Public Participation Tools for Community Engagement
Local and national authorities in Brazil, the United States, and other countries increasingly recognize that successful projects require meaningful involvement of all affected people, which includes reaching out specifically to minority, low-income, and indigenous populations. Urban sustainability projects aim to ensure all people have access to a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work. This goal, especially in relation to underserved communities, is central to the Joint Action Plan to Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Discrimination and Promote Equality (JAPER), signed by Brazil and the United States in March 2008, to address racial health disparities and environmental justice, among other issues.
Public involvement works best when affected communities are consulted early and often. Early community involvement enables decision makers to obtain information and an understanding of issues affecting local communities. Promoting meaningful participation often involves special efforts to connect with populations that have been historically underrepresented in decision making and that have a wide range of education levels, literacy, or proficiency.
How to Apply this Policy
A well-designed plan for public participation includes both effective outreach to communities impacted by the project and practical opportunities for individuals and communities to participate in decision making process. A well-designed public participation plan identifies all affected communities, including those historically underrepresented in decision making, and it includes outreach materials that are concise, understandable, and readily accessible to all. Tools and guidance are available.
Website: www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/contact and http://www.epa.gov/international/public-participation-guide/index.html
Participatory budgeting mechanisms, first adopted in Brazil in 1989, are based on the Brazilian Federal Constitution of 1988, which consolidated the re-democratization process and is called the Citizen's Constitution. Such mechanisms, subsequently spread to over 20 countries, allow communities to have direct control over Government spending priorities, foster engaged citizenship, and increase government accountability. Sites such as www.participatorybudgeting.org.uk and www.participatorybudgeting.org host a wealth of information on participatory budgeting and community engagement.
The U.S. EPA's Plan EJ 2014 is a comprehensive strategy to better integrate environmental justice and civil rights into U.S. EPA's programs, policies, and daily work. U.S. EPA has developed numerous guidance documents and public participation guides, such as the Public Participation Guide (available in English, Spanish, Arabic, French, and Mandarin). State and local governments have developed similar guidance documents.