SMP Communications Plan (p. 6-14) considers stakeholders according to how they could be affected by the SMP and created a visual hierarchy which incorporates their vision for how to engage with each subgroup.
Colorado SMP Library