Consider this hypothetical scenario. The government of Betija is investing in a provincial road infrastructure project, which will upgrade nearly 140 km of roads between the city of Tosan and Ican. The government had identified several categories of stakeholders who could be potentially affected by the project. These groups were given an opportunity to meet with project officials to express concerns and make suggestions to the project design. However, women were not considered in those meetings. In addition, concerns about the hydrology of the area where dismissed, as the stakeholders were seen as non-experts with insufficient competence to discuss complex hydrological issues. The stakeholders felt they were not provided with sufficient information to support the assertion that the project would not worsen flood risks. This created tensions; the stakeholders used the media to get more attention on this issue, and an international NGO helped the stakeholders write a complaint to the grievance mechanism of the financial development institution based in Washington DC. The government of Betija told the stakeholder groups that no further meetings would be held.
Do you think the government did enough to address the concerns raised by the stakeholders in an inclusive and meaningful manner? Likely not.
This scenario demonstrates the underlying challenges in providing meaningful public consultations for development projects. Transparent and meaningful consultation with key stakeholders is a cornerstone of informed decision-making and good governance, and adds real value to projects. Yet experience shows that there is a need to strengthen the practice in this area.
To this end, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has published a Note on Meaningful Stakeholder Consultation. This publication is one in a series of good practice notes on assessment and management of environmental and social risks and opportunities. The series aims to provide guidance to practitioners and policy makers on policy requirements and international good practice, and to encourage more consistent and better coordinated application of environmental and social sustainability principles.
What is meaningful consultation?
“Meaningful consultation,” a requirement of IDB policies, involves a two-way process of dialogue and engagement, rather than a one-way dissemination of information. It is a process rather than one or a few single events; and it involves people in affected communities and other relevant stakeholders.
Meaningful consultation with project stakeholders adds value to projects in different ways:
- It captures the views and perceptions of people who may be affected or have an interest in a development project, and provides a means to take their views into account as inputs to improved project design and implementation, thereby avoiding or reducing adverse impacts, and enhancing benefits;
- It provides an important source of validation and verification of data obtained elsewhere, and improves the quality of environmental and social impact assessments;
- It enables people to understand their rights and responsibilities in relation to a project;
- Greater transparency and involvement of stakeholders enhances trust, project acceptance, and local ownership, which are key to project sustainability and development outcomes;
- It is required by IDB and other financing institutions in complying with environmental and social policies, in projects that have the potential to cause harm to people or the environment; and
- It is essential to the credibility and legitimacy of implementing agencies and of International Finance Institutions such as the IDB.
Ten elements of meaningful stakeholder consultation
International good practice today establishes ten key elements, which are helpful in guiding the development and execution of meaningful consultation. But it is important to keep in mind that these elements are rarely sequential or discrete. They may be partly or fully overlapping; happen in stages; and be iterative. Professional judgment and experience are needed to determine what the right approach is for each project.
With that in mind, the recommended approach is to ensure that each of the following ten aspects and elements of stakeholder consultation are embedded in the project preparation and execution:
- Identification of priority issues: What are the likely risks and opportunities arising from the project?
- Stakeholder analysis and consultation plan: Who is affected by the project, and who has an interest that can influence outcomes?
- Prior information: How will information be provided to stakeholders prior to consultation and consultation events in a meaningful way?
- Appropriate forums and methods for the consultation process: How should consultation events be organized?
- Grievance redress mechanisms: How can stakeholders seek remedy if they feel the project is causing harm to them or the environment?
- Design and implementation decisions considering stakeholder perspectives: How will stakeholder concerns and recommendations be addressed in project decision-making and the overall management system?
- Feedback to stakeholders and transparency in decision-making: How will the stakeholders be informed about project decisions and how their views and inputs have been incorporated?
- Baseline data, action plans, and management systems: What are the action plans that the project will implement to reduce risk and enhance benefits for project stakeholders?
- Documentation and public disclosure: What are the mechanisms established to document and disclose relevant project information?
- Ongoing stakeholder consultation during implementation: What are the mechanisms established to ensure that stakeholders are kept informed and involved throughout project implementation?
Addressing these ten elements explicitly and systematically is key to designing and undertaking a meaningful stakeholder consultation process.
Download the Note on Meaningful Stakeholder Consultation
The IDB is working on improving our engagement with stakeholders and communities in development projects. Every project we finance which has an environmental and social risk requires consultations with affected parties and consideration of their views. In projects financed by the IDB, stakeholder consultation is primarily the responsibility of the borrower through the implementing agency for the project, but the IDB has a complementary role throughout the project cycle, to explain, advise and provide support.