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2.3.8 The level of involvement

Contents
2.3.8.1 Range of levels
2.3.8.2 Providing information
2.3.8.3 Concultation
2.3.8.4 Participation

2.3.8.1 Range of levels

Information: To a minimum, stakeholder involvement may include keeping local people informed about activities on site, including safety and environmental issues and future plans.

Consultation: Consultation is a two-way process, whereby the organisation(s) involved ask individuals and groups for their views and take these into account in decision making.

Participation: Where more involvement is appropriate, members of the community may participate directly in the analysis and decision making. Ultimate responsibility for the decision usually remains with the organisation(s) involved, but the objective of participation is often to reach a degree of consensus between the organisation, the community and other stakeholders on the way forward.

Any one of these levels of involvement – information, consultation or participation – may be on-going, or may be case-by-case activities focused on a specific issue.

The parties often start with different understandings of the level of involvement proposed and with different perceptions of what is fair and appropriate. Therefore, the purpose and the relevance of the programme should be presented openly and honestly to ensure that everybody is absolutely clear from the outset what is proposed [CIRIA-2005].

The stakeholder involvement process should never be an end in itself. Rather, it should be an integral part of decision-making and management processes and it only has meaning if all parties have this intent. The aim should be to secure agreement for a stakeholder involvement programme that meets the aspirations of both the organisation(s) involved and its stakeholders, but also one that takes account of the balance of cost and benefit and can be delivered in a timely and cost-effective manner.

2.3.8.2 Providing information

A public information process is intended solely to provide information to stakeholders [CIRIA-2005]. Stakeholders may seek clarification, but are not invited to contribute to the decision-making process. A local information programme may almost always be required for a major project dealing with contaminated land. Typically, an information programme may cover things such as plans, progress, events, public safety and environmental performance. Local programmes should offer people the option to obtain more information or become more closely involved and should include information relating to groups with relevant expertise and experience. Tools available include newsletters, web sites, outreach events etc. Information on individual projects will often be part of a wider programme. Early, accurate and complete communication is a key element in building trust.

As a minimum, education and information provision form part of all participation programmes. The need for a greater level of participation must be determined in each situation. It is not important to achieve the highest possible level of participation, but the level that is most appropriate. Techniques at the lower level of participation may also be used to support techniques at a higher level; for example, the provision of information would support methods of consultation.

Poor information provision is a common cause of complaint in consultations and lack of usable information is often the main barrier to understanding and participation in a stakeholder programme. Access to the right information, at the right level of detail and at the right time is the key to effective stakeholder involvement.

Good communication requires the organisation(s) involved to look at the information needs from the perspective of a range of potential participants – from the least informed, least educated member of the community to the technically competent professional organisation. Common sense suggests that it is not likely to be effective if the organisation(s) involved merely circulate scientific or legal documents drawn up for other purposes and other audiences. Some people may not be able to read technical language. Therefore, the information should be presented in digestible forms but without oversimplifying the facts and issues. No single document is likely to fulfil these requirements, however, and therefore a suite of documents may need to be provided.

In most cases, organisation(s) involved provide only limited additional information on request. Typically, information is released to allow detailed comment on the data and analysis, but there is no obligation to provide information needed to conduct alternative analyses. This can be a major source of contention and stakeholders may complain that documents are being unnecessarily withheld. Therefore, organisation(s) involved should think through in advance which supporting documents they are able to release and discuss the options with stakeholders likely to be involved.

In cases where implementation work extends over a longer period of time, as a minimum, stakeholders should be kept informed of progress with implementation. In addition, site owners/operators should provide the stakeholders with opportunities to review and discuss the progress. They should also be involved in deciding on any changes to strategies or options in the light of progress with implementation.

2.3.8.3 Concultation

The objective of a consultation programme is to get input from stakeholders to support and inform the decision-making process [CIRIA-2005]. The organisation(s) involved typically provide information to the local community and other stakeholders and make it possible for these groups to submit comments or ask questions about proposals. Consultation offers large numbers of people the opportunity to comment on a proposal or on options. They allow for community peer review of proposals and may identify new technical issues that need addressing. They may also help organisation(s) involved understand stakeholder views and concerns, which can be taken into account in decision making and risk communication. However, there is usually little scope for contributing to identifying solutions or for taking part in the decision-making process.

2.3.8.4 Participation

Participative decision making allows stakeholders to take an active role in the decision-making process rather than simply providing comment on proposals [CIRIA-2005]. Stakeholders are involved in shared analysis and agenda setting, even though the responsibility for the final decision lies with others.

A commitment to participation implies recognition of the benefits of consensus, even if there is no specific prior commitment to it. When considering consensus it is essential to be clear about what is meant. One meaning is ‘unanimity’, i.e., each party must positively support the decision. More frequently, it is used to describe a situation where a sufficient fraction of the participants positively support the decision. Others simply consent to it – although they may not prefer it personally – because they consider it to be tolerable, or to be the best solution or agreement that can be achieved under the circumstances.

The more complex the issue and, in most cases, the more controversial the issue, the more likely a higher level of participation will be expected by stakeholders, required to develop understanding in the community, and necessary to get the quality of input being sought. The more participative the process, the more rewarding it generally is for all parties but there are limits to the contribution stakeholders can be asked to make.

Participative processes cannot easily reach large numbers of people and so usually need complementing wit