3-7 Public involvement techniques

Some of the techniques that are commonly used for communicating and involving the public and illustrates their strengths and weaknesses in relation to key requirements and objectives are provided at Public Involvement Techniques in the EIA Wiki.

For example, various methods of public involvement can be rated in terms of the level of interaction promoted. However, it should not be inferred that methods with a high level of involvement are the preferred approach – a mix of methods is usually necessary as part of a systematic process of public involvement.

The methods of public involvement should be tailored to suit the social environment and, wherever possible, targeted specifically at particular groups. Limitations and constraints (identified previously) should be taken into account. For instance, although people want to be consulted, they may not have the time, resources or ability to locate EIA information and report their views to the relevant authorities. Traditional local decision-making institutions and the use of the mass media (such as television, radio and papers) may be far more appropriate than placing reports in local libraries (which is the normal approach in a number of EIA systems).

When selecting public involvement techniques, the following points should be considered:

  • the degree of interaction required between participants;
  • the extent to which participants are able to influence decisions;
  • the stage(s) of the EIA at which public involvement will occur;
  • the time available for involvement;
  • the likely number of participants and their interests;
  • the complexity and controversy of the issues under consideration; and
  • the consideration of cultural norms which may influence the content of discussions, for example relating to gender, religion, etc.

When using public involvement techniques, the following principles can help to achieve a successful outcome:

  • provide sufficient, relevant information in a form that is easily understood by non-experts (without being simplistic or insulting);
  • allow enough time for stakeholders to review, consider and respond to the information and its implications;
  • provide appropriate means and opportunities for them to express their views;
  • select venues and time events to encourage maximum attendance and a free exchange of views by all stakeholders (including those that may feel less confident about expressing their views); and
  • respond to all questions, issues raised or comments made by stakeholders. This fosters public confidence and trust in the EIA process.

Conflict management and dispute resolution approaches are beginning to be applied in a number of EIA processes. As recognised by the World Bank and other international agencies, the use of these approaches in developing countries must be consistent with local practices:

The objective is to define traditional mechanisms for making agreements, for negotiations, and for managing conflict in affected communities. Understanding and working within cultural expectations and practices may enhance consultation and participation processes, especially in projects where there are multiple and competing stakeholders or where disputes or conflict are evident. (The World Bank, 1995)

Negotiation, mediation and other alternative means of dispute resolution have different rules compared to more traditional ‘open door’ forms of public consultation and participation. These processes are carried out by a small number of representatives who are nominated by the major stakeholders (some of them may form coalitions for this purpose). Stakeholder dialogue is a more informal version of this process and focuses on sharing views and information to find win-win solutions to issues. As shown in the table below, the approach differs in kind rather than degree from more traditional forms of public involvement.


However, there may be opportunities to reduce or resolve conflict in more traditional forms of public participation, providing all stakeholders are involved at the earliest stage of the proposal and sufficient time and appropriate opportunities are provided. A skilled facilitator may be able to assist stakeholders in finding common ground. In most cases, however, the range of interests and the different values of the participants will mean that consensus is unlikely. The focus of attention then should be on minimising the areas of dispute, and narrowing it to those key issues that cannot be resolved and leaving it to the decision-making process to arbitrate among the different positions (i.e. determining the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’).

Principles which will help minimise conflict, particularly if applied consistently from the earliest stages of the planning of the proposal, include:

  • involving all those likely to be affected, or with a stake in the matter;
  • communicating the need for and objectives of the proposal, and how it is planned to achieve them;
  • actively listening to the concerns of affected people, and the interests which lie behind them;
  • treating people honestly and fairly, establishing trust through a consistency of behaviour;
  • being empathetic, putting yourself in the shoes of the other party, and looking at the area of dispute from their perspective;
  • being flexible in the way alternatives are considered, and amending the proposal wherever possible to better suit the interests of other parties;
  • when others’ interests cannot be accommodated, mitigating impacts to the greatest extent possible and looking for ways to compensate for loss and damage;
  • establishing and maintaining open two-way channels of communication throughout the planning and implementation phase; and
  • acknowledging the concerns and suggestions of others, and providing feed-back on the way these matters have been addressed.

When conflict arises, try to defuse it at the earliest possible time. The use of an independent, mutually acceptable third party as the convenor of discussions between disputants can improve the chances of a satisfactory outcome. It is desirable for that third party to be trained in the principles of negotiation or mediation, and to be able to assist the parties in dealing with the feelings, facts and process issues associated with the dispute.

Comparing the characteristics of ‘traditional consultation’ and ‘stakeholder dialogue’
Traditional consultation tends to: Stakeholder dialogue tends to:
Source: Ackland et al. (1999).
Assume win/lose outcomes Search actively for win/win results and ways to add value for all parties
Focus on differences and polarise rival positions Explore shared and different interests, values, needs and fears, and build on common ground while trying to resolve specific disputes
Focus on issues and results Focus on processes as well as issues and results in order to build long-term ownership of and commitment to mutually agreed solutions
Produce results that are perceived as inequitable, reflecting the traditional distribution of power and resources Produce results which can be judged on their merits and which seem fair and reasonable to a broad spectrum of stakeholders 
Stick to the facts and positions Take into account, as well, feelings, values, perceptions, vulnerabilities
Ignore the importance of building relationships and bridging differences Strengthen existing relationships and build new ones where they are most needed
Offer no learning Invest in mutual learning as a starting point for future processes and projects

July 26, 2006 Uncategorized — @ 7:04 pm

2 Comments »

  1. the information was very useful in my post graduate course EIA in examination preparation. If such modules could be offered as short courses it would be very helpful especially in my area of specialisation, in Natural resources Management

    Comment by Ezra Pedzisai — November 28, 2007 @ 10:03 pm

  2. Great job on the course…however, I noticed that the video in this section is the same as the one in section 3-4, not sure you intended this. I enjoy the video sidebars with Barry.

    Comment by Brent Bitter — January 28, 2011 @ 1:52 am

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