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From Chaos to Harmony: Five steps for a successful public participation process

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Abstract:

The water quality issues in the Leon River watershed exemplify the challenges water resource managers and the public face in the ongoing effort to improve water quality in our nation's water bodies. There are essentially two types of water pollutant sources, point sources, identifiable points of pollution discharge, and non-point sources, released contaminants from areas where water flows from rain events. Point sources are pollutant discharge locations that can be easily identified, measured, and controlled, the so called “end of pipe regulation.” Water quality standards are limits established for certain pollutants of concern to protect or maintain water quality. Water quality standards are based on protecting human health or aquatic life concerns from exposure to pollutant contaminants in the environment. For example, water quality standards are set on the probability of illnesses based on an exposure level to pollutants, where limits are based on value judgments by decision makers, which can be based on stakeholder input.

The paper identifies five common barriers known to hinder process success; develops and tests public process enhancements based on suggested principles to overcome these barriers; and reports experimental results from using the enhancements on the Leon River WPP (see Table 1). The paper begins with background on environmental disputes, how the public came to participate in environmental policy formation, and the nature of major barriers each stakeholder group faces when dealing with the environment. The five major principles are discussed through involving stakeholders in the Leon River WPP. It also describes how environmental conflict resolution processes evolved from its beginning in mediation to public conflict resolution and then to public participation in environment policy.

The second part describes the process enhancements: representation and small group facilitation to provide access to stakeholders; film-editing to reduce coercion during speech; deliberative decision making to allow meaningful contribution; and decision support to improve the usefulness of science. Results for the Leon River are discussed throughout the paper. This paper is based on a doctoral dissertation conducted over several years where the methods developed were implemented at full scale in a real-world setting.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.2175/193864712811727049

Publication date: 2012-01-01

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