Environmental conflict resolution: Relational and environmental attentiveness as measures of success

AuthorTony Foley
Date01 June 2007
Published date01 June 2007
Environmental Conflict Resolution: Relational
and Environmental Attentiveness as Measures
of Success
Tony Foley
When evaluating the success of environmental conflict resolution
(ECR), the use of traditional measures of success, such as agreement-
counting and participant satisfaction surveys, provide an incomplete
picture. This article proposes two measures to evaluate ECR in terms of
both process and outcome: Is the process transformative of the partici-
pants? Is the process designed to be attentive to environmental outcomes?
The term environmental conflict resolution (ECR) refers to the various
alternative dispute resolution (ADR) techniques, ranging from
consensus-based processes such as mediation and facilitation to more formal
adjudicatory processes such as early neutral evaluation and arbitration as
applied to environmental disputes (Emerson, Nabatchi, O’Leary, and
Stephens, 2003). Because of the particular features of environmental dis-
putes, ADR techniques have been adapted and modified to address such
characteristics as issue complexity, scientific uncertainty, and multiple-
party and multiple-issue involvement, all played out in public and political
arenas. The core of all these processes is voluntary participation and direct
party involvement with assistance but not decision-making control from a
third-party neutral.
Conflicts dealing with such multiple scientific, technical, and regula-
tory value-bound issues carry the potential for long-lasting consequences
for the environment and for future generations (Senecah, 2000). Thus
consideration of detrimental environmental impact must be factored into
any evaluation of the fairness and quality of outcome.
CONFLICT RESOLUTION QUARTERLY,vol. 24, no. 4, Summer 2007 © Wiley Periodicals, Inc. 485
and the Association for Conflict Resolution • DOI: 10.1002/crq.186
In many ECR processes that “fail” in outcome terms, responses to
participant satisfaction surveys nevertheless assert strong elements of “trans-
formative success.” Participants speak of “gaining a better understanding of
the other parties’ interests and perspectives” and “breaking down stereo-
types of each other as we spend time face to face and listening to each
other” (Buckle and Thomas-Buckle, 1986). Dukes (1991) has long argued
that ECR is uniquely placed to provide such “transformative opportuni-
ties” for individuals and organizations. This article suggests that an
approach to measuring the success of ECR processes that attends to both
the relational and environmental effects may be the best measure of success.
Measuring Success: Some Conceptual Difficulties
Any attempt to measure “success” in ECR begs the question about the very
nature of such multiparty and multi-issue disputes—they are all different,
and success in one dispute may not translate to success in another. Smith
(1996) reviewed the six traditional measures of success—reaching an
agreement, the stability of the agreement, the parties’ satisfaction with the
process, the efficiency of the process, the value of the process, and its
fairness—and raised a number of issues about the adequacy of these meas-
ures in evaluating ECR processes.
D’estrée and colleagues (2001) have refocused the debate to concen-
trate on attitudinal and relational change. Similarly, the RESOLVE Centre
for Environmental and Public Policy Dispute Resolution suggests that
a useful starting point to map the multidimensional concept of success is
to divide it into subelements of “substance, process and relationships”
(Bingham, Birkhoff, and Stone, 1997).
These contributions have renewed the debate on ECR success, a debate
that has particular pertinence in Australia where, McKillop, Neumann,
Sipe, and Giddings (2003) state, the evaluation of ECR is “in its infancy”
and there exists “an opportunity to get evaluation right from the outset, and
maximize its benefit in the public interest” (p. 152).
Traditional Measures of Success
The measure of “agreements reached” was considered comprehensively in
Bingham’s seminal study evaluating the effectiveness of environmental dis-
pute resolution (Bingham, 1986). Bingham defined “reaching agreement

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