National Drought Mitigation Center


New interactive guide helps drought planners pick best scenario exercises for different group events

April 16, 2021

The National Drought Mitigation Center recently released the interactive Collaborative Drought Planning Using Scenario Exercises guide, which includes examples, worksheets, case studies and more to help water management leaders choose the right type of event to help groups develop or improve drought plans.

No matter where you live, water is not a limitless resource. In times of drought, community and regional water managers must often make decisions on how water is allocated to protect everything from the economy to agronomy to public health. To help with the decision-making process, many communities have put drought plans in place. And over the past decade, as communities have developed or updated those drought plans, water management leaders have increasingly started or furthered the conversation among stakeholders by bringing them to the table to consider realistic what-if scenarios. 

Those scenarios are often either a workshop, a tabletop exercise or a game. To know which type of exercise is right for your community, it helps to consider what you want to get out of it, said Deborah Bathke, education coordinator for the NDMC. To help leaders through that process, the NDMC recently released the interactive guide, Collaborative Drought Planning Using Scenario Exercises, thanks to funding from the North Central Region Water Network and North Central Regional Center for Rural Development. It is available on the Drought Center’s website by following this link

“The NDMC team that created this interactive guide has first-hand experience working with our partners and community leaders to design workshops and host events that help address the challenges they face at any stage of the drought planning or review process,” Drought Center director Mark Svoboda said. “Their knowledge, as well as invaluable feedback from numerous drought planning event participants, can be found throughout the guide. We think it will help organizers make informed decisions as they decide how to best hold their own drought planning events.” 

NDMC staff collaborated with federal, state and community partners to evaluate the design, function and success rates of holding different types of events to address drought planning in its different stages. Differing in complexity, cost, size and scope, the events are more effective when a community is able to tailor them to fit their goals, Bathke said. The first stage of research was funded through the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS). 

“Since drought planners began using scenario exercises to help develop or hone their communities’ strategies for dealing with droughts, we’ve found that different types of exercises best lend themselves to different audiences, different budgets and different stages of planning,” Bathke said. “A community that’s just beginning the planning process might want to invite experts to host a workshop to discuss drought issues and impacts that are likely to affect that region and build a conversation about priorities and policies from there. A community that has a plan in place might want to hold a tabletop exercise, where those plans are evaluated, and attendees develop deeper understandings of their roles when it’s time to act on them. And games that simulate drought conditions and responses can drive any number of conversations.  

“This guide is a user-friendly, interactive tool that can be used to help figure out what the best type is for the group you’re looking to bring to the table and helps guide you through the process of developing a drought-based scenario exercise from start to finish.” 

Through case studies of previous events, testimonials from participants, analysis from experienced facilitators and more, the guide examines the three major types of drought scenario exercises -- workshops, tabletop exercises and games. It provides detail on the investments in time and dollars required to conduct them, walks you through the five phases to consider when planning an exercise, and shares results that have been reported by those who have hosted or participated in them. The guide is not meant to serve as a how-to manual, Bathke said, but rather as resources that help users tailor a drought scenario exercise to the unique needs and resources of their circumstances.  

Each community has its own set of resources to manage, and each type of exercise plays to different strengths, said the guide’s co-author and NDMC education and outreach specialist, Tonya Bernadt.  

“When we started to facilitate or help host drought tournaments and other exercises in the early 2010s, leaders from other communities would contact the Drought Center and ask us if we could help them design an event,” she said. “Some of those communities had the resources available to host multi-day tournaments and hire consultants to design realistic simulations of potential drought conditions, which allowed attendees to see how different actions would impact different stakeholders and the water supply in general. Others had tighter budgets but an interest in building community conversation around drought planning. There are ways to build conversations, and drought plans, no matter what level or resources you have, and this guide helps explain the range of options.” 

Since 1980, the average U.S. drought has totaled nearly $10 billion in damages. The Collaborative Drought Planning Using Scenario Exercises guide provides an overview of the value of drought planning that goes beyond its economic impact and explains effects a prolonged lack of water has on a community’s recreation opportunities, its ecosystem, its infrastructure, its energy supply and more. It offers examples of resource management and relief that were developed when previous groups of stakeholders gathered to address problems that could arise during the often-prolonged natural disaster. And it offers event planners examples and case studies of each type of exercise they might consider hosting, along with worksheets that can help them navigate the selection process.  

“The organizers of these events know their communities,” Bathke said. “Exercises can help them identify where their strengths lie, where their vulnerabilities to drought can be improved, and who should be at the table to make key, collective decisions that can save resources, money and stress the next time a drought strikes. The NDMC champions those community organizers, and we believe this guide can help them set up the best events for the people they know will help build better and better drought plans.” 

-Cory Matteson, NDMC Communications 


Explore the Guide