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CONCUR case in just-published book: Joint Fact Finding in Urban and Environmental Planning Disputes

by Scott McCreary
December 2016 Scott McCreary
Joint fact-finding (JFF) rests on devising a deliberative process to investigate critical technical issues in a format that is jointly accountable to key stakeholders with voices in decision-making. Building on the strength of consensus building and blue ribbon panel approaches, and redirecting the conflict of adversary science, JFF fosters collaboration by creating an environment where stakeholders and /or outside non-partisan experts with different voices and interests can build scientific consensus in a transparent forum.

CONCUR uses JFF to tap different disciplinary strengths by convening panels of outside non-partisan experts to deliberate on bounded sets of questions, and build a shared understanding of the scientific and technical questions at stake. In addition to this face-to-face dialogue, JFF processes encourage parties to pool relevant information and translate it into a format that can be used by decision-makers to create the foundation for decision-making.

CONCUR’s process model is deeply rooted in development of rigorous JFF efforts. We have implemented this approach in many of our projects. We routinely reflect on our professional work in peer-reviewed articles, and other publications, with the aim of continuing to refine our own practice, and to bring valuable lessons to peer professionals working in marine resource management and public policy conflict resolution. One such reflection is our chapter—Desalination in California: The California Coastal Commission Poseidon Joint Fact Finding Process—in the book Joint Fact Finding in Urban and Environmental Planning Disputes recentlypublished by Routledge/Earthscan. The case discussed involves an independent review of the feasibility of subsurface intake for a proposed large-scale desalination facility in Orange County, California. The chapter lays out the impetus for the JFF approach to provide broadly credible information for consideration in the California Coastal Commission’s permit review, the procedure we used to build the process, and some of the challenges inherent in the work.

The book includes 12 other chapters that cover a range of topics. Several chapters explain the broad approach of JFF and discuss the theory and practice of joint fact-finding, adapting process design within a joint fact-finding process, and criteria and approaches for evaluating joint fact-finding processes. Others reflect on specific cases involving a variety of issues and in a variety of locations, including: alternate energy development (Cape Wind) in Massachusetts; geothermal energy and genetically modified organisms in Hawaii; a mine in Mongolia; climate adaptation planning in Boston; and restoring trust in science in Japan post-Fukushima.

Our chapter includes quotes from participants in our case to provide a window into JFF in practice. On the impetus for the process one participant stated: “I’m hearing from my fellow Commissioners that we just wish there was some way we could find out if this infiltration gallery is infeasible.”

On the work of the interdisciplinary panel one member noted:

“By nature, I am a problem solver and always looking for a better solution. Therefore, I prefer to develop and provide an alternate solution if the situation requires one, rather than just summarizing available solutions and making a selection from a pre-existing list. The process we followed in our Panel working sessions not only allowed pursuit of alternate solutions, but actually encouraged it.”

On the Commission staff’s views on the effort:

Tom Luster also noted that he “found the process overall to be fair and helpful. Not only was I impressed with the panel’s attention to its tasks, I found CONCUR to be a fair and impartial referee during the process.”

On a practical level, CONCUR hopes that this process model can influence better decision-making on desalination as plants are proposed up and down the California coast—and on a broader suite of water resource issues. We expect that the application of aspects of this JFF process design could be highly effective in “sticky” permitting decisions. If you are interested in purchasing a copy of the book, Joint Fact-Finding in Urban Planning and Environmental Disputes, please click




Dr. Scott McCreary is President and Managing Principal at CONCUR Inc, serving as senior facilitator and mediator. He specializes in multiparty deliberations involving water supply and quality, marine resources, land use, species protection, air quality, climate change, renewable energy and other complex natural resource issues. As a facilitator, he focuses on finding effective ways to bring research and analysis environmental decision making processes—a specialty developed at UC Berkeley’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning and doctoral work at MIT and the Harvard Program on Negotiation. He has strong dual experience in natural science and public policy and in the full range of facilitation and mediation techniques. Building on 32 years of work as an environmental planner and 25 years of experience as a facilitator and mediator, Scott has facilitated deliberations among diverse agencies, businesses, community groups, and conservation organizations. Scott has lead over 100 projects for CONCUR, ranging from site-specific cases to federal regulations to broad policy initiatives that span multiple states and international transboundary regions.  He often consults with government agencies and colleague organizations on process design for complex environmental cases.   He recently co-taught the UC Berkeley graduate course: Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation: Global Analysis and Regional Response.

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