Environmental Justice Primer for Ports: Effective Community Engagement Methods
Meaningful community engagement is essential to environmental justice and relies on communicating directly with the impacted communities and providing a means for their input to inform decision outcomes. Creating a permanent Community Advisory Committee is an effective method for keeping a community well informed and gathering input. Ports may also designate a community liaison to ensure information flows between community leaders and port decision-makers.
- Defining community stakeholder groups
- Building relationships with near-port communities
- Determining the level of community engagement
Defining community stakeholder groups
Productive Engagement Tips
- Honor the wisdom, voice and experience of residents.
- Treat participants with integrity and respect.
- Be transparent about motives and power dynamics.
- Share decision-making and initiative leadership.
- Engage in continuous reflection and willingness to change course.
- Be aware of tribal rights and issues.
Source: The Community Engagement Guide for Sustainable Communities, Policy Link
Community stakeholder groups can be divided into the following categories by their role in the process.
Community Resident Groups: community residents and resident organizations from near-port communities
Community-Based Partners: organizations working with near-port communities to support local goals
Local Unions: organizations representing workers at the port, goods movement industries and other groups.
Tribes: tribes have unique rights as sovereign nations.
Government Stakeholders: local, regional and federal government entities with port and community responsibilities
Local Educational Institutions: local universities, colleges, schools and minority serving institutions (historically black colleges and universities, tribal universities and Hispanic serving institutions)
Local Environmental Groups: environmental and/or environmental justice advocacy groups
Internal Port Stakeholders: port authority or agency departments
Port-Sector Stakeholders: port tenants, nearby industrial facilities and the goods-movement sector
Relations between the port and each of these groups can vary widely based on the degree of shared interests, trust level and past conflicts. Engagement efforts can tend to focus on those stakeholder groups with shared interests and low conflict. However, reaching out directly to impacted communities despite past communication challenges is essential to begin to understand community concerns and explore feasible ways to address concerns in planning and decision-making. The Resources section in the Appendix includes more information on the benefits of effective community engagement and approaches to collaborative problem-solving.
Building relationships with near-port communities
Ports agencies may be more likely to reach impacted communities by placing public notices in media outlets frequently accessed by area residents such as local newspapers, radio stations and public access channels on cable television. Ports can collaborate with community leaders to distribute flyers, postcards and other materials to local churches, civic groups and community-based organizations. In communities with limited English proficiency, port agencies should translate public notices and information on public comment periods and provide interpreters at public meetings as necessary to ensure meaningful access. Port agencies should also provide information in accessible formats to ensure effective communication for persons with disabilities. Providing enhanced opportunities for community involvement in permitting decisions has been an effective way for industry sources to build positive relationships with neighboring environmental justice communities. Actions that can be incorporated into permit conditions include modifying truck traffic and rail freight routes to avoid movement through residential areas, reducing emission levels, monitoring fence-line air quality, and creating public access to waterfront parks.
Determining the level of community engagement
The International Association for Public Participation’s (IAP2’s) Spectrum of Public Participation discusses public participation levels in increasing order of the potential impact of public involvement on decision-making (see Table 2).20 Increased levels of engagement can lead to decisions with more public support, increased trust between stakeholders and more sustainable outcomes.
The appropriate level of community engagement can vary depending on specific outreach goals, timing, location, community culture and access to technology. It is important for decision-makers and institutions to be transparent with community members about the level of influence their feedback will have on a decision. In instances where the level of engagement is lower than the community would prefer, it is critical to be fully transparent about what is possible and why. Ideally, decision-makers and institutions should aim for the highest level of engagement possible – in some instances, this may mean forging new decision-making processes and structures to support higher levels of engagement than have been attempted in the past. Table 2 outlines IAP2 levels of engagement illustrated with example actions and considerations for selection.