Joint Fact-Finding Builds Consensus, Makes Partners Out of Adversaries

Mar 8, 2012

RESOLVE was pleased to welcome Masahiro Matsuura, Professor at the University Of Tokyo Graduate School Of Public Policy, to our Washington, DC offices last week to share insights on an important mediation technique known as joint fact-finding (JFF). JFF can be a useful approach to manage many of the challenges that arise at the intersection of science and policy decision-making such as lack of data and contested scientific information. (For more on science-policy challenges, see RESOLVE resources such as When the Sparks Fly: Building Consensus When the Science is Contested; Managing Scientific and Technical Information When the Science is Contested; and Building Knowledge: When Knowledge from “Here” Meets Knowledge from “Away” .)

In contrast to more conventional and often contentious approaches JFF involves bringing a wide variety of stakeholders together to identify what information is needed to answer policy questions, how and by whom information should be gathered and interpreted—including “technical” and “local” knowledge— and how to connect this information to policy decisions . Scientists and technical experts have an important role in “translating” technical information so that non-technical stakeholders understand and can give input on information gathering, processing, and outcomes, and to learn about inherent uncertainties and tradeoffs of different policy options. This process builds trust, cooperation, and can make stakeholders partners and problem-solvers rather than adversaries in the policy-making process.

Dr. Juliana Birkhoff, Vice President of Collaborative Practice at RESOLVE, shared two JFF case studies with Dr. Matsuura. The first case study involved the communities of Falls Hills and Poplar Heights in Fairfax County, Virginia, in which a local stream suffered from regular flooding events that threatened homes, schools, and recreational trails in the area. Dr. Birkhoff used this case to illustrate how traditional science-based policy making can lead to undesirable outcomes, and how JFF can serve as a more effective alternative. Using a traditional problem solving approach, Fairfax County officials consulted a few area homeowners and designed a flood mitigation solution that was based primarily on technical information. When County officials presented their solution to the communities, residents were outraged that the last remaining stand of woods in their neighborhood would be cleared to create a retention pond. To settle the dispute Fairfax County turned to RESOLVE to go back to the drawing board and engage stakeholders in a JFF process. RESOLVE held public meetings where members of the community and technical advisors shared information, built trust, and developed a list of priorities and options that ultimately led to a sustainable solution supported by all stakeholders.

The second RESOLVE case study involved the development of EPA’s microbial disinfectant byproduct (MDBP) rules. Drinking water is regularly treated with disinfectants in order to kill pathogens that can cause acute health problems, but disinfection creates byproducts that can lead to cancer and other long-term health impacts. The agency needed to make a number of tough choices on how to balance two conflicting objectives. RESOLVE convened a broad range of stakeholders and technical experts to develop a set of rules that significantly reduced public health risks, balanced the interests of stakeholders, and shaped major public infrastructure investments for decades.

We also explored how JFF operates against different cultural backdrops. Dr. Matsuura shared that, historically, the Japanese public has had very high confidence in scientists and government officials. RESOLVE observed that, in the U.S., public confidence is wavering or low for government; and dueling expert scenarios such as climate change and high profile public health cases, among others, often cause the public to question science and scientists. (A December 2011 Gallup poll sheds more light on how Americans rate honesty and integrity of professionals in different fields; respondents were not asked for views of “scientists” in the poll.)

Regardless of historical and cultural differences, we agreed that the erosion of public trust in institutions and experts has created a space for JFF. Dr. Matsuura noted that in Japan serious questions about government’s and scientists’ transparency with regards to nuclear power in general and especially the handling of the Fukushima disaster have diminished public trust in Japanese Institutions. This situation will challenge policy making and JFF—making it difficult to identify experts credible to key stakeholders and the public—but can also serve as an impetus for exploration of JFF techniques in Japanese policy-making and dispute resolution.

Dr. Matsuura is undertaking a three-year research project organized by the Japan Science and Technology Agency in order to learn about and refine the processes involved in JFF. He also plans to review three case studies in the fields of distributed energy systems, food safety, and marine spatial planning. We recorded our conversation and presentation with Dr. Matsuura to share with his colleagues and others in Japan, and are also sharing a link here. We look forward to learning how JFF is implemented and integrated into policy decisions in Japan.

- Jen Peyser

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Sound Effects: Protecting Marine Mammals Using Acoustic Technology

Oct 17, 2011

In November 2009, RESOLVE facilitated a workshop in Boston, MA on the “Status and Applications of Acoustic Mitigation and Monitoring Systems for Marine Mammals.” The workshop was convened by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, and the 200 participants explored the capabilities and limitations of using passive and active acoustic systems to monitor and help mitigate adverse impacts of marine mammals in offshore environments.

Why was the issue of acoustic technology so important for an agency that focuses on offshore energy? The answer is not readily apparent unless one knows something about sound in water, and how it interacts with marine animals and ecosystems.

Have you ever dunked your head underneath the water at the swimming pool and just listened? Sound behaves so differently under water than in the air. It conducts better, and travels longer distances at a faster speed (particularly in seawater). While underwater sounds may be strange and unintelligible to our human ears an entire order of marine mammals, the cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises), have evolved to use underwater sounds through echolocation to learn information about their surroundings and communicate with others in their species.

Now imagine humans coming along and changing the marine acoustic environment through noise created near the water, on the water, and in the water. Anthropogenic sound can greatly affect these animals directly (through physical harm) and indirectly (by impacting their ability to echolocate and communicate). Some of the most extreme examples of this are beached whales after sonar tests.

Americans decided back in 1972, with the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), that these animals should be protected. The MMPA prohibits the “take” of marine mammals. Specifically, we cannot “harass, hunt, capture, kill or collect, or attempt to harass, hunt, capture, kill or collect” marine mammals. The Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) is given the task of protecting these animals while managing offshore energy development activities, which can create large-scale sound events. These events can result in the take of a whale or other marine mammal if within a certain distance of the sound. Examples of these events include survey companies using seismic blasts to locate offshore petroleum deposits and offshore wind turbine developers using pile driving to provide foundation support for the turbines.

BOEMRE has long required that those carrying out such offshore activities visually monitor for marine mammals and to stop work if an animal is spotted. But acoustic technology can complement and enhance visual monitoring and help ensure there are no marine mammals nearby at the time of a seismic blast or pile driving. To determine this technology’s capabilities and limitations, BOEMRE partnered with RESOLVE to hold the November 2009 workshop, which was attended by 200 regulators, researchers, operators, and conservationists from all over the globe to discuss how acoustic technology can monitor and help mitigate adverse impacts to marine mammals.

The official Technical Announcement and Workshop Proceedings are now available at the BOEMRE website.

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Wait a Minute – How Do You Know That?

Mar 10, 2011

An administrator from a large commercial insurance company calls you at Y.C.O. “You Control the Outcome” (an ADR organization specializing in mediation). He tells you that his best friend just got divorced. He was surprised that it was not as bad as many other people’s divorces. His friend said it was because they had a mediator who smoothed the process out and helped them both move on without too many hostile feelings. Moreover, his friend bragged about how much money and time his ex-wife and he had saved by mediating their divorce. The administrator (we’ll call him Dave) asks you how would mediation help his firm get faster, cheaper, and better settlements to their disputes. You are so excited you tell him yes, you and your associates specialize in helping organizations resolve their conflicts efficiently and economically. Wait a minute—how do you know that’s true?

This column will help us figure out how to separate the hype from the facts, the marketing claims from the reality. First though, we have to venture into a little bit of philosophy. Then, we’ll come back to what to tell Dave. (more…)

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