Mediation/Facilitation skills for EIA practitioners

Projects subject to EIA are often a source of conflict as different groups, proponents and stakeholders’ interests and values differ. Depending on the country or the province, some mechanisms for conflict resolution do exist in an EIA as the Bureau d’Audiences Publiques en Environnement  (BAPE) in the province of Quebec or the alternative mediation step  in the Canadian  EA process where the mediator is in charge of producing the EIA report (2003,Wood, p72). In the USA, mediation in EIA is limited to administrative hearings in the review step and it is more of a law process than a real mediation. However, mechanisms exist for land and natural resources management disputes. Mediation can also be triggered in response to a lawsuit (including cases outside of the EIA context as in community disputes), or requested at the discretion of a responsible authority (RA). As mediation pertains directly to public participation, places lacking public participation in their EIA may as well lack mechanisms for dispute resolution.

According to Fred. A. Curtis (1983, p 18), the objectives of mediation in EIA are the following:

–          Ensuring that all parties’ interests are represented

–          Achieving an agreement that satisfies all the parties concerned

–          Providing open communication between parties for future needs

–          Reaching a consensus in a timely manner and at a low cost

–          Guarantying that the community at large views the settlement as just and fair

Achieving these objectives in a conflictual context is for sure quite a challenge for which one must be prepared. Although there is a lot of literature on how to measure success in environmental mediation, and despite the fact that the field of mediation has been developing since the 1980’s , the specific skills and practical training needed to become an environmental mediator could use more visibility. Generally, the task of mediating is given to a specialized consultant or to a lawyer to guarantee neutrality, but still as mediation should start as early as possible, the skills required in mediation and facilitation are an asset for EIA practitioners involved with public participation: from participating in an information meeting to assessing socio-economic impacts to proposing mitigation measures and even monitoring.

Moreover, a mediator is also an educator and in the context of climate change for instance, the mediator-facilitator has a mission toward science as Gail Bingham, senior environmental mediator and researcher, says:

How to acquire the necessary skills and practice other than by our own experience? Learning from others’ experience is a start. In Common Ground on Hostile Turf, Stories from an Environmental Mediator (2013) Lucy Moore provides us with her own inspiring experiences in policy, land use and natural resources management mediation. She brings to light three core values – that we often take for granted – but that are essential to the construction of sustainable agreements between opposing parties: listening, respect and openness. These basic skills allow for efficiency, because one may know about environmental science, environmental law, human rights and environmental justice, but knowing how to convey this information to help a group of individuals with different backgrounds reach a consensus can rely on the results of a good mediation process. In her conclusion, the author delivers some guidelines that can be summarized as follow: connecting at a personal level and trust, looking under the map in a holistic approach, and balancing power.    The details of a mediated negotiation are confidential, particularly when commercial information is involved, and as a consequence it is difficult to know what exactly prompted or broke an agreement between opposed parties. But Moore’s book gives us a key insight: what happens at the human level in such work sessions matters most and conditions the meaningful participation of all stakeholders. Would the EIA for Voisey’s Bay Mine and Mine project (Labrador) have succeeded in creating an unprecedented accord without trust and understanding between the proponent, the Innu Nation, the Inuit Association, and the federal and provincial jurisdictions?

In addition, the contexts in Moore’s stories illustrate very well the essential elements of meaningful public participation described in Stewart & Sinclair’s article (2007, p166) such as integrity and accountability, inclusiveness and adequate representation,  fair and open dialogue, adequate and accessible information, multiple and appropriate methods, fair notice and time.

Mediation and facilitation skills are of upmost importance to encourage more meaningful public participation, promote sustainability, communicate effectively significance of impacts to the public and authorities, and foster corporate social responsibility. Developing and using those skills in EA’s everyday praxis can help “smoothing” the process of EA and make it more efficient.

NB: I comingled the terms mediation and facilitation as both are equally important, and because mediation includes some facilitation. To be clear on what each term actually entails, please consult Lucy Moore’s webpage on the topic, cited in references below.


Fred, A. C. (1983). Integrating environmental mediation in EIA. Impact Assessment, 2(3), 17-25. doi: 10.1080/07349165.1983.9725975

Lucy Moore Associates, (2008) Mediation/ Facilitation-what’s the difference? Retrieved 10/15, 2013, from

Moore, L. (2013). Common ground on hostile turf: Stories from an environmental mediator. Washington, Covelo, London: Island Press.

Stewart.Jennifer M.P., Sinclair. John A. (2007). Meaningful public participation in assessment: Perspectives from Canadian participants, proponents, and government. Journal of Environmental Assessment Policy and Management, 9(2), 161-183.

Wood, C. (2003). CH5 The Canadian EIA system. Environmental impact assessment: A comparative review (Prentice Hall ed., pp. 68-75) Pearson Education.


One thought on “Mediation/Facilitation skills for EIA practitioners

  1. Hi Emanuelle,

    Thank you for inviting my comment! My first comment is slightly off topic, but I believe that education (in terms of environmental awareness, environmental issues specifically related to the project, social awareness (e.g. the potential impacts on individuals & communities; the divergent & convergent value systems, customs, socio-economic environments and their potential impact on the process); and finally the social behaviours that are conducive to meaningful participation is crucial.

    The main question and concern of practitioners are, obviously, to what extent should a public participation practitioner be responsible for education or put differently, to what extent is the education of stakeholders (including the proponent) necessary to ensure meaningful participation.

    Coming back to your main issue, both facilitation and mediation is absolutely essential for a public participation practitioner, but seldom taught and (in South Africa at least) not really provided for in the “run-of-the-mill” public participation process. What I mean by that is that in SA there is precious little in terms of resources (both time & money) for a participatory process that goes beyond the minimum legal requirements.

    Usually our processes includes relatively wide (albeit often unsuccessful) advertising that includes a request for the public to register as interested & affected parties (I&APs). Furthermore, law requires the identification and inclusion of adjacent landowners, local government structures and relevant provincial and national government structures, as well as relevant issue-based NGOs & CBOs. Our legislation makes special mention of vulnerable groups, women, the youth and the disabled to be actively sought out and included.

    The second step involves the provision of background information in multiple languages and responding to questions for further information and noting issues & concerns. These questions, issues and concerns are taken up in an Issues & Responses Report that forms part of the Scoping Report and Environmental Impact Report.

    Besides individual verbal and written communication, open houses and especially formal public meetings are often used (public meetings are a legal requirement). Also widely used is, what is called, Focus Group Meetings – but is really a meeting in the same format as the public meeting, but with smaller groups that are grouped in terms of interest / expertise.

    Besides this, there is little in terms op participation. Often the sentiment is that the public participation practitioner is not there to give any opinion / finding and that their role does not include anything, but the most rudimentary of conflict resolution and searching for viable solutions to the issues & concerns raised.

    Usually, it is left to the decision-maker to make the decision (and then an appeal process ensues if the people feel strongly). The reason for not seeking solutions / alternatives is often due to the fact that the proponent is not very open to investigating alternatives (especially if it will cost him in terms of money or delay in the process). Furthermore, proponents, the public, practitioners and decision-makers alike have a pretty narrow idea of what constitutes public participation – with the public meeting being a firm favourite. Public meetings (as we know) have various limitations and is hardly the holy grail of engagement. None the less, due to legal requirements and popular demand, the public meeting remains top-of-the-list.

    This leaves precious little room for facilitation and mediation – and meaningful engagement…one of the reasons why I have stepped out of the field of public participation!

    Mind you, most of my rambling here was merely giving you some background and venting my frustration with the status quo. I would, however, like to engage again in a discussion that would hopefully be of more use to you.

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