U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution

FAQs

FAQs about ECR

What is Environmental Conflict Resolution (ECR)?
ECR is a term used to describe problem-solving discussions among diverse parties, facilitated or aided by a neutral third party and aimed at finding workable solutions to environmental problems or issues.

Environmental Conflict Resolution (ECR) is more formally defined as third-party assisted conflict resolution and collaborative problem solving in the context of environmental, public lands, or natural resources issues or conflicts, including matters related to energy, transportation, and land use. The term "ECR" encompasses a range of assisted negotiation processes and applications. These processes directly engage affected interests and governmental decision makers in conflict resolution and collaborative problem solving. Multi-issue, multi-party environmental disputes or controversies often take place in high conflict and low trust settings, where the assistance of impartial facilitators or mediators can be instrumental to reaching agreement and resolution. ECR processes can be used during a policy development or planning process, or in the context of rulemaking, administrative decision making, enforcement, or litigation. The conflicts may involve federal, state, local, and tribal governments, environmental and resource user organizations, citizens groups, businesses and individuals.
What does collaboration mean and does it relate to ECR?
Collaboration as a general term describes how people and organizations work together, literally meaning "co-labor."  There are many ways to collaborate: informally or formally, as partners or in teams, in advisory capacities or as joint decision-makers. Collaboration is at the core of ECR processes.
Who uses ECR?
Federal, state, local, and tribal governments, environmental and resource user organizations, citizens groups, business and individuals all use ECR. For example, government officials may use ECR if conflicts arises when the government creates or implements legislation or policy. Similarly, public and private interests use ECR when they want their voices to be heard on environmental issues that affect them, such as how public lands are used or managed, cleaning up pollution, facility siting, and wildlife protection.
When is ECR appropriate?
Many factors influence whether or not ECR is appropriate for a given situation. As a rule-of-thumb, ECR is appropriate when: all affected stakeholders are willing to collaborate; the collaborating parties have decision-making authority; sufficient time and resources are available to support the effort; and the issue is ripe for discussions with all parties willing to negotiate on the key issues.

For more information on when ECR works best (and when ECR is less suitable) review our TIPS sheet "When Considering ECR."
What is the difference between mediating, negotiating, and facilitating?
See the glossary for specifics about each of these terms.
We're not in conflict; we just want to have productive conversations – why do we need ECR?
Using ECR can help to prevent future conflict when there are differing views about an issue. You've heard the saying, "Two heads are better than one"? Bringing all the stakeholders together to talk through the issues and understand the different perspectives can lead to better informed decisions and actions. Also, solutions that have broad support tend to be more durable than those that don't.
Does ECR really work?
There are numerous examples of how people have used ECR successfully to resolve a wide range of environmental issues. On this Web site we have included several examples of successful cases and lessons learned that have involved the U.S. Institute [Link]. Another Web site with case examples is that of the Policy Consensus Initiative, www.policyconsensus.org. Explore these cases and discover the value of ECR.
What are the benefits of investing in collaboration and conflict resolution?
Experience tells us that complex and contentious environmental disputes can be costly to resolve whether in the context of ECR or a likely alternative such as litigation. Investing in ECR can create many benefits such as bringing stakeholders together, repairing and building working relationships, and finding workable agreements that solve problems now and help manage issues in the future.
What resistance or objections do people raise to ECR?
Sometimes there is resistance simply because of a lack of familiarity with ECR and how it works. The time and costs associated with ECR can also cause resistance. Other factors include fear of losing control over a process. For example, when one party has responsibility for a situation or issue, that party may not be willing to allow others to influence its decision making.

FAQs about the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution

How can the U.S. Institute help me? Has the U.S. Institute worked on a problem like mine before?
The U.S. Institute has worked on a wide range of environmental, natural resource and public lands issues, including wildlife and wilderness management, recreational use of and access to public lands, grazing and timber, endangered species, water resources and water rights, wastewater treatment, watershed management, wetlands, brownfields, air pollution, transportation and urban infrastructure. Across all of these areas, we have expertise to provide ECR services tailored to your specific needs.
What services does the U.S. Institute offer?
The U.S. Institute provides a range of services to help parties prevent, manage and resolve environmental conflicts involving the federal government.

Our most commonly requested environmental conflict resolution (ECR) services include:
  • Advice on whether ECR is appropriate in a given situation,
  • Connecting parties with qualified mediators or facilitators,
  • Analyzing conflicts and designing conflict management strategies,
  • Bringing parties to the table and mediating environmental disputes, and
  • Training to increase the ability of parties to manage conflict.
Can anyone use the U.S. Institute’s services?
Anyone involved in an environmental conflict involving the federal government can call upon the U.S. Institute for assistance. The U.S. Institute serves all parties regardless of who initiates or pays for assistance.
What types of cases qualify for U.S. Institute assistance?
The U.S. Institute can be called upon to help with any environmental conflict involving the federal government.
How do I access the U.S. Institute’s services?
The U.S. Institute's staff is available to talk with federal agencies and other parties about the possibility of using ECR. To learn more call (520) 901-8501 or email usiecr@ecr.gov. Or check our staff listing for particular staff contacts.
Are the U.S. Institute’s services available nationwide? Does the U.S. Institute do any local work?
The U.S. Institute provides ECR services nationwide. Some of the issues it deals with have a national impact; others are more local in nature. The U.S. Institute accomplishes most of its work by partnering with private sector mediators and facilitators based near the location of the dispute. The U.S. Institute primarily partners with members of the U.S. Institute's nationally recognized roster of more than 250 highly skilled private sector mediator/facilitators.
Where does the U.S. Institute get its funding, and why is there a cost associated with using their services?
The U.S. Institute is partially funded by annual appropriations from Congress. By law we are required to charge for some of our services. Other federal agencies are authorized to use and to pay for our services. Other public and private entities can also pay for our services. Annual appropriations do not cover all our operating expenses.
Can I use the Roster of ECR practitioners directly or do I need to go through the Institute?
If you need help identifying a qualified environmental mediator or facilitator, visit our resources page. There you will find a searchable database of practitioner profiles as well as advice about selecting an appropriate neutral practitioner. Personalized referral services are also available by emailing U.S. Institute staff (roster@ecr.gov). The personalized service includes referrals from the Native Dispute Resolution Network, a new resource for identifying practitioners to assist in resolving environmental disputes that involve Native people (nativenetwork@ecr.gov).
Does the U.S. Institute offer training? Does the U.S. Institute offer training for mediators?
The U.S. Institute provides conflict resolution trainings, workshops and informational services around the country. These sessions include general introductions to ECR, more advance sessions on using ECR in certain contexts, customized agency-requested sessions aimed at specific needs, and capacity building efforts integrated into conflict resolution processes.  Representatives of federal, state, and local governments, tribal nations, non-governmental organizations, environmental advocates, community-based groups, science and technical experts, environmental and natural resource attorneys, public land managers, and others involved in disputes all benefit from these learning sessions. The U.S. Institute does not offer professional training for ECR practitioners; however, many other organizations do.

For information on upcoming training events visit our training page.
How can the U.S. Institute be an “independent” organization if it’s part of the federal government?
Congress specifically created the U.S. Institute as an impartial entity inside the federal government, but independent of other agencies, so that it could provide conflict resolution services to help public and private interests manage and resolve environmental conflicts.