It is important to include grassroots communities when taking environmental decisions because they are people of the ground.
What is Environmental Impact Assessment?
Why Environmental Impact Assessment?
Levels Decision making
We make decisions and take actions at a range of different levels: on our own, and within families, communities, nations and international regions. The concept of levels can be useful in working out where decisions are made or should be made.
An example is provided by Norman Uphoff (1992) when considering the types of local institution involved in development activity. Decision making and action can occur ranging from the individual level to the international level.
10 Levels of Decision Making (Uphoff, 1992)
International level – National level – Regional/provincial level – District level –Sub-district level – Locality level (A set of communities having social and economic relations; This is the same as the sub-district level where a market town is the sub-district centre) – Community level (A relatively self-contained socio-economic residential unit) – Group level (A self-identified set of persons with some common interest; May be persons in a small residential area like a neighbourhood, or an occupational, age, gender, ethnic or other grouping) – Household level – Individual level
Uphoff challenges the way many people use the word \'local\' by constructing a boundary around three of the levels:
• the locality,
• the community and
• group levels.
The involvement of local-level institutions is recognised (by Uphoff and others) as essential for mobilising resources and helping to resolve resource management conflicts. Involving just one of the three local levels for decision making may well mean that opportunities to reach a wider constituency are missed.
There is a difference between the level at which we make decisions and the level at which the effects of our decisions are evident.
For example, our local decisions to purchase timber products or burn fossil fuels may have an impact at several different levels, from local to global.
Decision situations are constantly changing; they are usually dynamic not static. Data on biological and physical processes and human activity, and statements about action being taken to address environmental issues, are obtained at a particular time and in a particular context.
Keep in mind that there is a need for caution in interpreting data or statements that originated in a different context or era. Another aspect of change in decision situations concerns learning.
For example, we can all identify with some activities that have an effect on our environment, such as transport and use of packaging, because we have at least a consumer’s perspective. But our experiences may well be very different. People whose livelihood is connected with the transport or food sector are likely to identify with them even more strongly.
Identifying with the problem or opportunity is a step towards ‘owning’ it, but this does not always happen if people do not recognise it as ‘their’ problem. Recognising that we learn from our experiences is particularly important in environmental decision making because our experiences affect the way we think about a situation, which in turn influences our decisions and actions. This type of learning is an iterative, or recurring, process.
The cumulative environmental impact of individual decisions is often very large, so while each individual’s effect may in itself be small, it is still a contributory factor. It is important for all those involved to take responsibility for their actions.
In understanding environmental decision making, it is also important to recognise the need to learn and make decisions in groups as well as individually. To be able to do this we need to listen to and try to understand different perspectives as well as just considering our own.