Planning by the proponent for a public involvement programme needs to begin early before other EIA work. Following scoping, the terms of reference for an EIA study should include specifications for the proposed programme, including its scope, timing, techniques and resources. If there are none, a separate document should be prepared by the EIA project team with advice and input from an expert (e.g. a social scientist) who is knowledgeable about the local community and participation techniques.
The plan should describe the means of notifying and informing the public about the proposals and the EIA process, beginning at an early stage and continuing with updates on the progress of the EIA study and feedback on community concerns. Specific reference should be made to the ways in which the public will be engaged, how their inputs (knowledge, values and concerns) will be taken into account and what resources (people and money) are available to assist their involvement. Wherever possible, meetings and inquiries should be held within the local community, especially if there are basic constraints on its involvement (see below).
A systematic approach to planning a public involvement programme typically involves addressing the following key issues:
- Who should be involved? â€“ identify the interested and affected public (stakeholders), noting any major constraints on their involvement.
- What type and scope of public involvement is appropriate? â€“ ensure this is commensurate with the issues and objectives of EIA.
- How should the public be involved? â€“ identify the techniques which are appropriate for this purpose.
- When and where should opportunities for public involvement be provided â€“ establish a plan and schedule in relation to the EIA process and the number, type and distribution of stakeholders.
- How will the results of public involvement be used in the EIA and decision making processes? â€“ describe the mechanisms for analysing and taking account of public inputs and providing feeding back to stakeholders.
- What resources are necessary or available to implement the public involvement programme? â€“ relate the above considerations to budgetary, time and staff requirements.
In certain cases, some basic constraints on public involvement may need to be overcome. Particular attention should be given to disadvantaged groups, ethnic minorities and others who may be inhibited from taking part or may have difficulty in voicing their concerns. Often, special provision may need to be made to inform and involve these groups. Except in unusual or extenuating circumstances, others should not speak for them, although knowledgeable NGOs may help in ensuring they represent their views directly and in a way that is meaningful to them.
Some of the underlying factors that may constrain meaningful public involvement include:
- Poverty â€“ involvement means time spent away from income-producing tasks, and favours the wealthy.
- Remote and rural settings â€“ increased or dispersed settlement distances make communication more difficult and expensive.
- Illiteracy â€“ involvement will not occur if print media is used.
- Local values/culture â€“ behavioural norms or cultural traditions can act as a barrier to public involvement or exclude those who do not want to disagree publicly with dominant groups.
- Languages â€“ in some countries a number of different languages or dialects may be spoken, making communication difficult.
- Legal systems â€“ may be in conflict with traditional systems and cause confusion about rights and responsibilities over resource use and access.
- Interest groups â€“ bring conflicting and divergent views and vested interests.
- Confidentiality â€“ may be important for the proponent, and may weigh against early involvement and consideration of alternatives.