Seasoned conference manager and friend Bob Rehm used the Search Conference to address regional water quality and resource management issues. Contentious groups fighting over water rights and water quality in the upper Colorado River basin traditionally resorted to lengthy and costly lawsuits. A breakthrough in this stalemate was achieved when a regional planning agency responsible for the state Water Quality Plan decided to convene a Search Conference to seek ‘common ground regarding the future of water quality decision making in the upper basin of the Colorado River”. Bob Rehm was the main social designer in this Search.

The Search Conference brought together fifty people from different perspectives on water quality-federal and state agency officials, water experts and providers, local and municipal government officials, water experts and providers, local and municipal government officials, ranchers, and industrial, agricultural, and recreational users-from both the high mountain country and the low plains. They agreed on strategies for cooperation. Thirty of the participants were actively involved in four different action groups during the implementation phase after the conference. Specifically, these four action groups worked diligently on clarifying procedures for collaborative dices ion making, evaluating new technology and information management systems that could possibly support collaborative decision making, assessing educational needs, and searching for funding sources to support the activities and recommendations from the action groups.

Six months after the conference, task force members formed themselves into the Colorado River Headwaters Forum, a non bureaucratic group that mediates water quality issues between different interest groups in the surrounding regions of the river, including environmentalists. The Headwaters Forum reports that it has implemented a new collaborative model for water quality decision making, resulting in a significant increase in cooperation and information sharing between what were formerly highly adverbial groups.

The Search Conference, A Powerful Method for Planning Organizational Change and Community Action,  Jossey-Bass 1996