Building Capacity for Mediation with the Alberta Environmental Appeals Board

CBI helps the Alberta Environmental Appeals Board build its capacity for mediation by providing customized trainings, revising their policies, and evaluating the effectiveness of their program, which saves time and money for the Board and disputants.

Background and Challenges

The Alberta Environmental Appeals Board (EAB) is an administrative tribunal that hears appeals related to the actions of the provincial Ministry of Environment in Canada. The disputes range from toxic waste cleanup, to water withdrawal permits, to reclamation certifications on former oil drilling sites. While EAB hears some appeals through their formal administrative process, they also refer appeals to mediation, where disputants seek consensus by working with EAB mediators. Already a leader in facilitating consensus-building discussions in order to resolve disputes before they reach a formal administrative law setting, EAB asked CBI to help them improve their mediation program.

The CBI Approach

CBI provides tailored mediation trainings to EAB staff, helps them revise their mediation policy, and evaluates the effectiveness of their mediation program.

CBI provided EAB staff with numerous mediation trainings throughout the1990s and 2000s that were tailored to the challenges facing EAB mediators. Unlike off-the-shelf materials, CBI’s simulations, vignettes, and case studies focused on the areas most relevant to EAB: reaching consensus on land reclamation, siting, and air and water permitting disputes. CBI’s training helped ensure that EAB members were skilled in the kinds of mediations they conducted every day.

In addition to providing tailored training, CBI also helped EAB refine its mediation policies. CBI helped create new Confidentiality and Agreement to Mediate forms; institute on-going consultations with Board staff; and helped write an extensive mediation manual to guide EAB mediators. In addition, CBI published a paper with the EAB chairman in the Dalhousie Law Journal, entitled "Opportunities and Best Practices for the Use of Mediation in Canadian Environmental Administrative Tribunals", as well as an article on "Overcoming the Barriers to Environmental Dispute Resolution in Canada" for the Canadian Bar Review. CBI then prepared a manual for future Board members on how to best apply mediation in the context of environmental administrative tribunals.

Lastly, CBI developed an evaluation program to assess the effectiveness of EAB’s mediation program. CBI interviewed parties involved in EAB-sponsored mediation and received over 150 responses. 75 percent of respondents said they did not need a formal Board hearing because they reached consensus in mediation. 67 percent of respondents agreed that mediation encouraged them to consider various options for reaching consensus. 68 percent of all respondents, whether they came to consensus or not, found the process satisfying. 90 percent of respondents said they would participate in mediation again.

Results

The Alberta Environmental Appeals Board saves time and money through mediation, as do the parties involved in the appeals.

By encouraging participants to reach consensus through alternative methods of dispute resolution, EAB's mediation program saves time and money. The EAB has recognized that mediation costs less for taxpayers than formal Board hearings. In CBI’s evaluation, 73 percent of respondents agreed that the process took them less time and money than a formal hearing before the Board.

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Brian