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Joint Fact Finding: A New Approach to Balancing Science and Politics in Ecosystem- and Resource-Management Decisions

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graphic showing the role of joint fact finding in the context of the larger consensus-building process
The role of joint fact finding in the context of the larger consensus-building process. The steps encompassed by the top two rectangles (initiating a consensus-building process and deciding whether to proceed) determine who is present at the joint-fact-finding table. The joint-fact-finding process itself generates scientific information to be used in the subsequent iterative process of generating options, formulating recommendations, and following through on the agreements reached. Image provided courtesy of the Consensus Building Institute. (Permission to use this copyrighted image for other purposes must be obtained from the Consensus Building Institute.)
On October 16-17, several experts of international renown in the fields of consensus-building processes and decision science gathered in St. Pete Beach, FL. Their purpose was to introduce U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists, analysts, and managers to a new view of the role of scientific inquiry in addressing complex ecosystem- and resource-management conflicts. The course, entitled "Joint Fact Finding: A New Approach to Balancing Science and Politics in Ecosystem and Resource Management Decisions," was sponsored by the USGS and presented by the Consensus Building Institute (CBI) of Cambridge, MA.

A central tenet of the course was that conventional scientific practice can lead to adversarial science, commonly alienating the public as well as elected and appointed decisionmakers. Joint fact finding, one phase of a broader consensus-building approach, was presented as an alternative strategy—one that is more effective in generating constructive and lasting agreements about contentious environmental issues. In this process, stakeholders representing a wide variety of interests work together to:

  • Identify and understand the myriad interests and issues at stake;
  • Determine, on the basis of financial and technical considerations, whether joint fact finding is appropriate in the given case;
  • Plan the joint-fact-finding process, determining, for example, which stakeholders need to be involved, what roles various participants will play, and how severe disparities in participants' expertise will be addressed;
  • Define the precise questions to be addressed, as well as the most appropriate methods of analysis;
  • Agree on how to use the joint-fact-finding results, including how to accommodate conflicting data and interpretations; and
  • Communicate the results of the joint-fact-finding process to various constituencies and policymakers.

In addition to lectures richly textured with illustrative examples and sprinkled with humor, the fast-moving course (complete with a healthy dose of homework!) also included an exploration of two USGS "real-world" case studies, plus various complex role-playing scenarios. One of the highlights of the course was an address by USGS Director Chip Groat, followed by a lively discussion of the USGS' mission and the role of its scientists in bringing policy-relevant research to the joint-fact-finding process.

Lead instructors for the course were Lawrence Susskind (CBI, Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Howard Raiffa (Harvard University), and Lawrence Dixon (CBI). USGS cosponsors were Herman Karl (Geography Discipline), Lisa Robbins (Geology Discipline), and Christine Turner (Geology Discipline) with Richard Zirbes (Geography Discipline). This undertaking was part of the USGS' Integrated-Science Community-Based Values in Land Use Decision-Making (INCLUDE) activity's ongoing research and mission to explore the role of science and scientists in collaborative problem-solving processes.

Participants included approximately 40 physical and social scientists, analysts, and managers from USGS offices across the country (representing each USGS discipline plus the Director's Office), as well as Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Collaborative Decisions, Umhverfisrannsoknir ehf of Iceland, the California Coastal Conservancy, Duke University, North Carolina State University, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Washington, and the National Research Council. Among those associated with USGS coastal science and research were Chris Barton, Tonya Clayton, Jack Kindinger, George Kish, Terri Lee, and Lisa Robbins from the St. Petersburg and Tampa, FL, offices; and Brad Barr (NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program), Deborah Hutchinson, and Eric Sundquist from Woods Hole, MA.

Related Web Sites
Integrated-Science Community-Based Values in Land Use Decision-Making
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
The Consensus Building Institute, Inc.
non-profit organization

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in this issue: Fieldwork cover story:
USS Arizona

Adriatic Sea Sediment-Transport Cruise

Bear Lake Sea-Floor Mapping

Assateague Island Vegetation Mapping

Field-Testing New Portable Drilling System

Research Diamondback Terrapin

Outreach Transoceanic Dust Impacts

Woods Hole Field Center Open House

St. Petersburg Field Center Open House

Great American Teach-In

Fourth-Graders Tour St. Petersburg Field Center

Girl Scouts 90th Anniversary


Meetings Effects of Fishing Activities on Benthic Habitats

Planning Gas-Hydrates Research

Science and Politics in Ecosystem Decisions

Sea-Floor Mapping Techniques

Staff & Center News GHASTLI Lab Visitors

Science Museum Board

Two New Scientists

Louisiana Coastal-Restoration Advisory Board

Air Medical Transport Center Tour

MRIB Programmer

New Webmistress

Publications Dec./Jan. Publications List

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