|Conducting Environmental Impact Assessment in Developing Countries (United Nations University, 1999, 375 p.)|
|7. EIA communication|
|7.3 Communication to the public|
|7.3.1 Factors that may result in effective public participation|
The process of communication that is devised, hopefully through wide consultation, will be inevitably project-specific because the sponsors, the people directly affected, the general public interest, and the project sponsors will be different for each project. There will not be one "public'' so far as a specific project is concerned. There may, in fact, be several "publics''. For example :
• the experts within the community, the scientific organizations, the expert government agencies, university departments, and expert professional groups;
• local authorities, citizen groups, and NGOs;
• the "stakeholders'', that is, those with a direct interest in, or who are directly affected by, the project;
• societies, cultural groups, and individual citizens interested in, or affected by, the project;
• the general community.
Identifying "the public'' in relation to a particular project, and perhaps consulting to establish the level of information and involvement they would like to have, will do a lot for the credibility and the ultimate success of the EIA. As well, it will help to ensure that knowledge of the intention to carry out an EIS is disseminated at a vital time, before it starts. One of the most certain routes to damaged credibility and unnecessary objections is the discovery by affected citizens that their opportunity for intervention has been preempted.
This can be expressed in the first of some general rules:
• ensuring that all the identified "publics'' have been advised before the EIS starts about the project, its objectives, programmes, the proposed public involvement process, and the anticipated documentation;
• remembering that information most be communicated, not just provided. What language, format illustration, and media vehicle is appropriate to a particular public?
A stepwise list of factors to be considered to ensure effective communication during public participation follows.
Preplanning includes communication of the scope of the programme and the issues of concern to the public, for example:
• history of similar projects;
• socio-economic data;
• attitudes toward the resources under consideration;
• local groups interested or affected by the proposal.
Public attitudes about the executing agency can influence the acceptance of the proposed project. Care should be exercised in order to enhance public confidence. Policies concerning the time when the public will be involved and what decision-making power the public will have should be addressed and formalized.
A successful public participation programme needs time, money, and trained staff. However, this factor seems to be neglected by many executing agencies. Public opposition to projects can result in a much higher expenditure than that required to carry out a public campaigning programme.
Identification of appropriate target groups is a critical element of successful public participation. These target groups include:
• related agencies responsible for approval of certain activities of the project;
• financing agency;
• public interest groups, for example, sociologists, environmentalists, technologists, etc.
• others, for example, teachers, religious leaders, etc.
Timely and accurate information in simple language should be used while transmitting information to target groups.
The techniques employed in the public information process should focus on the identification and resolution of problems.
The public should be made aware that their contribution will receive attention and that their ideas and concerns will be heard.