This is part three of a three part series on the evolution of public consultation, written by Environmental Planner, Danya Al-Haydari.
When there is a public consultation process for an Environmental Assessment (EA) – who are the members of the public that become involved? Where do they live? What are their characteristics? Why are they interested in this project? These are all important questions that we have to ask when conducting a public consultation process. It helps us understand what sort of public involvement we should anticipate during an EA process. One way of answering the aforementioned questions is to categorise public involvement into different types of involved communities. Please note that the definition of ‘community’ is often open to interpretation. The following provides a variety of ‘community’ definitions and their relevance to public involvement in an EA process.
Geographic or place-based communities can be defined by political or spatial boundaries. Basically, this refers to members of the public that can be identified by where they are from.
First and foremost, the local community that may be directly affected by a particular project is going to want to become involved in the EA process. In addition to the local community, the larger community may also be interested in becoming involved. So it is important to consider the municipal or regional community as well. For a federal EA process, the provincial and national community may also be interested as well. It really often depends on the type of project. For instance, an EA involving nuclear power issues (e.g. new build or waste management), may attract the larger provincial and national community. It is also not uncommon to have interest from the international community, which often comes into play due to our close proximity to our American neighbours,
especially since we share water resources, such as the Great Lakes.
Communities of Interest
Communities of interest often involve stakeholders and members of the public that are
members of, or are associated with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and interest groups. This type of community involves members with shared interests.
Interested communities may be local NGO’s that are formed specifically in reaction to a
particular project. This sort of group may dissipate at the end of the project. Or a community of interest may be longstanding organization that has been involved in local community issues for an extended period of time (e.g. ratepayers groups). There are also communities of interest that are regional, provincial, national or internationally based organizations that are involved in a variety of environmental campaigns. Examples include Greenpeace or the Sierra Club, to name a few. It is also important to note that communities can also be virtual and exist solely in cyberspace. We see this with Facebook pages that are created by interested citizens. These ‘Facebook groups’ gain membership as other interested citizens learn of the Facebook campaign.
Communities of Identity
Communities of identity include those individuals who find affinity with a certain group of
other similar individuals. Groups that define themselves in this manner do so by gender, culture, language, religion, etc. In the case of community participation in an EA, women’s groups, worker’s associations, etc. are some examples of communities of identity.
Please note, that for all these communities, there can be considerable overlap.
Danya Al-Haydari is an Environmental Planner at Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited, where she specializes in public consultation, environmental assessment and energy policy. She has coordinated work for the Port Hope and Port Granby Projects, and conducted research on the Port Hope Area Initiative’s Property Value Protection Program. Most recently, she co-authored a paper for the Nuclear Waste Management Organization on community well-being in nuclear host communities. Danya is a member of the Canadian Nuclear Society and Women in Nuclear Canada.