Environmental conflict resolution

Environmental conflict resolution (ECR) comprises a subset of tools and processes to prevent, manage, and resolve conflicts involving environmental quality or natural resources management. In its broadest terms, ECR may be characterised as third-party assisted deliberations over environmental issues among affected parties, intended to arrive at the best possible mutually beneficial outcomes. ECR has been used in settings, where broad or deep disagreement is anticipated, has begun to escalate, or has already led to impasse. ECR has also been drawn on to build agreement or reach consensus among multiple parties over policy development, planning, and complex regulatory negotiations (Emerson et al., 2009).

Basic Information on the Method
Mode of communication
Face-to-face, Online, Both
Group size
1-5, 6-30
Geographical scale
Public space, Neighbourhood, City, Region
Skills required
Average, Advanced
Resources needed
Medium, High
Level of Involvement
Level of involvement
Collaborate, Empower
Type of knowledge enabled
Convergence - Small groups
Additional Criteria
Planning phase
Initiatiion, Planning & Design, Implementation, Maintenance
Methodological approach
Organisational, Political

How to use the method

  1. Understand the conflict in terms of larger social-ecological system. Conduct stakeholder analysis in order to fully understand the range of stakeholders involved, their power and positions in the situation, as well as their goals, values, interests, and needs.
  2. Design a process that works within existing legal, procedural, technical and cultural boundaries.
  3. There is often disagreement among stakeholders regarding the facts and scientific understanding of those processes. Even when the processes themselves are relatively well understood, there is often disagreement over what to do to address environmental problems. Manage scientific information, identify knowledge gaps, and structure processes for filling or working around those gaps.
  4. Stakeholders possess different levels of ability to collect, process, analyse, and mobilise information. Devise strategies to balance these asymmetries in knowledge power in order to create fair, transparent, and just processes.
  5. Identify clear and explicit objectives. Be realistic in terms of what a process can accomplish within existing constraints and define success according to achievable and measurable process outcomes. Communicate with stakeholders what is reasonable to expect from participating in the process and what each stakeholder’s responsibility is in the process, and what success will mean or produce (Fisher, 2014).

What are the outcomes

Agreement on the topic, which (1) is cost-effective, feasible, sound and sustainable, (2) is a result of just, fair and inclusive process.

Skills required

Skills required from participants - Average, Advanced

  • Involves participants with certain stakes in the process, which stem either form their professional duties, or from their interest in the issue
  • Must involve professional moderators, trained in ECR

Resources needed

Resources -Medium, High

  • Requires detailed stakeholder and conflict analysis
  • Requires joint and separate work with stakeholder groups
  • Involves lengthy and exhausting negotiations

Strengths and weaknesses

  • Focuses on the quality of the process and outcomes
  • Takes into consideration stakeholder perception of the process and outcomes
  • Improves the relationships between the stakeholders
  • Contributes into building social capital
  1. The tool is applied in solving acute and conflicts
  2. Requires professional moderators
  3. Can be lengthy and exhausting

Use cases

Iijoki River Visioning Process, Northern Ostrobothnia, Finland, 2016-2018

Iijoki river is harnessed by hydroelectric power production and its characterised by similar problems and needs as other river valleys of its kind, e.g. the requirement to recover the vitality of migratory fish stocks. The river could support the development of the whole area if the water area would be developed jointly with all the key stakeholders. In March 2016, a new operating model was launched to build a shared vision of the future of the water system and to ensure the commitment of various parties involved. The aim of the process was to create a widely accepted vision of the river basin, but more importantly, to strengthen parties’ commitment to the development of the river while taking the different values into consideration and ensuring the work continuity in the future (Akordi, 2018).

Try one of these tools & resources

  1. Akordi (2018) Iijoki River Visioning Process. Available at: https://akordi.fi/uncategorized/iijoki-river-vision-process/?lang=en.
  2. Fisher J. (2014) Managing Environmental Conflict. The handbook of conflict resolution. Available at: https://ac4.earth.columbia.edu/sites/default/files/content/2014%20Fisher%20Handbook%20Chapter%20c55-ManagingEnvironmentalConflict.pdf.
  3. Emerson K., Orr P.J., Keyes D.L., McKnight K.M. (2009) Environmental Conflict Resolution: Evaluating Performance Outcomes and Contributing Factors. Conflict resolution quarterly. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1002/crq.247.