Stakeholder Involvement & Public Participation at the U.S. EPA_ Lessons Learned, Barriers, and Innovative Approaches

United States Environmental Protection Agency
In the 1990s, EPA increased its efforts to involve the public by giving citizens, industry, environmental groups, and academics a much greater opportunity to play key roles in environmental decision-making. Today, EPA is continuing this tradition by initiating and supporting a vast array of stakeholder involvement and public participation initiatives wellbeyond the scope of what was originally in place when the Agency opened for business in 1970. Due to the diversity and extensive number of Agency initiatives involving the public, however, much of the wisdom and experience gained by EPA staff implementing these efforts can be lost from one activity to the next, making it difficult for the rest of the Agency to benefit. Staff performing outreach and leading stakeholder involvement and public participation activities in one office may have limited interaction with staff performing similar types of work in other offices. In addition, Agency reviews of stakeholder involvement and public participation tend to focus on single initiatives and preclude Agency staff from benefitting from a broader perspective of EPA’s public involvement activities. With this report, the Office of Environmental Policy Innovation (OEPI) has taken a fresh look at Agency efforts to involve the public by reviewing formal evaluations and informal summaries from across the Agency that identify, describe, and/or evaluate Agency stakeholder involvement and public participation activities. Based upon our review, we identify key crosscutting lessons learned, pinpoint unique barriers and ways to overcome them, and highlight innovative approaches to stakeholder involvement and public participation. This report is informed by Agency evaluations and reviews and is written for Agency staff and EPA’s coregulators.
As such, it will be a valuable tool for staff who are (1) considering new initiatives; (2) seeking to improve existing ones; or (3) in need of new perspectives on stakeholder involvement and public participation at the Agency.
Our review suggests that EPA has made important progress in expanding its efforts to work with the public and is continually trying to improve. However, EPA has limited ability to measure improvements in how the Agency works with stakeholders and the public. Many of the reports, summaries, and briefings reviewed for this report were sufficient to characterize the effectiveness of a particular Agency stakeholder involvement or public participation activity. However, several documents lacked an evaluative component, making it difficult to discern different efforts’ strengths and weaknesses. To improve Agency initiatives in the future, it would be valuable to evaluate a greater number of EPA’s initiatives to work with the public: for both traditional and non-traditional approaches. It’s clear that the Agency has worked hard to involve the public. What isn’t always as clear is how effective EPA’s initiatives have been. A greater focus on developing standard evaluation criteria and performance measures that evaluators can draw upon should greatly assist this effort.
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