IEA Training Manual - Module 5

4.1 What are the priority environmental issues?

IEA brings organizations and individuals representing a range of sectors and disciplines into a joint process, and generates a richness of viewpoints and interests while also building ownership of results. Such a multi-stakeholder process presents challenges in reaching consensus because assessing environmental conditions can raise a large number of intertwined issues, themes and interests, and stakeholders often have divergent views on these issues.

In order to carry out an IEA, it is essential to identify a list of major environmental issues, and then categorize them into a manageable number of themes. The desired result is a list that is comprehensive yet easy for the assessment participants to understand, and should be in a format in which contributions can be offered easily.

The issues important for any given state-and-trend environment analysis can be identified using a combination of methods. A good list often can be identified from a brainstorming session among IEA participants. The more diverse the group of participants, the more comprehensive the list of issues. Some of the methods for developing a list of important environmental issues include: 

  • Brainstorming in a multi-stakeholder group and breakout groups.
  • Multiple expert and stakeholder consultations (smaller groups than above).
  • Surveys of individual experts and stakeholders by e-mail, telephone or regular mail.
  • Review of relevant literature.

Please note that these approaches are not mutually exclusive.

See Exercise 5.4.1

For the most part, a limited number of general themes will emerge from any approach used to identify specific environmental issues. Because of this, global assessments often use a general themes-list as a starting point in the assessment.

The general themes of GEO-4 and some other assessments are summarized in Table 4.

These themes can be used to check the comprehensiveness of the list developed in your participatory approach.

For the most part, a limited number of general themes will emerge from any approach used to identify specific environmental issues. Because of this, global assessments often use a general themes-list as a starting point in the assessment.

The general themes of GEO-4 and some other assessments are summarized in Table 4.

These themes can be used to check the comprehensiveness of the list developed in your participatory approach.

Table 4: State of the environment themes for selected environmental assessments

Report State-and-trends of the environment themes and issues
GEO-4
  • Atmosphere: climate change, ozone, air pollution
  • Land: land degradation, forests
  • Water: coastal and marine, freshwater
  • Biodiversity
  • Regional Perspectives 
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
  • Forest/woodland: tropical/subtropical, temperate, boreal
  • Dryland: hyperarid, arid, semiarid, dry ubhumid
  • Inland Water
  • Coastal: terrestrial, marine
  • Marine
  • Island
  • Mountain 
  • Polar
  • Cultivated: pasture, cropland, mixed
  • Urban
GEO Brazil
  • Soil and land
  • Water
  • Forests
  • Atmosphere
  • Marine and Coastal Areas
  • Fishery Resources
Pacific Environment Outlook
  • Land and food
  • Forests
  • Natural disasters
  • Waste management and pollution
  • Freshwater
  • Biodiversity
  • Marine and coastal regions
Africa Environment Outlook – 2
  • Atmosphere
  • Biodiversity
  • Coastal and Marine
  • Forests
  • Freshwater
  • Land
  • Urban Areas

Further selection is necessary even after a comprehensive set of state-and-trends of the environment themes and specific issues has been identified. This is because the list which emerges from this process is often longer that can be reasonably accommodated in a national IEA reporting process, given the constraints of time, and human and financial resources. It is, therefore, necessary to prioritize both themes and specific issues.
 
There are many challenges associated with prioritization, including:

  • Criteria for an issue to be considered a priority (e.g., high cost, significant risk, public awareness, political attention, place in issue cycle [ref. Module 3])
  • Relationship to the priorities listed in official policy statements
  • Stakeholders who select priorities and legitimacy of representation
  • Number of issues that can be included in a national IEA report?
  • Process used to agree upon priority issues.

A range of techniques is available to help prioritize issues, including brainstorming sessions, expert consultations and surveys (Table 5). Whichever technique is used, it is important to identify key criteria to distinguish higher priority issues from lower priority ones.
Additionally, it is important to have a sense of the number of specific issues that reasonably can be accommodated in the reporting process.

It is important to note that the priority list identified during an IEA might be refined after analysing its content in more detail. For example, there might be limited data for a certain issue, which might, in turn cause an issue lower on the priority list to be considered instead.

Table 5: Techniques that groups might use for setting priorities

Prioritization Technique Description and Reference
Traditional Voting

Given a list of important environmental issues, each participant is asked to  vote, for example by:

  • Show of hands.
  • Secret ballot.
  • A dotocratic method, where each person is given a number of coloured   stickers equalling the number of items that can be considered. With the entire issue list placed on a single board, each person places stickers beside their priority issues. People are allowed to distribute their dots as they wish (i.e., they can invest all their dots in a single issue if they feel that best represents their views). Issues are then ranked according to the number of stickers each received. 
Nominal Group Methods  Participants are asked to choose a list of specific issues they feel are most important, and to rank them by relative importance. These rankings are collected from all participants, and aggregated.

Reference: http://www.ryerson.ca/~mjoppe/ResearchProcess/841

TheNominalGroupTechnique.htm  
Consensus Decision Making “A consensus represents a reasonable decision that all members of the group can accept. It is not necessarily the optimal decision for each 
member. When all the group members feel this way, you have reached 
consensus. This means that a single person can block consensus if he or she feels that it is necessary.” 

Reference: http://www.npd-solutions.com/consensus.html


See exercise 5.4.1 b

 

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Module 5 - Integrated analysis of environmental trends and policies
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