This post was written by both Scott McCreary and Keith Mattson.
Several members and colleagues of Accord 3.0 have launched Joint Fact-Finding (JFF) processes as part of past projects or on their own to narrow and clarify disagreements over underlying factual information in knowledge-intensive disputes. JFF is an important step to resolving these disputes, since the greatest tension can come from deciding what are trustworthy and relevant facts to draw conclusions from.
With the encouragement of colleagues at the US Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution (USIECR), Accord 3.0 members Scott McCreary and Keith Mattson devised and offered a half day course titled The Practice and Persuasion of Joint Fact Finding at the Association for Conflict Resolution’s Environmental Planning and Policy section annual conference at George Mason University in Arlington, VA during June 12-14, 2018.
About 32 participants took the course, hailing from several federal agencies (EPA, Department of Interior, the USIECR, state regulatory agencies, universities and private firms.
The course included a mix of short presentations, case vignettes, and small group exercises. It explored distinctions between JFF and more traditional administrative and legal decision-making approaches that often devolve into adversarial science, and/or litigation. The course also explored alternative structural models for JFF, and the important role of champions and gatekeepers in launching and sustaining JFF processes.
Prior to delivering the course, McCreary and Mattson conducted a brief online survey of participants from five previous JFF processes to better understand their motivations for participating, and their reflections about the effectiveness of the process. The half-day course also included two group exercises in which students modeled the steps of framing issues as the focus of JFF and devising elements of a Terms of Reference document to structure and govern a JFF process.
At the conclusion of the course, McCreary and Mattson posited several areas for further work, including:
- Broadening the data set of JFF cases
- Expanding the data set of post hoc evaluations of JFF participants
- Conducting an outcomes-focused comparative study on JFF vs other methods
- Considering how JFF can be explicitly integrated into program plans for the private and public sector
Each of these initiatives can teach us about the efficacy of JFF, and suggest some best practices for future application. We welcome support, revisions and questions to further these initiatives. Please comment below to connect with the authors.