ECOLOGIA NEWSLETTER Archive
January/February 1994 Issue #28
How to Maintain an Open Yet Critical Mind Toward Consultants:
Guidelines for Citizens' Groups and Local Governments
- Assume a skeptical and questioning attitude toward the opinion that
you want to hear, as well as toward the opinion that you do not agree
- NEVER be intimidated by technical jargon and statistics. If you do
not understand a verbal or written argument, ask for it to be explained
more clearly a second time. Consultants often resort to technical
language when they are least confident of their information. Few
principles or conclusions are so complicated that they cannot be
explained to an intelligent and determined non-expert.
- Inform yourself. Read on the topic. It is your only defense against
becoming totally dependent upon someone else's opinion.
- Determine who paid for the consultant's opinion. Professionals often
tell their clients what they want to hear.
- Get business references from the consultant and check them. Find
out what work they have done in the past. Does the consultant just
evaluate projects, or do they have an engineering section which would
benefit if the project were declared feasible?
- If possible, obtain a second opinion on a project, preferably from an
- Ask consultants to give you what they believe to be the best
criticism of their own work. Ask consultants to identify the most
uncertain calculations or assumptions in their work.
- Ask for the consultant's full written report. This should be provided
to you in advance of a public meeting so that you can have the proper
time to analyze it. If this is not done, ask for a follow up public
meeting or for a guarantee that answers to serious questions will be
provided in written form.
- Separate scientific and technical facts from policy
recommendations and value judgments. Do not hesitate to identify and
question the value and moral assumptions which lie behind policy
recommendations. Consultants pay close attention to technical details
but their reasoning on policy is often the result of an imported value
system very distant from local culture and values. The simple fact that
a hydroelectric dam can be built without significant negative impact
upon endangered species does not mean that it should be built.
- Do not be discouraged if a consultant tells you that a report
contains commercial secrets and cannot be released. If this is a real
issue ask for a copy of the original and full document with the
sensitive section blacked out. Only by requesting an original copy will
you be able to determine if the "commercial secrets" also include facts
that did not support the conclusion.
- Know, defend, and act upon your rights to obtain information and
consultants' reports. Many international investment banks and foreign
aid programs have written policies guaranteeing local citizens access
to information, and even participation in the process of conducting
feasibility and consulting studies. Ask for and obtain copies of these
reports at the beginning of a project. If there are no written policies
and guarantees for the situation you are involved in, invoke the written
guidelines used by major world institutions such as the World Bank or
EBRD and insist on the same rights.
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Last modified by:
P.Ellison on 12-Feb-96