Environmental Review Toolkit
Accelerating Project Delivery

Successes in Stewardship
Monthly Newsletter
April 2003

Promoting Collaborative Conflict Management: FHWA's Guidance and Workshops

An Optional Tool to Prevent and Overcome Problems

Conservation and development, mobility and air quality, politics and agency missions - these and other competing factors influence transportation project delivery and the environmental review process. Bring them together during project planning and development, and conflict can result. But conflict is not always negative. In fact, if handled productively, conflict can lead to creative solutions. How can agencies take advantage of the positive aspects of conflict? Conflict management is the answer.

(IECR image) Conflict management strategies can help stakeholders work cooperatively - as these stakeholders are doing to develop alternatives for travel planning on Federal lands in Montana
Conflict management strategies can help stakeholders work cooperatively - as these stakeholders are doing to develop alternatives for travel planning on Federal lands in Montana
(IECR image)

In December 2002, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) released "Collaborative Problem Solving: Better and Streamlined Outcomes for All." This new guidance helps state and Federal agencies manage conflict and resolve disputes during the transportation project development and environmental review processes. The guidance is not prescriptive, but rather offers a range of optional tools agencies can use to manage conflicts. FHWA developed the guidance in collaboration with the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution (IECR) and the Federal Interagency Streamlining Group. Based on the guidance, FHWA and IECR are currently finalizing the format for facilitated workshops to be held in each of the ten standard Federal regions.

The new guidance and workshops are two of the four elements of FHWA's National Dispute Resolution System. The system includes:

To download "Collaborative Problem Solving: Better and Streamlined Outcomes for All," visit: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/strmlng/cmgtnepa.asp.

Benefits of Conflict Management

  • Fosters high quality, environmentally sound transportation decisions.
  • Promotes working relationships based on trust.
  • Avoids duplication of effort in reviewing and approving projects.
  • Keeps all parties on track.
  • Leads to innovative transportation and environmental solutions.
  • Ensures greater predictability in the transportation process.

Practices for Preventing or Overcoming Conflicts

  • Involve partners early and often in project planning and development.
  • Define roles, responsibilities, and expectations upfront.
  • Identify key decision points and potential conflicts early.
  • Integrate review and permitting processes.
  • Establish negotiated timeframes.
  • Allocate sufficient resources for planning and development.
  • Establish a dispute resolution mechanism.
  • Learn about the missions, legal authorities, areas of expertise, and cultures of partners.
  • Train staff in conflict resolution and problem solving.
  • Use experienced facilitators or mediators when needed.
  • Recognize when conflict is interfering with progress and when elevation to a higher authority is needed.

The ABC's of FHWA's Guidance on Managing Conflict

FHWA's guidance provides agencies with a diverse menu of tools, methods, and strategies. The guidance includes information on:

  • Approaches to managing conflict and resolving disputes at the project level, including interest-based negotiation, assisted problem solving, and upward referral of issues.
  • Strategies for effective decision-making and conflict management.
  • Best practices in conflict management from several states.
  • Examples of disputes that arise during NEPA reviews of transportation projects.

No one technique suits all circumstances. Instead, states can tailor a variety of techniques to meet their unique needs, including:

  • Interagency memoranda of understanding, programmatic agreements outlining operating procedures for specified categories of projects, and other streamlining agreements. These agreements have proven useful in expediting projects with limited environmental impacts, such as safety and maintenance projects.
  • Negotiated timeframes and guiding principles on roles and responsibilities. Upfront planning has proven useful in expediting the review process of transportation infrastructure projects.
  • Procedures for collaborative problem solving, dispute resolution, and the upward referral of disputes. Designing a conflict management process upfront with all partners has proven useful in preventing project delays.

Facilitated Workshops for Improving Transportation Project Development and Environmental Reviews through Collaborative Problem Solving

Educating front line staff involved in the preparation, oversight, and review of environmental documents and the issuance of environmental permits to use collaborative problem solving skills and ADR techniques is key to improving transportation decision-making and expediting environmental reviews. To education these staff, FHWA and IECR are developing a series of facilitated, customized workshops held in each of the ten standard Federal regions. The workshops will be based on the FHWA conflict management guidance and structured to reinforce working relationships, including the relationship among the Federal-Tribal-state teams involved in the NEPA review process for transportation projects. The workshops will also improve understanding of Federal agencies' roles and responsibilities. Staff at the practitioner level - those who are involved in early coordination meetings and who review and provide comments on environmental documents - are the intended workshop attendees. An important part of each workshop will be the discussion of topics of specific concern and interest to that region. FHWA and IECR are planning and scheduling the workshops, which will be held May through December 2003.

Conflict Management and Environmental Streamlining/Stewardship

Conflict management can help agencies meet the environmental streamlining goals of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), the Environmental Stewardship and Transportation Infrastructure Project Reviews Executive Order, and FHWA's Vital Few Goal for Environmental Stewardship and Streamlining. To foster streamlining, agencies should coordinate with partners early and often and integrate the project development and environmental review processes. Agencies can use conflict management tools and techniques to meet these goals through collaborative decision-making and problem solving among a wide variety of partners, including state and Federal resource and permitting agencies, local governments, interest groups, and the public.

Managed appropriately, conflict can be beneficial. By promoting involved parties to recognize differing perspectives and to accommodate diverse interests, managed conflict can lead to the development of innovative transportation solutions that enhance and protect the environment.

Contact Information

Ruth Rentch
FHWA Office of Project Development & Environmental Review
400 7th Street SW
Room 3222
Washington, DC 20590
Phone: (202) 366-2034
Fax: (202) 366-7660
Email: ruth.rentch@fhwa.dot.gov

Look What's New!

  • National Transit Institute course "Linking Planning and NEPA: Towards Streamlined Decisionmaking." Spring/Summer 2003. For more information, contact Sean Libberton at the Federal Transit Administration at (202) 366-5112 or John Humeston at FHWA at (404) 562-3667.

For more information on environmental streamlining, please visit: www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/strmlng/index.asp.

"Successes in Stewardship" is a Federal Highway Administration newsletter highlighting current environmental streamlining practices from around the country. To subscribe, contact Cassandra Allwell at (617) 494-3997 or allwell@volpe.dot.gov.

HEP Home Planning Environment Real Estate

Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000