OTPIC Officially Retired

As of December 2, 2005, the Online Training Program on Intractable Conflict (OTPIC) has been officially retired, and is no longer open to new registrations.

The successor to OTPIC is a course called Dealing Constructively with Intractable Conflicts (DCIC). The new curriculum is built around one of our major projects, Beyond Intractability, and offers a much more extensive and informative set of learning materials than that available through OTPIC.

usiplogo.gif (1499 bytes)

International Online Training Program On Intractable Conflict

Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, USA

Public Participation Mechanisms

Opening Page | Glossary | Menu Shortcut Page

In the United States in the 1960s and 1970s, the public became much more concerned about and involved in governmental decision making processes than they had been before. Pressures for increasing the level of public participation in government decision making at the local, state, and federal levels has led to a wide variety of processes that are utilized to enable the public to learn about and have input into governmental decisions. While this has increased the confidence that the public has in its governmental decision making process, it has also slowed that process down, and at some times, almost brought it to a halt, as different public interest groups clash over the most desirable option to pursue.

The most common (but often least effective) form of public participation is the public hearing. Here a panel of government agency representatives gives a presentation on a proposed decision, and then the public is asked to stand up and give short (1-3 minute) speeches indicating their thoughts on the proposed action. Typically, only the people who are opposed to the decision come to such hearings. Although the government agency can get a feel for the extent and nature of the opposition, public hearings rarely give a good indication of overall public opinion, nor do they yield good information about why people feel the way they do. Thus, they do not contribute effectively to problem solving or mutual cooperation.

Other forms of public participation may yield more helpful information, but they are all slower and/or more expensive. Advisory committees made up of citizens can be better measures of public interests, though they require a level of commitment from the members that few people are willing and able to provide. Also, citizen members often have different values than expert committee members. These value differences often lead to continuous conflicts within the advisory committees, which may detract from the committee’s effectiveness.

Ballot initiatives are another form of public participation which has greatly increased in popularity in the United States over the last decade. Ballot initiatives are laws or constitutional amendments that are proposed and voted upon by the public, not by a legislative body. While the ability to act as a legislature gives the public much more power over public decisions, as the number of initiatives increases, more and more people are voting on things they do not really understand. This leads to the charge that laws are passed in error, not because the public support for them is actually strong. In addition, ballot initiatives often oversimplify problems and solutions. For that reason, they often do not yield effective remedies to problems, despite their popular support.


Examples of the Use of Public Participation in Conflict Management

Harold Saunders -- Prenegotiation and Circum-negotiation: Arenas of the Peace Process
This essay discusses four phases of peacebuilding.  Although the first phase is official negotiations between diplomats, successive stages involve larger and larger constituency groups, including the public as a whole in stage four.
John Forester --Citizen Involvement in Transportation Planning
This is an example of a failed public involvement process.
Heidi Burgess--School Board Decision Making
This is another example of a failed public participation process.
Gennady I. Chufrin and Harold H. Saunders -- A Public Peace Process
This is a detailed description of a very intense public-involvement process in track two diplomacy between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.
W. Barnett Pearce and Stephen Littlejohn -- Public Dialogue Consortium
This article describes a public dialogue process designed to engage public participants in dialogues on moral issues.
Susan Carpenter and W.J.D. Kennedy -- Constituencies and Public Information
This article discusses the importance of building constituency support and informing the public to the successful management of public disputes.
Barbara Gray--Developing a Process for Siting Hazardous Waste Facilities in Canada - The Swan Hills Case
In this case the public was involved in a mapping process to determine the best place to site a hazardous waste facility.
Penelope Canan - When Are Not-in-My-Backyard-Conflicts the Desirable Result of Community Empowerment
This paper looks at the positive aspects of conflicts over the appropriate siting of undesirable facilities-often called NIMBY conflicts for "not in my backyard!"
Janine Wilson - Improving Toxic Materials Conflict through Improved Public Participation -
    This article describes the public participation process used to address public fears about toxic waste issues.
Peter M. Sandman--Explaining Environmental Risk
Public involvement is critical to explaining environmental risks and environmental risk decision making.

Links to Outside Sources of Information and Case Studies

Note:  many of the outside links are to the Public Involvement Network's library.  When you try to connect, it will ask for a name and a password, but if you then click cancel, the document appears anyway (at least as of July 1998).  So if you are interested, try it.

Managing the Community Impacts of Large Scale Development:  A Participative Approach by Desmond M. Connor
This paper summarizes the main elements of the participative social impact assessment and management program commissioned by Howe Sound Pulp and Paper Limited for the greater Gibsons, British Columbia community.  Scoping was the first phase of this program.
Ten Lessons Learned in 22 Years of Public Participation by Desmond. M Connor
This is a short paper which summarizes ten simple rules which will improve most public participation programs.


Links to Related Approaches

Majority Rule Processes

Consensus Rule Processes

Public Information Strategy

Grassroots Process Design

Constituent Communication

Constituent Involvement Strategies


Links to Related Problems

Failing to Identify All of the Affected People or Groups.

Failing to Identify All of the Relevant Issues/Assuming that everyone else defines the problem the same way

Constituent Communication Problems

Meaningless Public Involvement

Copyright 1998 Conflict Research Consortium  -- Contact: crc@colorado.edu