Nov 8, 2013
RESOLVE’s webinar on Joint Fact Finding (JFF) illustrated, through case examples and a hypothetical scenario, the usefulness of this consensus-building process for real-world problem-solving in conflicted arenas of energy development, like the relatively new momentum in hydraulic fracturing for natural gas extraction. Sixteen participants – representing industry, government, NGOs, and academia – learned about RESOLVE’s work from Stephen Courtney, Director of Collaborative Science; Paul De Morgan, Senior Mediator; and Dana Goodson, Senior Facilitator. The webinar was managed very efficiently by Adobe Connect, with its visual and auditory interactive format.
As Dr. Courtney pointed out, science is often disputed or monopolized in complex, multi-party initiatives, creating stalemates. In the United States, such bottlenecks can result in regulatory agencies or the courts handing down decisions for action, perhaps after costly lobbying efforts and litigation. These top-down recommendations do not necessarily have buy-in from all participants and thus may be doomed to problematic implementation or even outright failure. JFF can make a huge difference in such cases, bringing divergent parties to consensus around the scientific or technical issues at stake. One example illustrated how a stalled project involving three government agencies moved from a ten-year standoff to resolution in seven months.
A very important aspect of the JFF process includes reaching out to all key stakeholders, large and small, and bringing them together for collaborative problem-solving on scientific or technical issues. This task force then defines the areas of disagreement amenable to JFF, determines how to find answers, jointly identifies experts who can conduct independent research if needed, and evaluates results in order to arrive at a roadmap for decision-making. RESOLVE, with their thirty-year history of conflict mediation and resolution, assures an unbiased approach to the team effort that is clear, orderly and respectful, and has buy-in from all participants. They also maintain a record of the proceedings and decisions, and ensure dissemination of these findings to all critical decision-makers, constituencies, and the public.
As a landowner in northeast Pennsylvania, living amidst the Marcellus shale gas play, I was very encouraged to hear about RESOLVE’s JFF resource and would encourage landowners, energy development companies, NGOs, and government regulatory agencies to consider this option if and when disputes arise around scientific or technical issues. Hydraulic fracturing for natural gas is fraught with uncertainties regarding environmental and health impacts, as well as complex financial and legal considerations. Landowners, as compared to large energy corporations, are not equally empowered as decision-makers and often operate in the dark, with a lack of transparency, scientific and technical understanding, and most importantly, trust, creating confusion about how to proceed. Therefore, it seems that all parties would be better served with a clear and consensual road map, so that the issues raised by this important bridge to energy independence and sustainability can be understood by all stakeholders, working together in a spirit of cooperation.
You can listen in to this informative webinar at http://www.resolv.org/site-collaborativescience/services/joint-fact-finding/#webinar.
- Kathy Arcuri, RESOLVE Volunteer
Kathy Arcuri is a RESOLVE volunteer. She writes blog posts on RESOLVE’s work from her own perspective.
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