Public Participation in a Polarized Era

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Part 1 – Taking Stock and Devising Solutions

Friday, December 1, 2017
8:30am – 4:30pm
East-West Center, Imin Hall, University of Hawaii at Manoa

4:30 – 6:30pm Networking Reception to follow

Part 2 – Strategy and Skill Workshops

Saturday, December 2, 2017
8:30am – 12:00pm
William S. Richardson School of Law, Classroom 2

For questions about registration, please email Keith Mattson at

Why are we holding this gathering?

In the late 1970s, and in the face of strong new environmental laws, federal and state agencies adopted new community consultation strategies. Foremost among these were National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) requirements, sunshine laws, and the use of public meetings whenever new policies, projects and plans were proposed.

Called by different names—public consultation, civic participation, stakeholder engagement –they promised (1) earlier notice of impending decisions; (2) more responsiveness from slow-moving,

underfunded, and sometimes secretive bureaucracies; (3) additional opportunities for and attention to diverse voices; (4) a more level playing field between government, corporations and communities; (5) new checks and balances against authoritative decision-making; and (6) more transparent and informed decision making.

Three decades later, too many public meetings have become perfunctory ‘tick-the-box’ compliance exercises, or simply fresh combat zones for old ideological wars. Many have evolved into formulaic productions by project proponents or well-organized opposition campaigns by opponents; both represent an unfunded bureaucratic burden for agencies to endure.

Further, as public discourse has become increasingly polarized and hostile, it gets harder to arrive at decisions that can be supported by a plurality of citizens. Businesses often feel victimized by the tyranny of the minorities that come out to public meetings. And advocacy groups feel frustrated that they have so little impact.

This full-day gathering, followed by a half-day skill and strategy workshop, will take stock of how public participation is faring, gather ideas for changes to the way public consultation takes place, and spark conversations that have consequences now and for the future.

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