Third NEA Stakeholder Involvement Workshop on Optimisation in Decision Making
Image: Gerd Altmann - Pixabay

Background and lessons learnt from previous NEA Stakeholder Involvement Workshops

Decision-making processes can be optimised across the whole spectrum of nuclear and radiation-related policy, regulation and practice. Although the term is defined in different ways, optimisation has always been a fundamental concept in decision making across all sectors of activities and daily lives in societies and communities. However, the way decisions are taken has changed in recent years. Societal considerations towards nuclear-related activities have evolved to promote more holistic, inclusive and sustainable decision-making perspectives, addressing the need to integrate many diverse aspects and stakeholder[1] views (notably civil society) towards balanced and ‘optimised’ (i.e. better) decisions.

The NEA has played a pioneering role by encouraging these developments through a number of workshops over the past years to shed light on the complex topic of stakeholder involvement and the concept of optimisation in the policy context. This included the first two editions of the NEA Stakeholder Involvement Workshop Stakeholder Involvement in Nuclear Decision Making (2017) and Risk Communication - Towards a Shared Understanding of Radiological Risks (2019). Other relevant workshops included the joint NEA and Norwegian Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (DSA) workshop Regulatory Framework of Decommissioning, Legacy Sites and Wastes from Recognition to Resolution: Building Optimization into the Process (2019), the NEA workshops Optimisation: Rethinking the Art of the Reasonable (2020), and Multifactor Optimisation of Predisposal Management of Radioactive Waste (2020).

The conclusions of these events established that while optimisation is a crucial aspect in decision making, there is no common understanding across different fields in the nuclear sector of what an ‘optimised’ decision implies. A key aspect identified in this context was the involvement of stakeholders, and especially civil society, in the decision-making process. Clear room for improvement, more transparency and more inclusiveness with regard to stakeholder involvement was outlined, as well as the lack of a robust framework in this context. While an optimised decision depends largely on the prevailing circumstances in which the decision is taken, a need for generic guidance in the implementation of more holistic, inclusive and sustainable decision-making processes was identified. Better cross-sector communication was highlighted as one approach to optimise decisions and appropriately consider and balance their societal, health, environmental, and economic impacts. The Third NEA Stakeholder Involvement Workshop will be an important step towards generating key considerations that allow for a common approach to decision-making processes across the different fields in the nuclear sector[2] and across the NEA member countries. This will support the objectives outlined in the new NEA Strategic Plan 2023-2028.

As societies aim to meet the Sustainable Development Goals adobted by the United Nations, there is a growing need for more holistic, inclusive, and sustainable decision-making processes accounting for national/cultural contexts and complex interplay between economic, environmental, health and societal aspects. In this global framework, humans and their social interactions are essential and approaches to stakeholder involvement in decision making must, more than ever, reflect experience, cultural diversity and country-specific features. The ultimate goal is to reach a sustainable, transparent and widely accepted decision-making process. The latter should balance different factors and risks, depending on the prevailing circumstances that describe a situation of concern, with a view to identifying the optimal solution or solutions for all stakeholders and society as a whole.

In other words, decisions should no longer be narrowly based on limited aspects and number of views or one specific sector. This applies to all kinds of currently existing decision-making processes and contexts. Inclusive and deliberative approaches to the assessment of decision options and the management of their multiple consequences could enable a holistic view of governance and make it a mutual learning process in which policy makers, regulators, industry, practitioners, implementers, experts, and civil society, as individuals or as view-oriented groups can learn and also contribute.

 

[1] In addition to policy makers and regulators (e.g., safety authorities), stakeholders include but are not limited to (representatives of): elected governmental officials; civil society; Indigenous peoples; NGOs (including environmental groups); academic community; media; public opinion builders; businesses and industry (workers, unions, suppliers, professional associations, etc.); and the international community (including neighbouring countries) (adapted from IAEA, 2021 “Stakeholder Engagement in Nuclear Programmes” and NEA, 2021 “Towards a Shared Understanding of Radiological Risks”). More broadly speaking, a stakeholder is “any group or individual who feels affected by an activity, whether physically or emotionally”. This can be “organisations and groups that are statutory stakeholders — those required by law to be involved in any planning, development or operation of a nuclear project — as well as non-statutory stakeholders — those who have an interest in or will be directly or indirectly impacted” (IAEA, Nuclear Communicator’s Toolbox) .

[2] Here specifically the areas covered under the NEA Strategic Plan, i.e., Nuclear Safety Technology and Regulation; Humans Aspects of Nuclear Safety; Nuclear Science and Economics; Nuclear Law; Radiological Protection of People and the Environment; Radioactive Waste and Spent Fuel Management; Nuclear Decommissioning and Legacy Management.

Workshop objectives

Based on the above, the objectives of the Third Stakeholder Involvement Workshop are to:

  1. improve the common practical understanding of what optimisation in decision making means for policy makers, regulators and other stakeholders, notably civil society, across the nuclear sector, and compare with non-nuclear sectors;
  2. identify the foundation of a generic multidimensional framework to support the optimisation process for decision makers across the nuclear sector to achieve more sustainable decisions;
  3. during the processes detailed above, support inclusive stakeholder involvement, notably involvement of civil society, and identify appropriate tools/approaches to optimise decision making using qualitative and quantitative elements across the nuclear sector to achieve more sustainable decisions.

 

General approach

The main workshop will be held on 5-7 September 2023 with the aim of addressing objectives 2 and 3. To set the scene for the workshop and to prepare a common ground for discussions, the first objective will be addressed through three preparatory webinars between December 2022 and February 2023.

To ensure efficient exchange among and engagement with participants from different fields and professional backgrounds, the discussion part of the preparatory webinars is by invitation only. Invitations are sent on behalf of the Workshop Programme Committee, based on input from different NEA Standing Technical Committee Bureaus.

 

Scope

The workshop and preparatory webinars will aim for a better, cross-cutting understanding among the different fields in the nuclear sector. This will not include the medical field in order to limit the complexity of the subject as much as possible. Regarding the preparatory webinars, the scope is reduced to finding a common practical understanding of what optimisation means in decision making for the purposes of the workshop in 2023, i.e. focusing on describing a broad decision-making process, with its drivers and barriers, and the potential influencing factors rather than on developing a new definition of “optimisation”. For this purpose, the decision-making process will be broken down into three phases which will be analysed one by one.

For the purposes of the webinars and the workshop, the terms ‘decision’ and ‘decision making’ refer to decisions that will have, or that can be expected to have, a direct impact on stakeholders. To do so, decision-making entities are assumed to have the required legal authority. This does not include lower-level decisions in which there is no expectation for purposeful stakeholder engagement.

 

Preparatory webinars

Three phases, each addressed during a dedicated webinar

The process of optimisation in decision making will be examined from an end-goal angle, the end-goal being to make more holistic, more inclusive and more sustainable decisions, that are understood and reasonably accepted by all parties involved, with specific focus on all relevant stakeholders1 during the process. Each group of stakeholders is likely to have their own set of key considerations that will be consolidated in a deliberative and sustainable manner to reach an optimised decision. For the purpose of the preparatory webinars, the decision-making process will be broken down into three phases:

Phase I - Identifying and framing the purpose of the decision (i.e. pre-decision-making activities). This includes how a problem and its context is identified, explicitly stated, with the method(s) for its assessment, e.g., what is the problem, why should it be solved, what are the consequences if the problem is not considered? What are the legal/regulatory triggers? Who needs to be engaged in the problem formulation? Who would be impacted by the decision(s)?

          ‣ Guiding theme of the webinar during phase I: How to better formulate problems for holistic, inclusive and sustainable decision making?

Phase II - Finding and evaluating options for solutions (i.e. analysis of options for making the decision). This includes the identification of different options, assessment of their risks, benefits, feasibility and impact in view of the prevailing circumstances, as well as the timeline for their potential implementation.

         ‣ Guiding theme of the webinar during phase II: How to balance competing aspects and interests (as defined by the prevailing circumstances) when evaluating options to reach holistic, inclusive and sustainable decisions?

Phase III - Selecting, executing and post-assessing the decision (i.e. executing and implementing a decision and gaining insights/feedback on the process post-decision). This includes the selection of the “optimal” decision based on the analysis of options above, the implementation of that solution, and the post-assessment of the decision and the decision-making process during/after its implementation to extract lessons for future decisions.

        ‣ Guiding theme of the webinar during phase III: How to transparently implement and post-assess decisions for their holism, inclusiveness and sustainability?

During all of the three phases, the question should be how to involve/empower stakeholders to play a solution-oriented role in the decision-making process, and to identify the types of triggers or goals that drive the process and its influencing factors.

Each of the three phases will be analysed in more detail during a dedicated webinar. The webinars will aim at identifying similarities and differences in approaches to implement each of the three phases across sectors and across countries.

 

Considering latest policy developments and situational examples from the nuclear sector

Each webinar will start with a short introduction, followed by a general, cross-cutting and high-level presentation on best practices and emerging approaches in the international democratic decision making. Such examples will allow the analysis with a broadened perspective of a nuclear-specific situational example presentation to draw the focus back onto the nuclear sector. During break out group discussions, invited participants will share their experience, best practices and examples from their sectors, guided by a number of questions (see draft agendas).

Based on these discussions and presentations, a document capturing and outlining a common basis of understanding of optimisation in decision making will be prepared for the main workshop on 5-7 September 2023. 

 

Productive discussions - key for success

Invited participants are expected to actively and constructively engage in discussions.

 

 

For more information, please contact: jan-hendrik.kruse@oecd-nea.org