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2.3.6 The involvement of the community

People and organisations in the community need to be quite strongly motivated to participate in consultation or decision making. It takes a great deal of time and effort – often unpaid – and it can be an intimidating experience for non-technical members of the community. Successful involvement programmes are those that are ‘stakeholder friendly’, designed to improve the benefits people get from participation and lower the barriers to involvement. The relevance of the programme to them personally is explained. They feel that they have something useful to contribute, and that their involvement has the potential to affect the course of the decision-making process in a meaningful way.

Consultation on safety, environment and the introduction of new technology has tended to be dominated by institutional stakeholders and pressure groups. Such participants are usually equipped to provide technical comment at a level the organisation(s) involved in the programme will find useful, and they understand the decision-making and regulatory process.

In contrast, members of the public usually wish to express their views on the overall merits of a project or course of action, but only rarely they can make much contribution to the technical debate unless local issues are involved. However, organisation(s) involved are nowadays increasingly carrying out broad-based public consultation and making more effort to reach ‘ordinary people’ and factor their views into the decision. Lay members of the public are also capable of making reasoned and reasonable contributions and their involvement is often particularly important in contaminated land projects. Members of the public also increasingly feel that they have a right to information and to be consulted on a wide variety of issues. One consequence of the growing recognition of the benefits and importance of consulting the general public is the wide variety of approaches and facilitated workshop techniques that have been developed specially for this purpose. Only those with strong prior views tend to respond readily to opportunities for participation, so active measures generally need to be taken to recruit a more representative cross-section.

Where there is less experience of involvement, there may need to be an initial capacity-building stage to strengthen and provide resources to community institutions to allow them to participate fully. If people are being asked to participate in decision-making, time may need to be spent to inform them about the issues, ideally using briefings from a ‘neutral’ source.

Issue Comments

Competing demands Participating properly takes time and commitment, and there are many competing demands. Participation should be made as easy as possible.

Access Access to consultation documents and outreach events should be carefully considered.

Time Sufficient time within the programme should be allowed for participants to prepare for events and to read and comment on documents.

Awareness People have to be aware of the programme to participate. Informing and encouraging people through a co-ordinated promotion campaign should be considered.

Information A range of information should be presented, taking account of the format and level of detail required by different participants.

Public speaking The stress of speaking in a meeting may deter many from participating. Surgeries and exhibitions are more flexible and less intimidatory.

Access to the Internet Internet gives people access to a wide range of information and opinions from all sides of the argument. As not everybody has access to the Internet, a web site on its own is not enough.

Table 2.2 Issues in making involvement programmes stakeholder friendly [CIRIA-2005]

Long-term community liaison groups exist for several nuclear sites and are an obvious channel for communication. They can play a key role in helping to define the scope of the community involvement programme and the documentation package and to drive the information agenda more actively than if there were no community focus. Where there is no such group, it may be necessary to set-up one. This may best be done well in advance, to give time to build up trust between the group and the site management, and between the group and the wider community.

As indicated before, there is always the potential for conflict between the role of local elected representatives and other groups who may be perceived as speaking for the community. Therefore, more than one local stakeholder group may need to be recognised, but these issues need to be dealt with sensitively.

Issues in making involvement programmes stakeholder friendly are given in Table 2.2.