Environmental and resource conflicts and conflict resolution practices in coastal areas of the North American Great Lakes: towards an integrated approach for policymaking
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Environmental conflicts are multi-dimensional. Individual components of environmental and resource-related conflicts are closely interlinked with other structural societal elements, including economic, social, political and cultural developments. Coastal areas are significant for people’s subsistence, as well as industrial development, cultural heritage, and waterways; therefore, they require integrated research approaches and the implementation of comprehensive strategies of resource management, dispute resolution and conflict prevention. This qualitative exploratory study contributes to the development of the field of environmental conflict resolution (ECR) by examining the perceptions and experiences of 52 key stakeholders from the coastal areas of the Great Lakes region of Canada and the United States (US) with regards to environmental and resource conflicts and conflict resolution approaches. The study invited coastal stakeholders such as environmental policymakers, researchers, academics, educators and NGO members to share their perceptions, images, experiences and knowledge about environmental and resource conflicts and conflict resolution practices in the coastal areas of the Great Lakes. The framework of this holistic study integrates public policy, alternative dispute resolution, conflict analysis, project evaluation, dialogue and public participation, education and other creative interventions into an inclusive strategy of integrated environmental and resource management of coastal areas. Analysis of the study participants’ responses revealed several key findings. First, the multi-dimensional character of environmental and resource conflicts and the wide range of coastal stakeholders involved necessitate creating spaces for dialogue and communication among coastal stakeholders, which may facilitate relationship building and encourage collaborative problem solving and constructive conflict resolution. Second, establishing links between science and policymaking within environmental and resource management, as well as introducing conflict resolution education for coastal stakeholders, may significantly enhance the capacity of coastal stakeholders in ECR. Third, coastal stakeholders in the Great Lakes have an extensive and wide-ranging existing local knowledge, experience and expertise in resolving environmental and resource conflicts. Fourth, a conflict resolution system’s design developed in this study may serve as an integrated framework for the analysis and resolution of environmental and resource conflicts. This ECR system design involves such important components as conducting conflict and stakeholder analysis; identifying the root causes of conflict; bringing conflict participants together to discuss resolution options; and building in continuous evaluation of environmental conflict resolution processes.