|Conducting Environmental Impact Assessment in Developing Countries (United Nations University, 1999, 375 p.)|
|7. EIA communication|
|7.3 Communication to the public|
Effective public participation is critical in order to promote developmental projects successfully. Since the general public is the ultimate recipient of the economic benefits and environmental damage, every EIA should involve the public as part of the decision-making process of project development.
It must be remembered that there are many possible factors that can lead to miscommunication while disseminating information to the public. When communication events take place across socio-economic or multi-cultural levels, the possibility for mistakes increases significantly. Language translation mistakes are the most obvious cause. The ability of technical and scientific personnel to put information into an understandable context for non-technical or lay people is critical. Some of the points of miscommunication are illustrated by Figure 7.2.
Although the specific nature and degree of public participation can vary, it may be generally viewed as:
• access to information gathered during the assessment process;
• contribution of information to the assessment process;
• right to challenge decisions made during the assessment process.
Source: Environmental Risk Assessment for Sustainable Cities, Technical Publication Series  UNEP International Environment Technology Centre, Osaka/Shiga, 1996.
Unfortunately, public involvement in an assessment project is generally not done in a very organized and effective manner, and not implemented as per policy statements. The assessment teams generally view the public as an adversary rather than as a partner in the assessment process. This seriously hampers the chances that the public may play a constructive role in the identification and evaluation of potential impacts.
Instead of concentrating on the risks and difficulties of including the public in the assessment process in a meaningful way, assessment teams must concentrate on the benefits that can be derived from enhanced and much expanded communication among team members and the public. Communication between the assessment team and the public is the key to public participation. The assessment teams should try to:
• communicate with the public as early as possible;
• communicate with as many people as possible;
• communicate in as many different ways as possible.
Source: Module on Selected Topics in Environmental Management, UNESCO Series of Learning Materials in Engineering Sciences, UNESCO, 1993.
Although effective communication is an essential process in EIA, the following points must be considered prior to devising a concrete strategy for communication:
• commissioning and briefing an independent coordinator and expert study team (the disciplines that will be presented are decided after the 'scoping' stage, but the team must always include a communications expert);
• identifying the key decision makers who will plan, finance, permit, and control the proposed project, so as to characterize the audience for the EIA;
• researching laws and regulations that will affect these decisions;
• making contact with each of the various decision makers;
• determining how and when the EIA's findings will be communicated.
Public participation may arise at any time during the EIA, construction, operation, and maintenance phases, as discussed above. This is schematically represented in Figure 7.3.