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Our Coastal Future Forum

Our Coastal Future Forum:

a research project to explore a public process for decision-making

In coastal South Carolina, change is happening and it is happening fast. With large numbers of people moving to the coast, rising sea levels, and a growing energy industry, South Carolina’s decision makers are tasked with creating policies concerning these burgeoning issues. Lack of communication between scientists, local decision-makers and the public sometimes causes misunderstandings and divisive opinions amongst coastal South Carolina’s diverse group of stakeholders. This, in turn, may cause inaction from our decision-makers. So how do you go about discussing these important and sometimes sensitive topics?

Who We Are

The Forum is a collaborative research effort between researchers at the College of Charleston and the University of Oklahoma working with the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium and scientists at the University of South Carolina, Coastal Carolina University, SC Department of Natural Resources and the College of Charleston. The partnership explores a new process to include citizens, natural resource managers, scientists and government officials in a supportive setting to discuss the coastal future of South Carolina.

Our Coastal Future Forum


Our plan is to use deliberative discussion to bridge the sometimes opposing opinions on environmental issues facing coastal South Carolinians. Deliberative discussion is a tool that has been used worldwide to address a range of controversial problems, from how to make Australia’s government more democratic to whether Texans want their state to focus on wind-energy development. It is a model of public decision-making based on open, respectful and well-informed discussion, with the aim of producing a thoughtful decision.

Most importantly, deliberation means that all participants will get an equal opportunity to speak and be heard. Deliberative discussion has been used in a wide range of settings to help citizens, experts and public officials have respectful, productive discussions – and has often yielded thoughtful decisions, leaving participants feeling satisfied with both the process and the outcome.

Our Strategy

Our first activity was to survey a representative sample of coastal South Carolinians. The survey focused on residents’ awareness and understanding of important coastal issues. We asked questions about points-of-view and values. Many of the participants in the survey, along with decision-makers and public managers, we able to attend the Our Coastal Future Forum (OCFF) held in late October of 2017. Since then we have held smaller Forums that focus on single issues. Lastly, we are holding a Forum with realty professionals to learn about the issues and solutions that they hear from clients.

One week prior to attending the forum, participants received an electronic version of the briefing book (see below) that was used to inform them on the important issues to be discussed at the forums. This enabled and encouraged discussion on the topics because the participants had time to process the information and form thoughts/opinions.

Participants in each of the forums were given the opportunity to listen to presentations by experts on the coastal issues and, in small groups, discuss how each issues could be addressed or resolved. Towards the end of the forum, each of the small groups reported on their discussions. Participants then completed a follow-up survey to note whether their views were affected or if they felt better informed. Analysis of these surveys will be used to provide decision-makers with an improved understanding of their constituents’ priorities and needs. Solving these problems will help us learn about the information and processes needed for public deliberation of coastal issues.

Our Coastal Future Forum

Several forums were held in the coastal region of South Carolina. The initial forum was a two-day event held in Charleston, SC, on Friday, October 20 in the afternoon and all-day on Saturday, October 21, 2017. The two-day forum covered Biodiversity and Living Marine Resources, Ocean Mineral and Energy Resources, and Environmental Health, topics that affect much of coastal South Carolina as a whole. In 2018 the research group organized three smaller forums, each held in different regions of along South Carolina’s coast, focusing on topics pertinent to the area. The small-group forums were held in Myrtle Beach, May 2, 2018, on Ocean Mineral and Energy Resources in a Changing Climate, Charleston, May 8, 2018 on Biodiversity in a Changing Climate, and in Beaufort, May 17, 2018, on Environmental Health in a Changing Climate. The realty profession forum will be September 26, 2018.

Briefing books can be found at the links below:

Our Coastal Future Briefing Book, the full muti-topic briefing book
Ocean Mineral and Energy Resources in a Changing Climate
Biodiversity in a Changing Climate
Environmental Health in a Changing Climate

If you would like to learn more information about Our Coastal Future Forum, send an email to Lee Bundrick at

Last updated: 9/4/2018 1:40:25 PM
Our Coastal Future Forum


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