This Guide will help you determine whether or not to involve the public in making a decision or dealing with an issue in which both you and it have an interest. If, after reviewing the first section, you decide to go ahead and seek the views and input of others, the next section will help you assess the appropriate level of public and stakeholder involvement, taking into consideration your particular goals and the time and budget available. Other parts of the Guide will help you plan a process that suits your needs and evaluate results.
A public-involvement process can be as complex as a national, multi-stakeholder exercise, with fixed deadlines, high stakes, and consensus as a goal. Or it can be as simple as an information-sharing exercise, in which you seek input from people gathered (in person, over the phone, or electronically) to voice and, influence points of view. You will not find here a set of formula for involving the public. It is a guide to help you make informed decisions about the most appropriate ways of involving the public.
There are no right or wrong answers to the questions in this Guide, nor is there a best or worst process. What will work for your project is a process that will deliver the results you need in the most efficient and cost-effective manner available. This Guide will help you determine where you want to be in the spectrum of public participation processes and how to get there.
A quick review of the following questions will help you determine whether this Guide is for you.
(a) What is the purpose of this Guide?
(b) What does public involvement mean?
(c) Why involve the public?
(d) How is this Guide organized?
1.1 What is the purpose of this Guide?
This Guide aims to improve your understanding of what it can mean, and how, to involve public interests deliberately and systematically in your decision-making. The Guide aims to develop a manager's ability to design, lead, and participate in a public-involvement process that is both appropriate to and effective in a given situation. It also aims to promote the development of related skills, generally, within organizations.
More specifically, the Guide will help you
(a) determine the extent of your need to involve the public in an upcoming decision;
(b) decide what form of public involvement is most appropriate for you;
(c) design a detailed plan for public involvement;
(d) carry it out; and
(e) evaluate results.
1.2 What does public involvement mean?
Public involvement is the process through which people who will be affected by or interested in a decision, and who have a stake in the outcome, get a chance to influence its content before it is made. Such stakeholders may speak for themselves or for an association which endorses them.
Obviously, the public should only be invited to get involved if you intend to give due consideration to its views, influence, and advice.
In this Guide, public involvement is understood to include a range of activities, all of which pursue in some way the fundamental goal of sharing information. Beyond this basic exchange, public involvement can also include varying degrees of influence and shared authority, including consensus decision-making.
The essential ingredients in any public involvement are a desire to communicate and a willingness to listen. Information and education activities, although they can support a broad public- involvement process, are at the low end of the continuum and do not on their own constitute public involvement - and neither, at the high end, does the delegation of authority to a formal partnership or another party.
Many activities fall under the umbrella of public involvement, and the motivation and intention underlying them can vary significantly.
1.3 Why involve the public?
There are considerable benefits to be gained from involving people outside of your organization in your decisions. While the process will not necessarily reconcile competing interests or lead to agreement, it is almost certain to yield more informed decisions, greater public acceptance, and more enduring solutions.
The immediate aim of such a process is to provide an opportunity for those with an interest in the outcome of a decision to influence that decision. The objectives of the public- involvement process should determine the level of influence offered to stakeholders, as shown in Figure 1.
The basic, first level of public involvement involves transmission of information from the proponent - you - to parties who might take an interest in one of your concerns: you let others know of a problem you have identified; an activity, project, or policy you are starting to consider; or a commitment you intend to keep. The next step is an exchange of pertinent perspectives, opinions, and background information: you provide what details you have and ask questions of those willing to read, listen, and talk; and they provide you with information and feedback. With increasing degrees of public involvement, you invite the other parties to help design a process: a formal, regular, or loose set of encounters including their terms of reference. Stakeholder involvement at its highest level involves mutually defined goals, reaching decisions by consensus, and working as full partners to determine appropriate action for each of the stakeholder groups.
When a decision is going to have an impact outside your organization's walls, it can be both prudent and, in the long run, cost-effective to include those who will be affected from t he outset.
1.4 How is this Guide organized?
Hundreds of questions, both small and big, face a manager trying to determine whether the public can and should be involved in decisions and, if so, how to structure and time the process.
This Guide puts those questions in a logical sequence, pointing out important considerations and providing checklists, tips, and various tools that will help determine answers unique to your circumstances. To keep you from getting bogged down in unnecessary detail and to allow you to work at a level appropriate to your situation and expertise, the questioning starts with broad categories of decisions and then steers you in the direction of more specific considerations as they apply. Start each section by scanning and considering the framework questions which point out basic organizational decisions. Then return to the questions you want to investigate in more detail, reviewing the explanation provided.
These four questions form the basic road map of this Guide:
(a) Do you need to involve the public? (Section 2).
(b) Have you laid the groundwork for a well-constructed process? (Section 3).
(c) Do you have all the elements in place to make the process work? (Section 4).
(d) Did the process work? (Section 5).
You will have the opportunity, as you proceed through the Guide, to answer questions with a simple yes or no, but any detailed notes you make will be invaluable as you build your reasons for making your decisions and develop reports to inform your organization. As you answer and annotate questions in each of the sections, you will be building the overall public-involvement plan through intermediary steps. In Section 2, your answers will take you through the first step, in the form of a Scanning Report. More in-depth consideration of these questions, as well as some new ones, will result in a Scoping Report in Section 3. The accumulation of these annotations, along with additional information you provide in Section 4, will produce the Public-Involvement Plan. All your annotations will feed into specific tracks at each stage of the planning and implementation of your process. In Section 5, these tracks will provide the backdrop for your evaluation.