Nearly all EIA systems make provision for some type of public involvement. This term includes public consultation (or dialogue) and public participation, which is a more interactive and intensive process of stakeholder engagement. Most EIA processes are undertaken through consultation rather than participation. At a minimum, public involvement must provide an opportunity for those directly affected by a proposal to express their views regarding the proposal and its environmental and social impacts.
The purpose of public involvement is to:
- inform the stakeholders about the proposal and its likely effects;
- canvass their inputs, views and concerns; and
- take account of the information and views of the public in the EIA and decision making.
The key objectives of public involvement are to:
- obtain local and traditional knowledge that may be useful for decision-making;
- facilitate consideration of alternatives, mitigation measures and tradeoffs;
- ensure that important impacts are not overlooked and benefits are maximised;
- reduce conflict through the early identification of contentious issues;
- provide an opportunity for the public to influence project design in a positive manner (thereby creating a sense of ownership of the proposal);
- improve transparency and accountability of decision-making; and
- increase public confidence in the EIA process.
Experience indicates that public involvement in the EIA process can and does meet these aims and objectives. Many benefits are concrete, such as improvements to project design (see the table below). Other benefits are intangible and incidental and flow from taking part in the process. For example, as participants see their ideas are helping to improve proposals, they gain confidence and self-esteem by exchanging ideas and information with others who have different values and views.
|Project||Example||Adapted from The World Bank (1995)|
|Ghana Environmental Resource Management Project||This project seeks to improve natural resource management. Public consultations drove the entire project design process from the very beginning. Investments under the village-level land and water resource management component were entirely designed by the local communities, which diagnosed problems, developed action plans and are now responsible for implementation. A coastal wetlands component was also largely designed through local consultation. Affected communities and user groups participated in the demarcation of ecologically sensitive areas and in determining the levels of resource use and conservation in coastal wetlands.|
|Brasil Espirito Santo Water Project||The original design would have had a negative impact on two communities. By including these communities in the EIA process through information disclosure and consultation, satisfactory mitigation measures were achieved that counterbalanced the impacts and improved local living conditions.|
Key terms and definitions of public involvement are described in the next table. The basic types of public involvement are organised as a â€˜ladderâ€™ of steps of increasing intensity and interaction. When reviewing them, note their different requirements with regard to planning and designing a public involvement programme.
Information and notification, strictly speaking, are preconditions of meaningful public involvement. On its own, information disclosure is not a sufficient provision in public involvement for an EIA of a major proposal. Consultation denotes an exchange of information designed to canvass the views of stakeholders on a proposal and its impacts. Participation is a more interactive process of engaging the public in addressing the issues, establishing areas of agreement and disagreement and trying to reach common positions. Negotiation among stakeholders is an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanism, which is based on joint fact-finding, consensus building and mutual accommodation of different interests.
In practice, public involvement in EIA largely corresponds to consultation. However, participation will be appropriate in many circumstances, for example, where a local population is displaced or relocated as a result of a project. A few countries also make provision for mediation or negotiation facilitated by a neutral third party. In principle, these approaches to public involvement in EIA are distinctive and relatively separate. However, they may be used in combination; for example, consultation and participation can be appropriate at different stages of the same EIA process.
|Level||Form of involvement||Adapted from Bass et al (1995)|
|Informing||One way flow of information from the proponent to the public|
|Consulting||Two way flow of information between the proponent and the public with opportunities for the public to express views on the proposal|
|Participating||Interactive exchange between the proponent and the public encompassing shared analysis and agenda setting and the development of understood and agreed positions on the proposal and its impacts|
|Negotiating||Face to face discussion between the proponent and key stakeholders to build consensus and reach a mutually acceptable resolution of issues, for example on a package of impact mitigation and compensation measures.|