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How to Hit the P2 Sweet Spot

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“It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settling a question without debating it.” – Joseph Joubert

Let’s see if we can’t do both. In order to successfully debate a question and settle it we need Core Values 3 and 4, which tell us to include everyone who may be impacted by the decision and to use their input to reach a sustainable decision. To fully explain the role these Core Values play, I’ll be sharing three stories that were told to me when I interviewed Susanna Haas Lyons, Wendy Lowe, and Doug Sarno.

Core Value 3: Public participation promotes sustainable decisions by recognizing and communicating the needs and interests of all participants, including decision makers.

Core Value 4: Public participation seeks out and facilitates the involvement of those potentially affected by or interested in a decision.

In explaining how these Core Values operate, Wendy described a venn diagram that is used in the IAP2 training manual illustrating the attributes of potential solutions during a decision-making process. Once circle includes options that are affordable, the second includes ones that are technically sound, and the third options that are publicly acceptable. “What we as P2 practitioners are trying to do is to find the sweet spot.”

The Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project

The US Department of Energy was dealing with a volume of waste in Idaho that was hazardous and radioactive. The DOE prepared an environmental impact statement to find the most appropriate, affordable, and technically sound. They engaged the public throughout Idaho and, four years and lots of money later, decided that an incinerator would be the best way to proceed.

However, when they went to get their permit to build the incinerator, they had to check in with the Department of Environmental Quality who asked the DOE which way the wind would blow. That was the moment when the DOE realized they’d more or less forgotten a category of stakeholders: the State of Wyoming. Specifically Jackson, Wyoming where the citizens would be bearing the brunt of the environmental externality. Jackson held a public meeting attended by 500 people that raised $500,000 and killed the incinerator overnight.

This story demonstrates how when you leave out one of the affected parties you cannot know what options are in the publicly acceptable bubble, and can reach solutions that are unable to sustain themselves.

Interestingly, the phrase “including decision makers” wasn’t added to Core Value #3 until 2005 when the Core Values were reviewed. This was one of few substantive changes, but the committee doing the review felt that without this wording the deck would be stacked in favor of the stakeholders. Decision makers are important because they hold the institutional knowledge that populates the options in the bubbles of what is affordable and what is technically sound.

HEALTH CARE REFORM

In 2007, California was undergoing health care reform under Governor Schwarzenegger. Susanna, working for America Speaks, helped convene a statewide forum in which over 300,000 people participated, including many undocumented immigrants. The forum looked at two proposals for reforming health care, what they offered, and the major choices that had to make when deciding between the two. This forum enabled legislators (the decision makers in this instance) to see what their constituents supported and make more informed decisions.

The next step in the process is reaching a sustainable decision. Doug said to me, “Making decisions is pretty easy, implementing them and making those decisions work is where the hard part comes in.” A sustainable decision is the difference between getting public buy-in versus public ownership.

THE FERNALD CLOSURE PROJECT

A former uranium processing facility needed to be closed and its waste disposed in Ohio. There was a huge waste site with wastes that were more or less hazardous scattered throughout. The local community had felt pretty firmly that they did not want this to remain in their backyard. One member of the community in particular, Lisa, was quite vocal about this. And when a workshop was held that used chips for participants to allocate to on- or off- site disposal, Lisa swept all the chips off the board. “I don’t want any of it to stay here.”

Doug told her that was an option, but now it was time to run the math. The facilitators had programs set up that would calculate the number of expected truck trips, traffic accidents, greenhouse gas emissions, etc. that would result from moving all of the waste from Ohio to Nevada. As Lisa watched the numbers populate she turned to Doug and said, “We can’t do this.”

In the end about 90% of the waste by volume remained in an on-site disposal facility. Most of the more hazardous material was moved off-site. The area is now a 900-acre wildlife preserve and education center. There is also a history museum on site that includes a description of this notable public participation process.

Doug described this as “the most fundamental aha moment I’ve had in my career” watching the public participation process move a participant from a “them” to a “we” mentality. This is the full expression of all three circles of the venn diagram. It hits the sweet spot and reaches a sustainable solution that the community not only accepts, it owns.

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This article is the first in a series of articles about the Core Values. Keep an eye out for the next article in upcoming newsletters.

Do you have a Core Values story to share? Please tell us about it here!

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Lauren Wirtis

By: Lauren Wirtis
IAP2 USA Intern

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