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Author's note

What is E S D?
Reorienting Education
Localizing the Global Initiative
Challenges and Barriers to E S D
Community Sustainability Goals
Case Study: Toronto, Canada Board of Education
Managing Change
Public Participation
Concluding remarks
Tools to Introduce the Concept of Sustainable Development
Tools to Create Community Goals
Tools to Reorient Education to Address Sustainability
Tools for Managing Change
Web resources

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by Marianne Chrystalbridge

Throughout human history people have worked together to find solutions to challenges facing their communities. Tribal elders met to discuss problems and called on other community members to add their perspectives, knowledge, and wisdom. As societies became more complex, decision making became centered in seats of government. Often, decisions were imposed on communities by a powerful few residing in remote locations with different environmental, economic, or societal conditions. Recently, governments and organizations have returned to more inclusive decision-making processes. Such processes are inherent to sustainability and are designed to involve the public or their representatives in administrative decision making.

Public participation processes take many forms, including face-to-face deliberation, problem solving, consensus building, traditional public hearings, and public comment procedures. Public participation is a powerful tool for gaining insights from many sectors of the community. Since the Earth Summit in 1992, communities in many nations have used public participation processes to create civic priorities and sustainability goals.

Public participation serves the community in a number of ways. Civic involvement is essential to incorporating public values into decisions about important community issues. Public participation can not only improve the quality of these decisions, but also effectively resolve conflict among competing interests, build trust in institutions, and educate and inform the public.

A community must be comfortable with the word "sustainability" and its central concepts before attempting to identify community sustainability goals. Even a small group of people with a common vision of sustainability can initiate a public participation effort around sustainability. After forming a core group of like-minded individuals, one of the first steps leading to a public participation process is to find ways to approach civic leaders and present the central concepts of sustainability, and why sustainability would make sense for the community. After the leaders understand sustainability, the general citizenry is brought into a public participation process. (Section XI: Tools to Introduce the Concept of Sustainable Development, and Section XII: Tools to Create Community Sustainability Goals through Public Participation, can facilitate these communication and public processes.)

Another key factor for achieving success in creating and implementing community sustainability policies, programs, and practices is the buy-in from the early stages of the planning process of all those involved and affected, also called stakeholders. Creating and handing down plans or decisions decided upon by one group, to be imposed on other groups, rarely works in democratic societies. In a successful process, each stakeholder group generates and then prioritizes ideas that are then shared with the larger group. This sharing gives all involved a sense of participation and consideration.

For public participation to be successful, it is essential to maintain stakeholder involvement over time. Some communities achieve this by employing one or more persons to carry on the work throughout the length of the project. Ongoing attention to the project from such individuals insures that the flow of information or two-way communication is maintained. Sustained attention from stakeholders can be achieved by asking stakeholders to volunteer for different aspects of the project through task forces, committees, etc. Volunteers strengthen the effort by keeping interested persons involved, and maintaining communication between stakeholders (e.g., by circulating committee schedules and reports). Another effective way to maintain stakeholder involvement is through regular progress reports, which, because they contain stakeholder input and opinions, acknowledges that they were heard. The time, energy, and opinions of stakeholders are further validated if these reports are made widely available to the public through newspapers, popular local publications, or the World Wide Web.

Project coordinators should also get stakeholders together for input at different stages of the project, and to recognize and reward achievement of milestones. Ongoing communication keeps interest in the project alive and encourages participants to continue their efforts. In addition, it is also important to create a calendar for the project. A calendar serves to clarify when milestones are achieved, and when the project has been completed.

Each situation in which public participation is used is unique. The public participation process must be tailored to local needs. No standard process exists that works for all scales and circumstances. For example, a different approach will be needed for a faculty considering changes in curriculum at their secondary school than for a community group considering ways to implement local sustainability goals. Also, good ideas and initial involvement of all stakeholders cannot lead to success if the process is inappropriate. For example, it would be ineffective to jump to a process for implementation of a project when a fact-finding process is needed first.

Figure 2, Planning Public Participation, can serve as a guide in determining the public participation needs of a community. The chart is based on five steps in which project planners determine the type of project and the reason for public participation, identify the goals of the process, answer questions about the process, select a process, and follow up with evaluation of the process. Figure 2 looks at the three main types of projects (fact finding, setting goals, and implementation), and describes the kinds of public participation that works well for each of the five steps.


Figure 2. Planning Public Participation

Type of Project Step 1: Reason for public particip-
Step 2: Identify goals of the process Step 3: Answer questions about the process Step 4: Public particpation processes Step 5: Evaluate the process
Q1: Who are participants? Q2: What type of interaction is approp-
Q3: Amount of public influence? Q4: What is government agency's role?
Fact Finding - To gather the best information and ideas from many sources. The public shares local knowledge and creative thinking with government agency. Increase information and creativity related to a specific project. Everyone. Take steps to ensure wide represent-
ation of socio-economic groups.
Information sharing. Emphasize two-way exchange: citizens hear what agencies are doing; agencies hear what citizens think of their plans, and listen to alternative plans. Depends on quality of contrib-
High control. Agency defines what information is needed and how it will be used.

•Public comments.
•Public meetings.
•Informal consult-
•Public notice and comment procedures.
•Public hearings.

•Did better information contribute to better decisions?
•Did particip-
ation processes increase information and ideas on the issue?
Setting goals - People reflect on what they want for the community. The public represents a broad range of values. Identify and incorporate public values into decisions. Interested citizens. Deliberation. Emphasize more intensive exchange, using well-reasoned arguments and group problem-solving. Discuss and debate competing values; form collective vision; make recommend-
ations to agency.
Moderate control. Agency allows deliber-
ations to evolve without overt control.
•Small-group discussions.
•Series of workshops.
•Citizen advisory committees.
•Citizen juries.
•Were goals created?
•If there was conflict, was it resolved?
•If there was a need for more trust, was trust increased?
- Implement the project and reduce conflict and mistrust that could impede implement-
Groups are directly affected by the project; groups will play a strong role in implement-
Reduce conflict; build trust; implement decisions. Interest groups. Deliberation. Emphasize creative problem-solving; participants have access to the best information and analysis. High influence; forge agreements among themselves about implement-
ation responsib-
Low control. Agency provides technical resources and assurance to back the participants' agreement. •Small-group discussions.
•Series of workshops.
•Citizen advisory committees.
•Citizen juries.
•Were decisions implemented?
•If there was conflict, was it resolved?
•If there was a need for more trust, was trust increased?

Adapted from: Beierle, Thomas C. and Jerry Cayford. 2002. Democracy in Practice: Public Participation in Environmental Decisions. Resources for the Future.

Public participation processes are effective in large communities as well as small groups. Section VII: Case Study: Toronto Board of Education Curriculum Revision and Reorientation describes a public participation process used to redesign the entire curriculum in a city with a population over two million. Public participation processes have also been used for years with small groups. For example, when a principal and teaching staff in a school work together on a project, they use public participation processes. The group pools relevant information and ideas, and each individual contributes to the discussion. The group prioritizes tasks, sets milestones, and figures out how to implement the overall project within the individual school setting. In both large- or small-scale settings, the final product comprises insights from the entire group.

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