Consulting the Public
G.1 WHY CONSULT THE PUBLIC
The EIA process typically involves consultations with members of the
public-individuals, community and business leaders, elected officials,
and non-governmental organizations, for example. These people are consulted
because they are usually "stakeholders" in that, in a number of ways, they
can have a "stake" in a project. For example, a project may provide opportunities
for employment and sales of goods and services, it may displace them from
their homes, or it may create noise and pollution which can affect their
Who is consulted during EIA activities, when, how and by whom will var.
considerably from project to project, depending on project needs, but there
are a number of reasons why this consultation is important:
G.2 METHODS OF PUBLIC CONSULTATION
A project creates change. Irrespective of whether it is good or bad, change
is usually upsetting. When people are informed about a project, their anxiety
and concerns tend to be reduced and the project developer finds that his
proposals are more readily accepted by people and government authorities.
When people are informed, they are better able to appreciate the opportunities
a project will have for them such as a job or a market for their goods
People in a project area have a wealth of knowledge and information about
local conditions which can be valuable to those carrying out an EIA or
more general project planning.
Consultations can help avoid EIA omissions and mistakes. Local people can
point out issues of concern to them, and what they value most in their
environment, so these can be incorporated into an EIA
Local people can easily have suggestions not readily apparent to outsiders
on ways to avoid or minimise adverse impacts, to capture potential benefits,
or to resettle displaced families in a humane manner.
In democratic societies like Malawi, people expect to be consulted about
activities which will affect their families, livelihoods, communities or
historical, cultural or favourite recreational sites. Failure to consult
them can result in problems for government and delays for project developers.
There are a number of distinct methods for consulting the public (Figure
G.1) but it is essential to note, at the outset, that no one method
Is usually sufficient by itself: An effective public consultation programme
typically incorporates two, three or more methods which complement each
other in ensuring adequate input to the EIA process.
Press conferences, information notices
& brochures/ fliers: Typical methods used to disseminate public
information about a project. The sole objective of these methods is to
inform the public so, strictly speaking, they are not genuine consultation.
They are one-way communication "with" no attempt made to solicit people's
views about the project. However, using information programmes can play
the very useful purpose of letting people know what is going on and of
stemming the proliferation of incomplete and inaccurate information via
rumours and false reports. Public information methods are most useful if
there are a series of information releases as a project moves through the
project cycle, timed to coincide with major planning stages and decision
Genuine public consultation goes beyond issuing information
to using two-way communication methods which allow the public both to be
informed and to express their views about a project. Open dialogue is considered
to be the best way to share information and views, and to resolve issues,
in a mutually satisfactory manner. The full range of consultation methods
should be considered in the design of an appropriate public consultation
programme. These methods include interviews, questionnaires, polls, open
houses, community meetings, advisory committees and public hearings. Generally,
more complex or sensitive situations require a more thorough consultation
Overviews, questionnaires and polls:
Useful for soliciting information about an environmental and socio-economic
setting for use in an EIA. They assist in gathering the views of the public
about the project proposal, its desirability, and how it might best fit
into the local community.
Interviews: Generally conducted individually
with a selected group of people, hopefully representative of the range
of "stakeholders" in a project. They tend to be unstructured Conversations'
guided by some general questions, in which the interviewer seeks key information
about a project and responses to it.
Questionnaires and polls: The
methods seek more specific information from a broader sample of people.
They are not simple "instruments" to design and implement. The questions
must be carefully crafted to avoid ambiguity and "leadings the respondent
to a particular reply. Both "closed" and "open" questions can be asked,
the first presenting a set range of replies for the respondent to choose
from, and the second allowing the respondent to say anything. The two types
are often used together to cover the same topic and provide the opportunity
for unexpected answers. Questionnaires and polls mum be pre-tested before
implementing them in the field to ensure that difficulties in wording and
presentation are eliminated. They are always implemented with a sample
of the population large and diverse enough to get an accurate picture of
the entire population -- i.e. they are not a census. The design of questionnaires,
polls and sampling strategies is a complex subject, particularly if statistically
valid results are desired.
Open houses: Informal forums
where project sketches, maps and other information is displayed, hand-outs
are available, and developer representatives are present to answer questions.
Visitors come and go as they please. Open house events can be scheduled
for different days, time periods and venues to be convenient to all stakeholders.
It is often helpful to provide a questionnaire or comment sheet to assist
visitors in providing feedback.
More structured gatherings where the developer, stakeholders and, perhaps,
government representatives exchange information, views, concerns and suggestions.
Open and genuine dialogue can be very beneficial for all concerned but
it must be handled with great care to avoid degenerating into open conflict
and polarised positions. In particular, any hint that the consultation
is not genuine will undermine the effectiveness of a meeting. Moreover,
all participants must be clearly aware of what their role is and the extent
of their ability to influence the project being discussed.
Normally comprised of a cross-section of affected people, groups and organisations.
They are often employed in more complex project situations with a greater
potential for conflict but can also be very effective in simpler situations.
Their purpose is to provide a forum for the ongoing exchange of information
and views between stakeholders and the proponent throughout the project
cycle, and for the timely identification of problems and solutions as project
planning and implementation unfolds. In establishing committee membership,
a balance of interests should be maintained to promote broad thinking and
creative solutions. Terms-of-reference should clearly state the committee's
mandate and guide its work (ea. will recommendations be made and to whom,
will the committee have any authority to make binding decisions?). Advisory
committees require time, effort and money to be effective but can contribute
substantially to achieving acceptable results for all concerned. A proactive
developer may well consider this method from early in the project cycle
to enhance the chances for smooth project planning, approval and implementation.
Public hearing: Formal
meetings are usually held to consider the official of an EIA or of an entire
project. They are structured proceedings, presided over by an administrative
authority, in which testimony is given and examined, arguments for and
against approval are heard, and a decision is made concerning approval
or not. Depending on the jurisdiction, public groups may or may not have
"standing'' in the proceedings - i.e. have the right to participate. Where
standing does exist, some jurisdictions provide "intervenor funding" so
that public groups can participate meaningfully when lack of funds is a
significant constraint. Thus, public hearings provide an opportunity for
stakeholders to challenge a proposal but little opportunity for the constructive
exchange of information and ideas which other forms of public consultation
are intended to achieve. To ensure that such hearings are efficient and
effective, it is best if they are preceded by other methods of public consultation.
G.3 GUIDELINES FOR PUBLIC
When considering the extent of public consultation needed for a project,
one must consider the reasons why public consultation is important (Section
G.1 above). Obviously, some consultation is desirable, if only to gather
local information for project planning and to produce an acceptable EIA
report. However, as discussed above, public consultation can take many
forms and range from a limited to a very comprehensive and extended programme.
Because project needs and local sensitivities will vary widely, what will
be desirable for a particular project cannot be generically specified.
Both Government and developers will need to be adaptive, responsive and
willing to learn from experience before more prescriptive guidelines can
Most importantly though, public consultation should not be conceived
as a "one-time" exercise but as a programme extending throughout the project
cycle. In general, the programme should:
In terms of informing the public, the developer should at least place advertisements
in national and project area newspapers, and perhaps on the radio, letting
people know when a Project Brief, an EIA report has been submitted to the
EAD; where they can review the document; and who they should contact if
they want further information.
be started as early as possible in the project cycle. This will ensure
that information is given and received in a timely fashion to expedite
the EIA and to dispel unfounded rumours and suspicions which may make project
planning and implementation more difficult.
be continued at some level throughout the project cycle. A sustained programme
will contribute to better project planning, to enhanced public confidence
in a project, and to timely notice should difficulties with public acceptance
of a project begin to develop.
have its major elements timed to coincide with significant planning and
decision making activities in the project cycle. In terms of Malawi's EIA
process, public consultation could be undertaken during:
the preparation of EIA terms-of-reference
the carrying out of an EIA
government review of an EIA report
the preparation of environmental terms and conditions of approval
Make substantial efforts to overcome evident constraints to public consultation
in a developing country such as poverty, the dispersed nature of rural
populations, illiteracy, cultural characteristics which might inhibit participation
by some people (e.g. women, minority groups), and the dominance of interest
groups. Information and consultation approaches need to be appropriate
to both a project and its social setting.
Ensure that it reaches all important stakeholders in a project area and
both informs them about a project and gathers their views on its costs
and benefits and how these can best be managed.
The objectives, methods and results of consulting the public during
an EIA must be documented in the EIA report. Lists of individuals, groups
and organizations which were consulted should be included as an appendix
to the study report.