Joint Fact-Finding

Scientific and technical information is typically central to environmental policy and resource use disputes. Solutions are often justified based on what scientific data suggests is best, and scientists figure prominently into environmental policy disputes. The problem is that there is almost always room for various approaches to any technical question, and uncertainty in what the results mean. Uncertainty and varying approaches are a reality in science, but lead to conflict and confusion when decision-makers and other stakeholders turn to scientists for the answers. Each party ends up using the data that best serves its own position while discounting the data and positions of others.

Joint fact-finding offers an alternative approach. Rather than amassing competing pools of data and experts to advance their respective positions, stakeholders work together to: Collectively identify critical scientific and technical questions; scope their needs and how these questions might be answered in practice; commission studies from experts that all parties support and trust; and collectively receive and evaluate the results. Jointly engaging around scientific questions and using the same results does not guarantee agreement, as parties will still hold different values and interpret the data differently, but it can at least help them to build a common understanding of the situation, which can be tremendously valuable. The key steps we follow when conducting joint fact-finding are outlined in the diagram below.

The MIT Science Impact Collaborative played a key role in the development of effective joint fact-finding techniques, and continues to both employ it in practice and advance our understanding of how scientific and technical information can and should be generated for and used by multi-stakeholder groups.

For more information on joint fact-finding, see the following resources:

 

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  • Ehrman, J.R. and B.L. Stinson (1999). Joint Fact-Finding and the Use of Technical Experts. In The Consensus Building Handbook. L. Susskind, S. McKearnan and J. Thomas-Larmer, eds. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 375–99.
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  • Andrews, C.J. (2002). Humble Analysis: The Practice of Joint Fact-Finding. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.
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To learn more about how we tackle challenges at the intersection of science, politics and policy, visit our tools and project pages.