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Our Coastal Future Forum

Exploring 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 decisionmakers and the public sometimes causes misunderstandings and divisive opinions among coastal South Carolina’s diverse group of stakeholders. This, in turn, may cause inaction from decision-makers.

Our Coastal Future Forum aimed to discover new ways that communities can go about discussing these important and sometimes sensitive topics.

A group of people at the forum.

Project Collaborators

The forum was 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, S.C. Department of Natural Resources and the College of Charleston.

Using Deliberative Discussion to Produce a Thoughtful Outcome

The purpose of the Forum was to use deliberative discussion to bridge the sometimes opposing opinions on environmental issues facing coastal South Carolina. The process was designed to include residents, natural resource managers, scientists and government officials in a supportive setting to discuss these issues.

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 and allowing all participants to receive an equal opportunity to speak and be heard.

Report on the Forum

Several forums were held in the coastal region of South Carolina. The initial forum was a two-day event held in Charleston, S.C., on Friday, October 20, 2017 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 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 those areas.

Our first activity was to survey a representative sample of coastal South Carolina residents and discover their awareness and understanding of important coastal issues. We asked questions about points-of-view and values. The participants were then invited to attend a forum.

One week prior to attending the forum, participants received an electronic version of the briefing book 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.