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PUBLIC PARTICIPATION IN LAND USE PLANNING: An Assessment of the Vancouver Island Core Table

Robert A. Kelly, M.A.
Donald K. Alper, Ph.D.
Department of Political Science
Western Washington University
Bellingham, WA 98225-9110
Tel: 360-650-3728
Fax: 360-650-3995

Paper prepared for British Columbia Political Studies Association Conference. Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, B.C. V5A 1S6, May 4-6, 1995.


In British Columbia as elsewhere the political system has come under increasing pressure from citizens who have demanded more access to the policy process. This is especially evident in the forest/environmental policy sector. The diverse and conflicting interests of environmental groups, industry, unions, recreationists, farmers, and aboriginal groups can no longer be easily reconciled in conventional forums for public decision making (i.e., cabinet and legislative proceedings, administrative hearings, and judicial forums). As a result, many groups have been experimenting with more participant-oriented or “shared decision making” approaches to resolving difficult disputes. What makes these approaches different from conventional decision making is the emphasis on face-to-face interaction among the affected interests stakeholders) to resolve conflict through a consensus building process. This can be contrasted with conventional decision processes which emphasize voting (majority rule) or rules by authoritative “experts.”

Perhaps the most extensive use of shared decision making by a governmental body to date is the Commission on Resources and Environment (CORE), instituted by the Government of British Columbia. The mandate of CORE is to develop a land use and resource management strategy for the province. The goal is to develop the strategy through shared decision making processes in a series of regional land use negotiation forums. According to CORE, shared decision making means that “on a certain set of issues for a defined period of time, those with authority to make a decision and those who will be affected by that decision are empowered jointly to seek an outcome that accommodates rather than compromises the interest of all concerned” (Owen 1994).

This study examines the Vancouver Island CORE regional negotiation process as a case study of shared decision making. Specifically, the study analyzes the internal working of the CORE process in terms of whether it met the shared decision making goals it set for itself. The Vancouver Island regional CORE negotiating process was analyzed by surveying spokespersons for the 14 “sectors” who were at the negotiating table. These 14 individuals spent 13 months, from November 1992 to November 1993, attempting to develop a consensus-based set of recommendations for a land use strategy for Vancouver Island. Using the survey responses, the internal working of the CORE process as perceived by the participants is analyzed and assessed against criteria set by CORE. These criteria address the representatives’ perceptions of “access” to the decision making process and “empowerment” within it. The underlying premise of the study is that participants must perceive that they have access to and are empowered in the decision making process if CORE is to deliver on its promise that “those with the authority to make a decision and those who will be affected by that decision are empowered jointly to seek an outcome…”. In short, CORE requires this legitimacy test to meet its claim that it offers a viable alternative to conventional methods of dispute resolution and public participation. A Brief Overview of CORE

The British Columbia government created the Commission on Resources and Environment (CORE) in January 1992 to provide Cabinet with independent advice on land use and related resource and environmental issues. CORE drew upon the strategies of the B.C. Round Table, a community-based advisory body with the goal of promoting sustainability, in drafting principles to guide its land use planning process. However, CORE’s mandate is broader than that of the B.C. Round Table; it goes beyond simply offering advice to government. Its purpose, according to CORE Commissioner Stephen Owen, is to “develop and implement a world-leading strategy for land use planning and management as part of a larger commitment to sustainability” (Owen 1993).

The CORE mandate set out in the Commissioner on Resources and Environment Act of 1992 includes the following:

The Commissioner shall facilitate the development and implementation, and shall monitor the operation of:

a) regional planning processes to define the uses to which areas of British Columbia may be put;
b) [sub-regional] community based participatory processes to consider land use and related resource and environmental management issues; and
c) a dispute resolution system for land use and related resource and environmental issues in British Columbia (CORE 1992, p. 1).

The first section on regional planning processes is the focus of this study. It should be noted that, whereas this study analyzes the dispute resolution aspect of the Vancouver Island regional planning process, this is not the “dispute resolution system” referred to in the third section. The latter is a separate system currently being developed to address the overall provincial land use planning system.

The first three regions in which CORE planning processes took place were Vancouver Island, Cariboo- Chilcotin, and Kootenay- Boundary. Vancouver Island was the first to convene a regional table, using a consensus-based shared decision making process. The Vancouver Island negotiating process ran from November 27, 1992 to November 23, 1993. Fourteen sectors representing a wide range of interests were involved in 47 days of open negotiations. Public Participation and CORE

The public participates in the regional negotiation processes through constituencies called sectors. Owen defines a sector as “a coalition of groups and organizations who share common concerns and values” (1992, p. 2). Owen claims that “CORE has attempted to ensure that the processes are inclusive by making no prior assumptions about which interests will be represented…” (1993, p. 15). He claims this is accomplished by “facilitating discussion among interested parties, leading to the development ‘from the bottom up’ of broad but cohesive sectors of interest.” The result is that representation at the table includes “not only sectors which may comprise traditional interest groups, but also new coalitions of subgroups which may never before have come together”(1993 p. 14).

The tool for bringing these sectors together is what CORE refers to as the “sector representation model” (Darling 1994). The sector representation model focuses on representation of “sector- wide public perspectives,” not special interest groups. The intent is for interest groups with a common “stake” to form into coalitions. According to this model, the formation of sectors and the way they would interact is largely self-defining; participants directly contribute to the design of the process to be used to make decisions. The questions asked of prospective participants to determine this, according to CORE, are: “What would the process have to look like in order for you to participate effectively? How can you, with others of like mind, sharing similar values on land use, coalesce into a sector — a community of interests –that can be represented at the table?” (Darling 1994). CORE facilitates sector formation by organizing meetings with interested parties. A unique feature of the CORE’s sector representation model is the role given to government. At the Vancouver Island CORE table government had one seat, representing government as a singular “corporate” entity.

The legitimacy of sector representation is largely tied to accountability to the constituency being represented. Each sector developed a “statement of accountability and responsibility” to be signed by all sectors (CORE 1994, p. 8). In this statement the sectors were asked to give a rationale as to what qualified them as a sector; the table as a whole then had the option of either accepting or rejecting their rationale. The objective was to enable the table itself to determine representation.

Participation in the context of CORE refers to participation of “stakeholder groups.” As Pross notes, when interest (stakeholder) groups attempt to influence public policy, they are exhibiting a “communication function” as a means of accessing government (Pross, 1985, p.255). Access alone, however, will not ensure that a group will be successful in influencing government. The communication of the group’s concerns is of little impact unless the group becomes a part of the decision making process itself.

The following excerpts from a CORE document elucidate its intentions with respect to public participation:

“Meaningful public participation is an essential component of good representative government. The CORE process is designed to help reconcile the demand for greater local control and democratic choice from the community of interests affected by land use decisions with the need for a broader perspective, administrative efficiency and decisive policy making in the tradition of representative government. A shared decision making forum permits local aspirations and experience to interplay with broader public policy making, creating an opportunity for information-sharing, greater understanding and collaborative outcomes. Shared decision- making at the regional tables is one stage along a spectrum of increased public participation. It begins with broad consultation and constituency building, and proceeds to interest-based negotiations involving accountable representatives of all government and non-government interests. The process represents the most direct public participation in land use decision-making ever offered to British Columbians” (CORE 1994, p. 31). The CORE process has been thus legitimized on the grounds that the public has access to, and is empowered in, the policy making process. This is consistent with the principles inherent in what has become known as alternative dispute resolution (ADR). Before analyzing the process itself, CORE will be placed in the context of the ADR movement. Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and Public Policy Processes

In conventional policy making processes, the role of the public is to provide “input” to decision making authorities. In the more collaborative processes known as ADR, the citizen’s role is direct and participation is extensive (Wondolleck 1988, p.22). The collaboration and involvement of non-decision makers with the decision-making authorities is what defines ADR as “alternative.”

Dorcey and Reik (1987, p.8) identify three general “modes of decision-making.” In rank order each of these involve an increasing degree of public participation. The first, “authoritative decision-making,” involves the imposition of a decision by an individual or organization without consulting those who will be affected. Court rendered decisions fall into this category. The second, “consultative decision-making,” involves consultation of representatives of those affected before making the decision. Public hearings fall into this category. The third, “negotiative decision-making,” involves individuals or organizations making tradeoffs with those affected by the decision. The shared decision making process used by CORE falls into this category.

Flynn (1991) identifies three primary reasons for increasing interest in the use of ADR in the public sector:

1) Stakeholder groups, including government officials, are less able to make and implement unilateral decisions;
2) Analytical decision-making techniques used by administrative officials are thought inadequate; and,
3) Existing remedial forms (the courts, the legislature, and administrative procedures) are not considered satisfactory for resolving public policy disputes (Flynn 1991 p. 16).

ADR approaches are particularly well suited to land use planning and environmental and natural resource management due to dissatisfaction by the public with the lack of inclusiveness of traditional decision-making techniques. According to Wondolleck (1988, p.5), “decisions that fail to address the interests of any particular resource-user group are not viable decisions; they are successfully contested as soon as they are made.” Measuring Success of ADR

Success in alternative dispute resolution has traditionally been measured by whether or not a consensus outcome was reached (Bingham 1986, Suskind 1987, Buckle and Thomas-Buckle 1986, Talbot 1983, Dukes 1993).

Bingham (1986) analyzes the success of 161 environmental dispute cases based on achieving a consensus outcome. She distinguishes between concrete and subjective factors affecting “success.” The concrete factors are variables which can be fairly easily measured and include the following: number of people involved, types of parties involved, direct involvement of decision makers, presence of a deadline, whether the dispute was in litigation, and the issues in dispute. Bingham presents quantitative data on these concrete factors and shows correlations to success in these cases. Subjective factors are variables which are less easily measured: identification and involvement of all affected interests, agreement on procedural issues, possession of sufficient incentives, ability to satisfy each party’s underlying interests, maintenance of good representative/constituency relationships, negotiation in good faith, agreement on the scope of issues, and agreement on the facts. Bingham only parenthetically addresses these subjective factors in her study.

Questions about the kinds of problems being tackled, the scope of representation in conflict resolution forums, and the impact upon different sectors of the agreements emerging from these forums, are often ignored or addressed instrumentally in terms of how they affect the task of reaching agreement. Dukes (1993) finds that the most often cited criteria for success are saving money, reducing court loads, eliminating delays, and reducing demands on government (p. 45). While goals such as satisfaction and fairness are not ignored, he points out that they are generally assumed to be a product of an efficient governing apparatus. Attention is devoted to what Bacow and Wheeler (1984) term the “microanalysis” of disputes — a focus on who should be at the table, what incentives there are for negotiation, how to bind the parties to their agreements, etc.

In recent years, however, several authors have begun to look at other criteria for success. Talbot (1983) was one of the first to argue that consensus agreement as a standard for a successful process might be too conservatively drawn. In particular, he suggests that an ADR process may not strictly be an alternative to other means of public participation, but a supplement to it. For other measures of success, Talbot suggests that analysts of ADR might look at whether the process improved the relationships among the participants, narrowed the issues, or improved their negotiating skills.

Buckle and Thomas-Buckle (1986) distinguish between the measures of success emphasized by process facilitator and those of participants. In their study of 81 ADR cases, participants identified the following seven ways in which their participation had contributed to the “successful” process:

1) reduction in time, delay or costs;
2) an outcome that better fit their needs;
3) increased ability to negotiate in the future;
4) insight into interests and positions of others;
5) better knowledge of options open to them;
6) increased ability to assist regulatory agencies;
7) increase “tools” to use in other processes (p. 64).

The study found that while process facilitator recognized that improving the relationships among the parties, providing insights into new options, or teaching about negotiation were valuable outcomes, they saw these as necessary but not sufficient in themselves to constitute “success.” They took this position on the grounds that their primary purpose was resolving disputes. The participants in these processes, by contrast, often saw the process itself as a service that was not a complete package, but a set of skills or viewpoints for which they could learn. Their responses indicate a more process-oriented perspective than that held by the process facilitator.

Dukes (1993) argues that process facilitator need to take a more process-oriented approach to success, which he calls a “transformative” approach. The transformative approach concentrates on “empowerment” of the participants. Empowerment occurs when participants define issues and decide settlement terms for themselves, thereby gaining better understanding of one another’s perspectives. The effect of this approach is to avoid the directive nature of “problem-solving” or outcome-oriented criteria. A transformative approach, according to Dukes, helps parties recognize and exploit the opportunities for moral growth inherently presented by conflict (p. 47).

Bush and Folger (1994) expand on Dukes’ distinction between the problem solving and transformative approaches, claiming that the ADR movement is at a fundamental crossroads reflected in the difference between these two approaches. They define the problem solving approach as emphasizing ADR’s capacity for finding solutions and generating mutually acceptable settlements. The process facilitator takes actions that influence and direct parties –toward settlements in general, and even toward specific terms of settlement. As the movement has developed, the problem- solving potential of ADR has been increasingly emphasized, so that this kind of directive, settlement-oriented approach has become the dominant form of practice today. In contrast, the transformative approach, as defined by Bush and Folger, emphasizes a change or refinement in the consciousness and character of individual human beings (1994).

While Bush and Folder refer to change at the individual level, other authors have used the term “transformation” to mean restructuring at an institutional and even societal level. Dukes (1993), for example, notes that an important criterion of success in the transformative approach is the impact on public policy (p.48). Dukes argues that “policy dialogues have considerable potential for contributing to the goals of transformation. Public conflict resolution is not limited to the settlement of disputes; rather it is a vehicle for changing governing practices and institutional culture of agencies, public officials, citizenry, and communities” (p. 47).

A transformative approach to dispute resolution aligns with a larger ongoing movement to create a more democratic, participatory public domain. This movement has been invigorated by the theories and practices of strong participatory democracy. The connection between alternative dispute resolution and strong participatory democracy is articulated by Barber (1984). Barber associates democracy with the themes of participation, citizenship, but distinguishes his concept of strong democracy from “either nostalgia for ancient, small-scale republics that has made so many communitarian theories seem irrelevant to modern life, or the taste for monolithic collectivism that can turn large- scale direct democracy into plebiscitary tyranny” (p. 152).

The notion of transformation is at the heart of Barber’s concept of strong democracy. He states, “Strong democracy is a regime that has the particular virtue of responding directly to the dilemmas poised by the political condition. This condition exists when there is a necessity for public action, and thus for reasonable public choice, in the presence of conflict and in the absence of private or independent grounds for judgement. The response to these conditions is strong democracy, which can be formally defined as politics in the participatory mode where conflict is resolved in the absence of an independent ground through a participatory process of ongoing, proximate self- legislation and the creation of a political community capable of transforming dependent, private individuals into free citizens and partial and private interests into public goods” (p. 132)

A Transformative Approach for Assessing the CORE Process on Vancouver Island

Embracing a transformative approach for assessing the success of the Vancouver Island CORE process has important implications in terms of the expectations of its outcome by the participants themselves, government and the public as a whole. In the transformative approach the notion of empowerment is the primary criterion of success. The term “empowerment” is used a great deal, with many different definitions. We refer to empowerment consistent with the definition offered by Bush and Folger, “the experience of greater sense of self-worth, security, self-determination, and autonomy” (p. 84). From empowerment, according to Bush and Folger, follows the criterion of recognition, “the evocation in individuals of acknowledgment and empathy for the situation and problems of others” (p. 84). Recognition is achieved when, given some degree of empowerment, disputing parties experience an expanded willingness to acknowledge and be responsive to other parties’ situations and common human qualities. Empowerment happens independent of any particular outcome of the process itself. The original design of the Vancouver Island CORE process emphasized the “problem-solving” approach of reaching a consensus outcome. As CORE associate Craig Darling said, “I would be the first to acknowledge that we, in our enthusiasm to deliver these processes, created an expectation around agreement that was perhaps unrealistic given the circumstances…” (Darling, p. 15) However, by CORE’s definition of the shared decision making process, the legitimacy and ultimately the success of the process depends on the involvement of “those who are affected by the decision,” which suggests the importance of empowerment as a criterion for measuring success.

In evaluating the Vancouver Island CORE table, if the only criterion for success was a consensus outcome, the process would be written off as a failure; after 13 months the table did not reach consensus on specific resource allocation issues and was therefore not able to present a complete set of recommendations to the Commissioner. Had the table reached consensus, there is little doubt it would have had greater influence on the Cabinet’s decision on a land use strategy for Vancouver Island. However, lack of consensus does not mean lack of influence in this case. The outcome in-and-of-itself is therefore an incomplete means of assessing success. This assessment of CORE focuses primarily on access to, and empowerment within, the process itself (the outcome is also considered). The premise of this study is that participants’ perception of empowerment is one of the most, if not the most, important way to assess CORE’s performance because the sector representation model and shared decision making framework are the very foundation of the CORE process.

Two evaluatory criteria used by CORE to measure success in terms of participation in the process are inclusiveness and effectiveness. Stephen Owen gives the following description of these criteria:

“Everyone on Vancouver Island and in other regions of the province is in one way or another affected by land use and resource allocation decisions. Of course, if the regional table were to include each person or group which has an individual stake in the outcome, it would be so large no facility could accommodate it. It would also be so clumsy that real participation could not take place. The discussions at the table must be effective as well as inclusive. This requires that participating groups organize themselves so as to have a broadly representative voice, effectively including every element of their constituency” (Owen 1992a).

CORE associate Craig Darling explains how CORE was designed to facilitate these criteria:

To begin the process of pulling the groups together we inquired about how they would like to participate, posing questions around the criteria for participation we established: effectiveness and inclusiveness…The participants were asked, “what would this process have to look like in order for you to participate effectively?” (Darling 1994, p. 7).

In relating these criteria to CORE’s role in the process, facilitating inclusiveness is fairly clearly defined within the sector representation model: to ensure that all interested parties have access to representation in the process through a sector. CORE’s role in facilitating effectiveness within the shared decision making framework is less clear, however. What CORE means by ‘effectiveness’ is not clear from the above statements. In the Vancouver Island CORE process, the Commission intended that the table be empowered to define effective participation, both in the process design and the decision making framework. According to Darling, “the fundamental tenet of shared decision making was that the participants had to have a hand in designing the process” (1994). CORE allowed the table to negotiate and come to consensus on many facets of their “terms of reference.” This involved negotiating such procedural and technical matters as table membership, process design and structure, procedural groundrules, information requirements, and even the table’s purpose and tasks (CORE, 1993). Moreover, for the shared decision making framework to function as designed, empowerment of the participants is required. In short, COREs effectiveness as a participatory planning process is contingent upon the participants perceiving themselves empowered. For the purposes of this study, we therefore relate the criteria of effectiveness directly to the criteria of empowerment discussed above.

In sum, inclusiveness requires that all interested parties have access to the negotiating process through the use of the sector representation model. Once represented, the process is effective only to the extent that the participants are empowered through the use of the shared decision making framework. This study attempts to assess CORE in its role of facilitating access through the use of the sector representation model and empowerment through the use of the shared decision making framework.

It should be noted that CORE’s ability to meet its goals is not measured only by its influence on resource management policy in B.C. The CORE table was set up to make recommendations to government, not to make direct policy decisions.

We are attempting to analyze perceptions of effectiveness of the process, which culminated in the drafting of those recommendations — i.e. we are measuring the effectiveness of participation at the negotiating table. We are making no attempt to evaluate CORE in terms of its ultimate influence in resource management in B.C. Analyzing the direct influence of the recommendations (i.e. the outcome) of the table is particularly complex in the case of Vancouver Island because the table did not reach consensus on all matters. Hence, they were not able to present the Commissioner with a comprehensive set of recommendations. They were, however, able to reach consensus on several items relating to policy objectives (CORE 1994, Vol. 3). Discussion of the specifics of the areas where they did and did not reach consensus is beyond the scope of this paper. Indeed an important future study would be a comparative analysis of the table’s report to the Commissioner, the Commissioner’s report to Cabinet, and the Land Use Plan adopted by Cabinet. The purpose here is to analyze the models CORE used to facilitate access and empowerment in participation, and how their use of these models influenced the ability of the table to accomplish its tasks. We secondarily consider the sector representatives’ perceptions of their influence on the outcome itself.


According to Suskind, “what counts most in evaluating the fairness of a negotiated outcome are the perceptions of the participants” (1987 p. 22). We use the responses of interviews with the sector representatives to assess how well CORE met its goals of facilitating access and empowerment. The interviews were conducted by phone during July and August, 1994. Two of CORE’s key staff were interviewed in person in July 1994, which added insight into the development of the Vancouver Island process. Since the use of sector based representation and shared decision making is relatively new, analysis by the “pioneers” of CORE offers unique insight into the strengths and weaknesses of these models.

The interviews lasted an average of 30 minutes. All interviews were with the principal sector spokespersons of each of the 14 sectors. The 14 sectors of the Vancouver Island CORE table were the following:

1) Agriculture
2) Conservation
3) Fishery
4) Forest Employment
5) Forest Industry Independents
6) Forest Managers/Manufacturers
7) General Employment
9) Mining
10) Provincial Gov’t
11) Recreation
12) Socio & Econ. Sustainability
13) Tourism
14) Youth

It is impossible within scope of this paper to examine the make-up of these sectors in detail. In fact, anonymity of the sector representatives is maintained throughout the analysis. This was promised to the respondents to increase the likelihood of uninhibited responses. Thus the data analysis makes no claims on how ideological orientation might influence the respondents’ perceptions.

The interview had two parts. One part consisted of a series of statements based on documents from Stephen Owen and CORE which reflect the Commission’s objectives with respect to the criteria of access and empowerment. The statements originate from documents CORE published in the early days of the process. Since the respondents were reflecting on the past performance of CORE, we altered the wording of the statements from a future orientation to past tense to eliminate confusion (i.e, statements were changed from “CORE will do…” to “CORE did…”). Using statements from CORE itself removes the possibility of researcher bias of how these criteria should be measured. The purpose of the questionnaire was to assess the degree to which the respondents perceived the statements to reflect what they think actually occurred based on their experience. For each statement they chose from the following options: “strongly disagree,” “disagree,” “no opinion,” “agree,” “strongly agree.” The representatives were sent these statements by fax; they circled numbers one through five corresponding to the above options. Many of the respondents explained their choice of options during the interview and their responses are included in the analysis.

The second part, the phone interview, consisted of a series of open questions about the respondents’ perceptions of and experiences with respect to public participation both inside and outside of CORE. Open questions gave them the opportunity to elaborate on points they felt were important. The analysis of the interviews combines the responses from both parts of the interview.

There are two approaches for examining the representatives’ perceptions of access and empowerment. One approach is to observe their personal experiences of perceiving themselves as having access and being empowered. The other approach is to elicit their perceptions of how well CORE facilitated access and empowerment for the process as a whole. The interview addressed both of these approaches. It is thus possible to distinguish between perceptions of their personal experiences in the process and their perceptions of CORE’s performance in general. This will become apparent in the analysis below. The Data Perceptions of Other Means of Access and Empowerment in the Political Process

To develop a framework for comparison of respondents’ perceptions of access and empowerment within the CORE process, we asked the sector representatives about their perceptions of access and empowerment in the political process using means other than CORE. The representatives were first asked if their sector had tried to influence land use and resource management in B.C. by any means other than CORE (media, political lobbying, litigation, other shared decision making processes, protests, or others). All but one of the representatives responded that their sector had participated in lobbying; the one exception said his/her sector intended to do so in the future. Several had used the media as means of influence. Only a few had been involved in other means such as litigation, negotiation, or protests. When asked how effective these other means were compared to CORE, the responses were mixed. Only four thought CORE was clearly more effective, but only three believed outside means were clearly more effective. The remaining seven had a variety of responses; some saw the means as serving different purposes, some felt that nothing works, and some didn’t know.

The respondents were also asked how they would rate their sector’s empowerment in influencing land use and resource management decisions in B.C. politics outside of CORE, and what they perceived to account for that level of empowerment. This generated very mixed responses; seven perceived themselves unempowered, three fairly empowered and two very empowered; the question did not apply to two.

A very interesting finding from this question is that several sectors perceived that they had become more empowered outside of CORE as a result of participating in CORE. In other words, they felt the process legitimized their sector in the eyes of other political actors. These responses came from a variety of sectors with diverse interests. The commonality among them is the way they described their sector previous to participating in CORE — using terms such as “small,” “no clout,” “no power,” and “no visibility.” This is particularly significant with respect to the earlier discussion of the transformative approach to assessing success. Institutional transformation such as legitimization of previously disenfranchised groups has implications far beyond the CORE negotiating process itself. It is not clear whether this was an intended outcome of CORE, but its implications beckon further study into the potential of ADR processes like CORE for creating fundamental societal transformation.

Perceptions of Access to the CORE Process

The respondents were asked a series of questions to elicit their perceptions of how well CORE succeeded in facilitating access to the process. To assess their perception of “access of all stakeholders”, the sector representatives were asked if they thought any groups or individuals on Vancouver Island were specifically excluded from the CORE process and, if so, which groups. All respondents believed that CORE was successful at including the interested parties. Two respondents suggested sectors for possible inclusion — unemployed forest workers and private property owners — but these respondents still felt CORE had done a good job of including all interested parties.

The positive responses to this question speaks well of the ability of the “sector representation model” to include all interested stakeholders. As explained earlier, using the sector representation model means sectors are “self-defining”; CORE facilitates stakeholder groups forming themselves into sectors of common perspectives. This model is in contrast to the more conventional approach of process facilitator identifying individuals who they deem appropriate to represent certain interests and appointing them as representatives. The respondents were asked to compare the effectiveness of the sector representation model to the more conventional approach of appointing representatives. Thirteen of the respondents thought the sector representation model worked better. According to one respondent, “it concentrated interest groups and got many of them working together for the first time. It was phenomenal to see some of the people who usually compete to be working together.” Only one respondent thought the representatives should have been appointed. This respondent claimed that “by doing so, CORE staff can hand pick individuals with good negotiating skills and a knowledge base from which to negotiate.”

To further assess the representatives’ perceptions of CORE’s performance in facilitating access, the respondents were asked to rank the following statement: “The Commission attempted to ensure that the process was inclusive by making no prior assumptions about which interests would be represented at the negotiating table.” Eleven of the 14 either disagreed or strongly disagreed, and only three agreed that this is what happened. Most disagreed because they felt CORE knew beforehand which interests they wanted at the table. One respondent made the point that “CORE sought out sectors, so they obviously made assumptions of who should be represented.” Another respondent pointed out that “the only people who really know if anyone was excluded is CORE staff since only they know who they approached and who they turned down.” Several respondents indicated that inclusion was ‘hard fought’ for some groups — that CORE initially believed these groups should have been included within other sectors. CORE staff also admitted this to be the case. This would seem inevitable, however, unless the sectors form themselves completely unassisted.

Access and First Nations

The inclusion of First Nations representatives in the Vancouver Island CORE process was a complex and difficult issue. Native bands from across Vancouver Island were initially contacted and responded to CORE with skepticism. There was involvement by representatives from certain Native bands early in the process, but these individuals eventually decided that it was not constructive to continue to be involved. As part of the CORE mandate, the table was to operate “without prejudice” to Native land claims. British Columbia is currently undergoing land claims negotiations and the Native concern is that by participating in CORE, First Nations would be undermining their positions in land claim negotiations.

The sector representatives were asked if they thought First Nations could have successfully participated in the CORE process and why, or why not. Nine said “no”, four said “yes”, one said “yes and no.” All of the respondents who said no expressed that they thought First Nation participation would, indeed, undermine their position in land claims negotiations. As one sector representative put it, “I think non-participation of the First Nations in the CORE process was indicative of their remarkable sophistication and understanding of how futile the process was with respect to their interests.”

Some representatives believed First Nations could have participated had the process been set up so as to guarantee it would in fact be without prejudice to land claims negotiations. The suggestions in this regard were that more could have been done before the CORE process began, or that the process should not have begun until land claims had been settled. One representative thought the First Nations could have found a way to participate without prejudice to land claims but “they did not avail themselves of it.”

All sector representatives thought that CORE had done all it could to encourage participation once the table was set up. They were asked to rank the following statement as to their degree of agreement or disagreement: “As per the Commissioner on Resources and Environment Act, the Commissioner encouraged the participation of Aboriginal peoples in the process without prejudice to Aboriginal rights and treaty negotiations.” No one disagreed.

Perceptions of Empowerment within CORE

To compare perceptions of empowerment outside of CORE, the sector representatives were asked to rate their sector’s level of empowerment in affecting decisions at the Vancouver Island CORE table: the choices were “not very”, “fairly”, or “very empowered.” Seven representatives indicated that they perceived themselves to be “very empowered,” three indicated “fairly empowered”; the other four alluded to feeling empowered but did not directly respond to the question. None of the respondents indicated “not very empowered.”

There were two negative responses to this question, but they were not related to lack of empowerment of their individual sectors. One respondent believed the table was never given the opportunity to debate the “real” issues: “When we did bring the real debate to the table, CORE staff and facilitator found a way to get them off the table.” This was the only respondent to indicate this and he/she did not indicate what was meant by the “real” issues. The other negative response related to a perception that some sector representatives did not really want to reach agreement: “I think people thought there were better places to do their bidding and proceeded accordingly.”

Despite these negative responses, all representatives perceived a degree of empowerment in the process. This is also significant with respect to the transformative approach in assessing success. Most respondents felt unempowered outside of the process, but empowered within the process. The possible individual and societal implications of these findings on empowerment are not clear, but they suggest an important future study into the transformative potential of ADR processes like CORE.

We asked several questions designed to elicit the respondents’ assessment of CORE at facilitating empowerment. We began by asking the respondents questions about how effectively they thought they were able to represent their sector within the process. We first asked each respondent how he or she became a sector representative. Only two of the 14 representatives were elected; the rest were appointed. Of those appointed, some went through a formal process within their sector; others gave a variety of explanations from “I felt I could do the best job” to “quite by accident”. This finding reveals that the sector representation model used in the Vancouver Island process did not involve a clear commitment to representative-constituency relationships based on democratic elections.. The question remains whether this kind of election process is necessary or even possible in ADR policy development processes like CORE.

As to how effectively the representatives thought they were able to represent their sectors, most expressed the belief that they had done the best job they could with what they had to work with. Many representatives expressed frustration at not having the financial means to communicate more effectively with their constituency. The issue of accountability to constituencies was seen as a serious problem by the sector representatives, as well as CORE staff. Most sectors that expressed satisfaction with their ability to communicate effectively with their constituencies already had a structure in place to do so. Such means as newsletters, and regular meetings were mentioned.

Some expressed the expectation that all sectors would be fully accountable to their constituencies. One respondent said, “you have to know who you are dealing with at the table — who is behind them, and just exactly what responsibility they are taking for their actions. Participation lists kept up to date would be helpful.” Another commented that CORE needed to take a closer look at what it really takes to organize it to really ensure representation.

The sector representatives were asked, “Do you feel any sectors had greater influence at the CORE table than others? If so, which sectors?” Ten of 14 thought that some had more influence than others. Some representatives thought the debate was fundamentally between the Conservation sector and the Forest Managers/Manufacturers sector over the “war in the woods,” meaning that these sectors had the most influence at the table. Others believed that certain sectors were “determined to kill the process” and indicated that they had more influence for that reason. Two respondents thought that power was unequal because some individuals were naturally more outspoken, so they were more influential. According to these respondents, this inequality was not a problem because every sector had the right to participate to the same degree: “Influence depended on the willingness of the spokesperson to speak up and, when doing so, having something to say.”

To assess perceptions of empowerment as the process unfolded, respondents were asked to assess several CORE statements on a agree-disagree scale. A statement from CORE from early in the process was the following: “What motivates all parties to participate in the process is the realization that their various goals are interdependent: no party can get what it wants without the support or action of all the others.” Ten of the 14 respondents either disagreed or strongly disagreed that this was what actually motivated the parties to participate. Three agreed and only one strongly agreed. Most sector representatives disagreed because they thought what really motivated the parties to participate was a fear of what would happen if they were not present to contribute. One commented, “[a feeling of interdependence] is what motivated some people; the rest were there to make sure nobody got away with anything.” Another who disagreed said, “there were sectors that came to the table with no intention of negotiating.”

Another statement eliciting perceptions of empowerment was the following: “All parties were involved in the initial assessment of whether or not it was appropriate to use a shared decision making approach.” Eight either disagreed or strongly disagreed, five agreed, one had “no opinion.” Most disagreed because they thought CORE had shared decision making as an agenda from the start. “Shared decision making was the whole premise of CORE,” one said. “Shared decision making was a done deal,” claimed another. “It was a government decision that there would be this kind of approach,” said another. Upon observation of the early documents, it does appear that CORE at least hoped, if not planned, to use the shared decision making approach. Those who disagreed did not indicate lack of support for the use of a shared decision making approach, they were simply arguing that it was CORE’s pre- conceived agenda.

Effectiveness of the Participant Assistance Policy

Ranking of the following statement elicited the representative’s perceptions of how CORE performed in facilitating funding needs of the sectors: “The Commission’s participant assistance policy alleviated financial barriers to effective representation of all significantly and directly affected interests.” Nine either disagreed or strongly disagreed, three agreed, and two had “no opinion.” As might be expected most of the sectors with financial difficulties disagreed and the ones that didn’t, agreed.

Some felt strongly that CORE fell short of providing sufficient funding for the sectors in need. “Every penny for participant assistance was fought for…People subsidized the process to an incredible degree in terms of giving up salaries as well as paying for costs and things. Another commented, “Sectors that weren’t able to put money up front and get reimbursed later were discriminated against [because of their economic status].”

With respect to the representative-constituency relationship, some commented that lack of funds was the primary limitation to success. One respondent said, “It was assumed that organizations have budgets to communicate all over the island. I don’t think they thought through how they were going to make sure that each sector was truly representative. Each group practically needed its own central coordinating body and that would have been a full time job. It was a budgetary issue.” CORE staff admitted that they were sending mixed signals. Darling said, “We were saying to them, ‘it is very important that you communicate well with your constituents.’ ‘Well, with what resources?’ they said. That was a fair criticism.”

There seemed to be a fundamental, perhaps philosophical, difference between those sector representatives who thought that government should provide full financial assistance and those who thought some of the onus should be on the sectors to provide funds, or even to raise their own funds if need be. One respondent whose sector was heavily subsidized by CORE expressed satisfaction with the financial assistance, but said that “we didn’t think CORE should have to pay for everything.” Another respondent took a more extreme stance: “I…thought that if people had interdependent goals and wanted to come together to make a land use plan that they should get their own asses there.”

Regarding financial assistance for the table itself, the following statement was asked to elicit participants’ perceptions: “The Commission succeeded in funding administrative process costs relating to the assessment, orientation, and convening of parties, as well as the facilitation, data collection, and expert analysis as required during the negotiation.” The responses to this were split exactly in half between agreement and disagreement. Most of the negative responses related to disappointment in funding availability for information and data needs of the table. One respondent said, “They gave us a job that requires even professionals a lot longer to do than ten months, and nickels and dimes to do it. Because we didn’t have enough time, we were working with status quo data. Our position throughout the negotiations was that we need to look at new measures of income, resource and pollution accounts, etc. Well, there wasn’t any time or money to do that.” Another representative had a contrary view: “[CORE did a satisfactory job of providing funds] within the constraints of what was realistically accomplishable within the time frame. Some sectors were totally unrealistic in their expectations for information. They wanted things like the effect of ozone depletion on the environment. Well, research hasn’t been done and it is long term, so don’t go around asking for that kind of stuff; it is just not do- able.”


This section considers outcomes by observing sector representatives’ overall perception of success of the process in terms of the outcome. The representatives were asked to locate themselves on an ‘agree-disagree’ thermometer scale regarding the following statement: “Using the shared decision making model at the CORE table meant that those with the authority to make a decision and those affected by that decision were empowered jointly to seek an outcome.” The responses to this reveal the degree to which the representatives perceived that they were indeed empowered jointly to seek an outcome. Eight agreed or strongly agreed, five disagreed or strongly disagreed, one had “no opinion.” The fact that more respondents agree suggests that most representatives perceived the decision making authority was indeed shared in seeking an outcome.

Another statement from CORE was used to assess the degree to which the sector representatives perceived ownership in the outcome: “The use of shared decision making ensured that, by participating directly in the decision making process, all legitimate interests had an opportunity to be heard and to ‘own’ the decision.” Eight either agreed or strongly agreed and six disagreed or strongly disagreed. The ones who disagreed said they could not take ownership in the outcome because there was not a consensus recommendation produced. “If we would have had a decision we would have owned it,” one pointed out.

The final statement from CORE that sector representatives were asked to evaluate was the following: “The time and energy required in the shared decision making process resulted in a more efficient and stable outcome than would have come from alternatives to a negotiated agreement such as litigation, political lobbying, civil disobedience, or continued disagreement and uncertainty.” Seven agreed, four either disagreed or strongly disagreed, three had “no opinion.” The ones that disagreed believed that other political tactics are on-going and necessary. One representative responded, “This shared decision making stuff is new; let’s see how well it works in the long term. B.C. politics is a real game. There are people who wield a lot of weight, particularly with the governing parties. Some of the interest groups are real tight and cozy with government and government owes these people a bit. That being the case, I don’t know if I would agree that litigation and political lobbying and civil disobedience don’t work better for some people.” Another stated, “When you still have a rally of twenty thousand protestors, there is a perception that there have still been winners and losers” (referring to a massive protest rally held at the Parliament building following the release of Stephen Owen’s report on Vancouver Island).

The actual decision making authority rendered by the negotiating table must be considered within the analysis of the outcome of the process. One respondent who strongly disagreed that their sector was ‘empowered jointly to seek an outcome’ made the following assertion: “Those with the authority to make a decision in general weren’t there; and those affected by that decision were not empowered. We were told over and over that we were just an advisory board. Whatever we did would go to the Commissioner and he would chew it over and spit out what he felt was reasonable and deliver it to Cabinet. We weren’t empowered to do anything. To me empowerment means having a definitive influence on the outcome.” The issue of sharing decision making authority was never completely clear to some sector representatives. As CORE staff stated, “We are still talking about a process which is making recommendations. This is not a devolution of authority. In fact, the Commission has no decision- making power, let alone the process.” At several points during the process the representatives were reminded by CORE staff of Stephen Owen’s suggestion that a consensus recommendation from the table would be “politically irresistible” to Cabinet; it would be a strong mandate from the stakeholders.

The final survey question directly addressed perceived effectiveness of participation in the CORE process in terms of the outcome. The sector representatives were asked, “How much do you think the Vancouver Island CORE table influenced Cabinet’s decision on a land use strategy for Vancouver Island: little influence, some influence, a lot of influence?” Below are the excerpts from the responses of each of the fourteen sector representatives:

“We had considerable influence, in-as-much as the table influenced the Commissioner’s report. The recommendations from the table were a large influence, even though we never did get to the really important stuff.”

“In a major way. It reflected most of our interests.” “Certain elements of the table did influence Cabinet. But I really think this was all foregone and figured out beforehand. My perspective of the whole process was that it was an interesting exercise in futility.”

“I think it had some influence. The government of the day created it, so they had to pay attention to it. Because of the way the table ended up going down the tube, government ended up depending more on lobbying that was going on afterwards.”

“Not very much. The table didn’t influence Cabinet; the side products did. We lobbied outside of CORE and after CORE and I think we had more influence in those discussions than we did any time during the process.

“I would say very little influence. All kinds of interest groups approached government and government approached them. Certain coalitions put a lot of effort into trying to influence government through lobbying.”

“I would say a lot because I think Stephen Owen paid a lot of attention. We were quite influential.”

“I would say some; certainly not lots and not little. But they obviously had to listen because they invested politically, so they couldn’t ignore it. But at the end of the day it was part of their consideration, of the things they considered…The majority of the report tabled by Stephen Owen to Cabinet is good. But the way it was arrived at — the grief, pain, aggravation and expense that everyone was forced to go through to achieve the end result — in that sense it was a failure.”

“Little influence. The Commissioner making his own decision sort of weakens the power of the whole thing. Having said that, I still think the government probably made a better decision than they would have had they just been subdued in the back rooms and subject to the special interest pressures. They had to make decisions under the spotlights, with full public scrutiny so they probably tried harder to make it palatable than they would have otherwise.”

“Very much. The government, as you know, adopted it. Obviously a lot.”

“A lot of influence. If you notice the language they used, you see it follows closely to the table’s report to the Commissioner — more closely than it follows the language of the Commissioner’s report to the government.”

“My personal opinion is they had their minds made up before the whole thing got started. My official opinion: I think the table had some influence, in that they realized the political realities are that some of the things they would like to do they had better not because they would really irritate a whole bunch of people on all sides of the issues. But I think the actual decisions were made quite some time before — maybe even before the Commission.

“A lot, actually. If you do an overlay of the maps these two groups put together, they adhered to the areas of agreement. In actual fact it did have substantial influence.”

“I think the Cabinet listened to Stephen [Owen], and Stephen listened to the table as much as he could.”

It is important to note that these responses inevitably reflect the respondents’ biases of the how the final outcome — Cabinet’s land use strategy for Vancouver Island — met their interests. Nonetheless, the responses are very telling: 11 of the 14 representatives thought they had at least some, if not a lot, of influence over Cabinet’s decision. Despite a great deal of skepticism and criticism of the process that was expressed, and despite the fact that many sectors were disappointed in the overall Cabinet decision — which would likely affect their opinion — most believed they had an influence on the land use decision made for Vancouver Island. While it is not possible to ascertain any concrete measures of success from this study, most sector representatives did perceive themselves empowered within the shared decision making process of CORE’s Vancouver Island regional negotiating table. Findings and Conclusion

A major goal of the Vancouver Island regional negotiating process was to generate a consensus set of recommendations to present to the Commissioner. While consensus was reached in some areas, only a partial set of land use recommendations was presented to the Commissioner. The other two regional processes — Cariboo-Chilcotin, and East and West Kootenay — also generated only partial recommendations. It has thus been the task of the Commissioner to generate land use recommendations for each of these regions built upon the partial recommendations generated by the tables. As a result, there is concern from the public that these regional processes “failed” because the land use recommendations have come from the Commissioner himself and not the regional tables.

The specific purpose of this study is to assess CORE in terms of whether, and to what degree, it met the stated goals inherent in its sector representation model and shared decision making framework. We also examined the implications of this framework for policy processes which follow the ADR model.

The data analysis revealed that the participants perceived some strong and some weak points in achieving these stated goals. Based on the perceptions of the sector representatives, CORE essentially achieved its stated goals of facilitating access. The 14 sector representatives believed that, although some initial assumptions were made about who should be included, and although inclusion was “hard fought” for some, CORE largely succeeded at including interested parties. The complex issue of inclusion of First Nations was discussed earlier. These findings suggest that the sector representation model essentially served its purpose in facilitating access.

The sector representatives’ perceptions of CORE’s performance at facilitating empowerment were more mixed. Firstly, many expressed frustration at their inability to effectively communicate with their sectors because of financial constraints. This led to problems of accountability to their constituencies, which called into question the legitimacy of sectors altogether. Secondly, many representatives perceived an imbalance among the sectors of influence at the table.

Thirdly, most were disappointed with the effectiveness of the participant assistance policy over all. Finally, many believed that although the process was useful, the important decision power over provincial land use and natural resource management power lay elsewhere. Further Thoughts: Shared Decision Making, A Transformative Approach

Those involved in ADR processes like CORE have tended to work from the premise that their job, and the goal of the process, is to reach a consensus outcome in the most efficient manner possible. One important consequence of this is that, in the name of efficiency, facilitator often become directive, exerting strong influence over the substantive outcome. Sometimes this means directing parties toward a specific settlement (Bush and Folger 1992, p. 12). For the Vancouver Island process, CORE staff expressed that, in retrospect, they might have offered a stronger leadership role in facilitating a settlement (Darling 1994, p. 4). But as Darling noted, “A question that remains unanswered is whether the process would have accepted more direction at the time…The very people who criticized us most for spending months on process and procedure were the ones who wanted to negotiate every issue of procedure, and who regularly told us to stand back” (p. 5). As discussed earlier, this “problem-solving” approach of being more directive to ensure a consensus outcome can potentially have a negative impact on the empowerment of the participants that is implied in the “transformative approach.”

It is apparent from the statements from CORE that an emphasis on empowerment exists as the very foundation of the sector representation model and the shared decision making framework. This study shows that CORE has obtained a degree of success at meeting these “transformative” goals. Participants perceived themselves as empowered within the decision making process and some felt they gained legitimacy in the eyes of government as a result of participation.

CORE now has a difficult task. If success is viewed strictly from a “problem-solving” approach and consensus outcome is pegged as the measure of success, the Commission in the future might be inclined to be more directive to assure consensus outcomes. However, this may come at the expense of other measures of success inherent in the transformative approach discussed above. It may become difficult to maintain the integrity of the sector representation model and shared decision making framework if the Commission is under pressure to ensure the tables reach consensus outcomes. However, by not reaching consensus, the Commissioner’s recommendations are less a product of the “table’s work” than would otherwise be the case. This situation raises serious questions about empowerment in the process. If the participants are to perceive that they genuinely have access to, and are empowered in, the decision making process, CORE must balance these factors to deliver on its promise that “those with the authority to make a decision and those who will be affected by that decision are empowered jointly to seek an outcome.” This is clearly not an “either/or” situation for CORE; it involves striking a tenuous balance in the overall process.


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