Strengthening Public Participation in Environment Management Training Workshop in Rabat, Morocco, 7-9th January, 2013
This blog was written by Edward Wageni, Deputy Director and Head of Programmes at GBM who attended the workshop.
Today is the last day of the workshop which the Green Belt Movement (GBM) was invited to, courtesy of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development (IGSD) and through the sponsorship of the United States Environment Protection Agency (US EPA) and the Moroccan Ministry of Interior. In the last three days I have been listening to presentations on public participation and working with participants drawn from Sub-Sahara Africa (Kenya, Tanzania - Zanzibar, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Ghana and South Africa), North Africa (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia) and Middle East (Israel, Egypt, Yemen, Oman, Jordan Palestine, Iraq, Bahrain and Syria. During introductions it was not a surprise that GBM is well known and predictably linked to the founder, the late Professor Wangari Maathai.
The workshop themed ‘Building Connections for Africa and the Middle East’ sought to share the key features and foundations of USEPA’s Public Participation guide, share best practices, challenges and strategies in engaging the public, whilst also providing the opportunity to participants to discuss different tools and techniques used throughout the region.
As we draw to a close, I have been reflecting on the topics covered during the workshop. On the face of it, some of the topics seemed straight forward i.e. ‘What is public participation? When do we use it? Others required demystification i.e. ‘Public participation spectrum’ and ‘Setting goals and promises’. As if the facilitators are reading my mind I have been requested to wrap up the key lessons and takeaways from the workshop, on behalf of Sub-Sahara Africa. Over tea and lunch breaks I have been talking to fellow participants, from Sub-Sahara, trying to get a sense of what their takeaways are. I requested others to write down their key lessons.
The key takeaways and lessons that have emerged, among others, are
- Public Participation is a complex process, contains a complexity of actors. Contexts require different levels of participation. The key is being able to determine the right entry point and being able to manage expectations
- Identification and selection of stakeholders needs to be thought through carefully and not to be used as ‘tick the boxes’ exercise.
- The level and type of participation depends on the ability to define clearly, project goals and objectives
- Public participation is key in building confidence in environmental decisions and getting the commitment of stakeholders during implementation. Building trust between the public project sponsors is important so as to generate the right input from them.
- A public hearing is not necessarily the most effective way to conduct public participation.
- The workshop reiterated the importance of Interested and Affected Parties (IAPs) talking to each other and not only making comments to the sponsor.
- Empowerment, equity and trust are essential elements for successful public participation
When I get back to GBM, I will debrief my colleagues on the workshop, to ensure that we are on the same page.