Regional Guidelines on Public Participation in Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

Draft for Consultation and Comment
Version 22 August 2016

4.2 Key principles for meaningful public participation

  1. Central to achieving meaningful public participation are three key principles:
    1. Properly planning public participation processes;
    2. Identifying PAP and other stakeholders; and
    3. Giving special attention to vulnerable groups.
  1. Meaningful public participation is a process that begins early and is ongoing throughout the life of the project. It is an inclusive, accessible, and timely process, undertaken in an open manner. It involves providing adequate information that is understandable and readily accessible to stakeholders in a culturally-appropriate manner and therefore enables the consideration of stakeholders’ views as part of decision-making. Public participation should be conducted in a manner commensurate with the risks to, and impacts on, those affected by the project. There are several key elements of meaningful public participation: [16]
    • Public participation in the EIA process must be planned: a plan must be developed for even the most simple and straightforward EIAs.
    • Public participation is not something that happens towards the end of the EIA procedure; it needs to be part of the whole process from onset to conclusion.
    • Public participation involves conducting the EIA process in a way that ensures all relevant information is captured and is not distorted.
    • There is a need to tailor methods for public participation. This means accommodating and adjusting to different stakeholder roles and interests, types of knowledge, and cultural differences.
  1. Properly planning public participation processes

    The project proponent and the EIA consultant should develop, in consultation with the PAP, vulnerable groups, and interested stakeholders, a Public Participation Plan . This plan, also called a Stakeholder Engagement Plan, is the roadmap or guide to the involvement and consultation that will occur during the EIA process, including with those people who are both directly and indirectly affected by the project. The Public Participation Plan needs to be tailored to fit the particular project proposal, local environment, and communities involved. It should set out a clear framework of activities, and allocate roles, tasks, and goals to individual members of the EIA consultant’s team. It should serve as a guiding document throughout the EIA process by specifying objectives, audiences, messages, tools and budget available. To be effective, the Public Participation Plan must also be frequently reviewed and updated. A sample template for a Public Participation Plan is provided in Annex III.

  1. The Public Participation Plan also needs to balance broadcasting (informing) and receiving (listening, understanding, discussing) information. Stakeholders, as well as the project proponent and EIA consultant, need opportunities for both ‘broadcasting’ and ‘receiving’. The Plan also needs to take account of the fact that different stakeholders need to be involved in different ways using different communication tools. In this context, the IAIA has identified some “essential ingredients of engagement planning”: [17]
    • Determining and profiling stakeholder groups.
    • Selecting the rules of engagement and the etiquette that will be observed.
    • Describing the events that will occur throughout the process — stating places, times, goals, involved groups, content, and medium of communication.
    • Allocating essential resources: budget, communication tools, technical support, spokespersons, and suitable premises.
  1. The resources to be allocated within the Public Participation Plan include time as well as financial resources. All stakeholders will require some time to absorb, process and formulate responses to the proposals, information and concepts presented. Some groups will need more time than others, and some groups will require different forums or to consult with other members of the community. Specific plan elements should address engagement with women and vulnerable groups. One generally useful strategy is to invite participants to put forward any matters or questions they wish to have addressed in the meetings in advance (e.g. by email, letter or verbally to the EIA consultant). Regardless of the mechanisms adopted, the Public Participation Plan must allocate sufficient time throughout the EIA process, based on the particular needs of the identified stakeholders. This necessitates that both the project proponent and EIA consultant need to exercise patience.
  1. The Public Participation Plan should also consider how the EIA consultant and project proponent can most effectively communicate in a manner that is appropriate to the targeted audience, taking into account important matters such as cultural sensitivities, language constraints, and formal education levels of the participants. Attention should be given to selecting spokespeople based on their empathy, presence, experience in communication and credibility with participants, as well as on their content knowledge and technical expertise. It is critical that all communication is based on respect, an open-mind and a willingness to listen to and learn from participants.
  1. The content and presentation of the message is as important as its actual content and requires attention, experience, and skill. [18]
  1. As noted above, a key principle of effective EIA systems is that the proponent bears all the associated costs. This includes support for implementing meaningful public participation – the proponent must bear all the costs of public participation at all steps in the EIA process. This includes costs incurred by the proponent’s EIA consultant and those incurred by the EIA Authority in undertaking public participation during the review and decision-making on an EIA Report. As such, the Public Participation Plan must clearly identify the costs of its implementation and be budgeted accordingly. Irrespective of the budget, the priority is on meaningful public participation with quality outcomes.
  1. Identifying PAP and other stakeholders

    it is critically important to identify the PAP and other stakeholders specific to the project proposal in question, and to then identify and their various interests and information needs, because:

    • each project proposal will involve a different set of PAP and stakeholders;
    • different PAP and stakeholders will be impacted in different ways (i.e. women may be impacted differently than men);
    • different sets of PAP and stakeholders may be relevant at different steps of an EIA process; and
    • the same stakeholders may also be impacted in different ways as a result of different projects in similar locations.
  1. This stakeholder identification must be done as early as possible =in the EIA process in order to:
    • ensure successful contact;
    • allow for the ongoing identification of additional stakeholders;
    • build respect and trust;
    • ensure sufficient budget is allocated for public participation; and
    • maximize time available for explanation and consideration of stakeholder-specific issues, and for data gathering.
  1. Part of the stakeholder identification process is to establish lines of communication between different stakeholder groups and the project proponent and EIA consultant. This may include allowing stakeholder groups to appoint spokespeople if they wish.
  1. It is also important to recognize that EIAs are inclusive processes. Often, people and groups will express an interest in the project proposal and EIA that the project proponent may not think particularly relevant. However, anyone that expresses an interest has a right to express their opinions and present their perspectives. It is important that public participation processes do not limit the types of stakeholders that are able to participate.
  1. A common – but by no means complete or tailored – list of potential stakeholders is provided in the Table below.
Table 2: List of possible stakeholders [19]


  • Land owners, users and residents.
  • Indigenous peoples and ethnic groups in and around the affected area.
  • Vulnerable groups including women, children and elderly people, disabled people, resource dependent groups, and poor people.
  • Communities in neighboring countries where transboundary impacts may be an issue.

Government Authorities

  • National, provincial, district and local authorities.
  • Authorities responsible for pollution control including water, waste, soil, noise and air pollution.
  • Authorities responsible for protection of nature, cultural heritage and the landscape.
  • Health and safety authorities.
  • Land use control, spatial planning and zoning authorities.
  • Government departments responsible for agriculture, energy, forestry, fisheries, etc. whose interests may be affected.
  • Authorities in neighboring countries where transboundary impacts may be an issue.

Other Stakeholders

  • Local, national and international environmental, social and development interest groups.
  • International agencies whose interests may be affected.
  • Local employers’ and business associations such as Chambers of Commerce, trade associations, etc.
  • Civil Society Organizations such as Women’s, Groups, Youth Groups, local community groups, resident groups etc.
  • Groups representing users of the environment, e.g. farmers, fishermen, women using local resources for own consumption and trade, tourism operators.
  • Research institutes, universities and other centers of expertise.
  • The local and national media.
  • Elected representatives and community figures such as religious leaders or teachers.
  • Scientific community, researchers and academics.
  • General members of the local and wider public.
  1. Giving special attention to Vulnerable Groups

    The identification of stakeholders also needs to involve special consideration of vulnerable groups, particularly within the local community, and any particular needs they may have to maximize their ability to participate effectively. This includes consideration for facilitating the participation of indigenous peoples and ethnic groups that use other languages or dialects, women, people with disabilities, those below the poverty line, the landless, and representatives of children and the elderly. Additional support may be necessitated to ensure the participation of these groups.

  1. While ultimately the decision on the EIA for a project proposal is the responsibility of government, the application of the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) may have some bearing on that decision. The principle of FPIC is intended to apply primarily to indigenous peoples’ rights and interests in land and resources and is articulated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. [20] It aims to provide indigenous peoples with self-determination over their lives, lands and resources, including regarding decisions on development projects that might affect them. The application of FPIC is most often raised in the context of project proposals that, without consent, would involve the involuntary displacement and resettlement of indigenous PAP and/or loss of productive, income-generating or subsistence assets by indigenous PAP.
  1. The application of FPIC is the one clear way that indigenous PAP are given voice in EIA. The FPIC principle recognizes that indigenous peoples have specific rights that should be respected. To be compliant with FPIC principles, if they do not agree with the proposed project, then it must be modified until consent is granted.

[16] Adapted from IAIA (2015) “Effective Stakeholder Engagement,” IAIA Fastips, No. 10 (revising ‘IA’ to ‘EIA’).

[17] IAIA (2015) “Effective Stakeholder Engagement,” IAIA Fastips, No. 10.

[18] IAIA (2015) “Effective Stakeholder Engagement,” IAIA Fastips, No. 10.

[19] Adapted from Lao PDR’s EIA Guidelines, MONRE, 2012.

[20] UN General Assembly, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: resolution / adopted by the General Assembly, 2 October 2007, A/RES/61/295.