The following list includes all of the lessons learned from the four Canadian case studies and the analysis of U.S. experiences. The source is referenced at the end of the lesson.
BENEFITS OF COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT
Community involvement improves the quality of remediation decisions, and may reduce the clean-up costs. (U.S.)
Bringing together all the stakeholders allows for a discussion of issues to take place, which enables different community members and organizations to share information and to present their concerns. (Mount Washington)
BARRIERS TO COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT
There are numerous barriers to participation. (U.S.)
Funding should not be tightly targeted especially when the issue is complex. Having the DFO mandate focus the group's work on habitat restoration meant time and energy had to be spent getting other funding to deal with mine site reclamation. (Mount Washington)
The exclusion of the community in the financial decision-making process undermines the entire community involvement process. Ultimately, the community acts only in an advisory role and has no real power in final decisions made by government.
When an antagonistic dynamic becomes part of the process, the conflict should be resolved in a way that restores community trust and confidence in the process. Otherwise, the process will become invalidated by lack of contribution from and credibility with the broader community. Public perception becomes very hard to change, and strong participation is lost.
Voting members out of meetings may have facilitated progress in decision-making, but this also alienated a large portion of the general public.
People need real power and choice in decisions that affect them. For example, the offer for remediation of residential property could have included choices such as relocation, compensation, or remediation.
OVERCOMING BARRIERS TO COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT
It is important to get community involved and all parties communicating early on. Setting the priorities at the beginning and having a common goal helps maintain focus. (Mount Washington)
It should be made clear in what capacity the government and other members are involved so expectations are not unrealistically raised. If jurisdiction is unclear, this should be discussed at the onset. If expectations get raised but no action ends up being taken, frustration levels and burn-out heighten, leaving community/committee members disheartened and jaded with the process. (Mount Washington)
An iterative process is time-consuming but is necessary to build trust; otherwise the public remains skeptical and data doesn’t change minds. (Deloro)
Involving the community from the beginning, including in the setting of priorities, may involve a considerable time commitment, but the process engenders a level of trust in the process and the agency responsible. (Giant)
Extra efforts may be necessary to ensure that the message is heard by all community members. (U.S.)
Information should be communicated in a timely way, and in manners that are accessible and understandable to the entire community. (U.S.)
In addition to communicating messages to the public, meaningful community involvement requires a mechanism that enables two-way dialogue. (U.S.)
Study results and peer reviews of those studies need to be transparent. It is not sufficient to only release study summaries and study interpretations.
Funds available to community members to gain clear technical information and independent verification could increase the credibility of health and monitoring reports, and community confidence in results. (Deloro)
Technical assistance for community members levels the playing field and enables the community to participate more fully in decision-making. It may also lead to improvements in remediation plans. (U.S.)
It would be useful to have funds for the community to hire independent assistance that has no vested interest to review and interpret study results and legal documents such as waivers.
It is important to have access to technical and legal experts, and for everyone on the committee to be committed to understanding one another. Yet it must not be used as a stalling tactic, keeping industry or government from taking action. (Mount Washington)
Despite the complicated nature of the technical aspects of the remediation, getting the community involved and “up to speed” on the technical concerns might help to build trust in the process. The community would have a greater understanding of the complexities of the decisions, and thus be more understanding and supportive of the government’s decisions. (Giant)
Including community members in the hands-on investigations and remediation work increases community capacity and trust in a process. (U.S.)
In addition to a process focused on site remediation options, parallel-track processes can help to address the broader realm of health and social concerns of communities affected by contamination (e.g., community capacity building, wellness centres, re-training initiatives, etc.).
FORMAL COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT PROCESSES
Nature of Involvement and Roles of the Participants
The community should be made aware of the purpose of the participation process – before they enter the process. (U.S.)
Multi-jurisdictional overlap can create confusion in the community. It may also provide an opportunity for interagency coordination, cooperation and synergy. (U.S.)
Working groups can be an effective way to address the multiple and complex issues involved. A member from each working group sitting on a steering committee reduces the length and depth of detail discussed at steering committee meetings. (Mount Washington)
Goals, timelines and sunset clauses for committees and programs may help maintain volunteer energy by having a visible end-point. Recognition of volunteer effort is important.
New members need an open mind and a way to leave baggage and personal agendas behind them in order to contribute in a meaningful way.
The chair must be chosen to be accountable to all and fully independent. Conflicts with the process cannot be adequately resolved without an unbiased chair. (Deloro)
Membership should include broad representation that reflects the diversity of viewpoints in the community. (U.S.)
Government agencies and industry should be represented at the table to ensure information is shared and that the community understands the complexity of the issues and decisions to be made. (Mount Washington)
Community members easily recognize and may be critical of public participation mechanisms that leave out or mute the voices of community members. (U.S.)
Consistency in membership facilitates timely progress toward goals and can also help to bring new members up to speed.
There is a steep learning curve and capacity building that is necessary for new members to get involved in the process. Actions to prevent turnover of participants should be implemented.
When to Engage the Community
Community involvement should occur early in the process, and definitely before decisions are made. (U.S.)
Community involvement from the outset can help set priorities for use of available financial resources. Some community members may prefer to be given the opportunity to be relocated (rather than live with the ongoing potential health impacts), than to have money allocated for certain remedial options. (Deloro)
Have community involvement early on so that they understand the complexity involved in the decision-making. (Mount Washington)
While the intentions of the Giant Mine Project Team may have been to get a handle on the technical information and possible options for remediation before discussing it with the community, a better approach might have been to involve the community earlier in the process. It might have resulted in the same outcome or action being taken, but with more capacity and trust built in the community. (Giant)
If communities are consulted near the end of a process to decide on remediation options, there is the risk that members will feel that the consultations at this point are merely “window dressing” for a decision that has already been made. (Giant)
Factors Affecting the Success of Community Involvement Processes
Governmental agencies’ accountability to and support for a process are essential. (U.S.)
High rates of participant turnover can lead to frustration, and decrease the credibility of the process. (U.S.)
These actions can include a solid process for dealing with conflict, information packages and a clear outline of goals and objectives. Financial support for expenses, babysitting and independent reviews can help alleviate volunteer stress.
Openness and transparency can lead to a better process. (U.S.)
A lack of structure for providing resolutions from the Public Liaison Committee to the Technical Committees gives the appearance that the process is not transparent, and the decision-makers are not accountable to the PLC in their determination of remedial options. This limits trust in the process, and community members are less likely to have confidence in reports and decisions. (Deloro)
Efforts must be made to ensure that processes are conducted in a fair and equitable manner. (U.S.)
Conflict resolution mechanisms and quality facilitation are extremely important to ensure that conflicts do not seriously hamper the process. (U.S.)
Professional facilitators used at meetings allows everyone a chance to speak and all interests to be represented. This is especially important when there is a wide range of interests represented at the table and the issues are complex. (Mount Washington)
Paid staff people are crucial to keeping the administrative tasks done (setting up meetings, communicating with members, distributing minutes, and communicating with wider community). It takes the burden off of the members and lessens the problem of “volunteer burn-out.” (Mount Washington)
The development of committee structures, terms of reference, rules of order, etc. can be difficult and time-consuming. The use of existing models (if they exist) may facilitate this process.
Communities want to be consulted on issues that affect them, and in being consulted, members will be more vested in the decisions made. (Giant)
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© Initiative nationale pour les mines orphelines/abandonnées (INMOA) 2004