Joint Fact Finding A Strategy for Bringing Science, Policy and The Public Together When Matters Get Contentious

This paper was commissioned by Professor Masahiro Matsuura, Department of Public Policy, University of Tokyo in conjunction with a Joint Fact Finding conference held on February 15, 2011 in Tokyo.

The United States and most other countries face no small shortage of public science-intensive controversies. To name but a few, we have recurring disputes over the planning and construction of new dams, the decommissioning of existing dams, the use of pesticides and fertilizers in production agriculture, increases in the development of genetically modified plants and animals, the development of new energy sources, the emission of greenhouse gases, the safety thresholds for exposure to chemicals of concern, the promulgation of general vaccination policies, the location of Level-3 and -4 Bio-safety Laboratories, the reform of health care laws, the use of off-road vehicles in environmentally sensitive areas, and catch and by-catch limits for fishermen.


Do mediators have something to offer? On any given day, science-laden controversies occupy huge amounts of time and energy on the pages of our media, in regulatory proceedings, in Congress and state legislatures, and in the minds of citizens, scientists, and decision-makers. This trend will accelerate, not abate. If mediators are to expand their relevance to more complex and politically charged matters, we need more sophisticated, adaptive and sensitive variations of our procedures. “Joint Fact-Finding” is one such promising and emerging mediation variation that can bring experts, decision makers, and stakeholders from opposing sides of an issue. The procedure requires that those who are affected by a decision be involved in framing the research question(s) and identifying, generating, analyzing and interpreting the scientific and technical information that will be used to inform a decision or action.


JFF procedures are flexible, but have six essential characteristics. (1) They involve multiple stakeholders who may have very different viewpoints; (2) they are collaborative and require people to work together; (3) they are structured, meaning, JFF processes and meetings are not left to chance but are well designed and highly focused dialogues; (4) they are inquiry based and require a robust exploration to understand the problem from all angles; (5) they are interest driven study processes rather than forums for arguing value positions; and (6) they are integrative and multidisciplinary. They bring different types of knowledge, information and data to the table.


Sometimes JFF processes are organized as “stand-alone” processes. In other instances, they can be embedded as part of longer collaboration processes in working groups, roundtables or the work of special committees and commissions. Actual case experience, as described in the paper linked to this article, suggest similarly organized JFF processes can be applied to many more conflicts in the U.S. and elsewhere. They offer great promise for grappling with important energy, environment, public health and social policy decisions all of which affect the public welfare.


The full article is here attached.

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Peter Adler

Peter Adler directs ACCORD3.0, a group of independent consultants specializing in foresight, fact-finding and conseneus building. He is the former President and CEO of The Keystone Center and has held executive positions with the Hawaii Supreme Court, the Hawaii Justice Foundation, and Neighborhood Justice Center of Honolulu. Peter can also… MORE >

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