Kagoshima's three-year project to maintain environmentally sustainable growth in the tourist attraction town of Yakushima involved engaging citizens in scenario workshops in order to facilitate social consensus-building.
Problems and Purpose
Since its registration as a World Heritage site in 1993, the number of tourists to Yakushima, Kagoshima in Japan has increased: an estimated 200,000 people visit the town per year. While a positive economic effect is expected, residents are concerned about the potential deterioration of the environment and how to live in ways that are friendly to the environment. A three-year project to address these issues began in 2001. Its goal was to build a sustainable society model based on three cycles focusing on issues of 1) material, 2) energy and 3) economy.
Background History and Context
Yakushima Island, Kagoshima was registered as a World Heritage Nature Site in 1993 because of its rich natural resources. The island is covered in dense forest and is noted for its old growth (7,200 years old) Cryptomeria trees and magnificent rhododendrons. Yakushima Island has an area of about 500 km2 and a population of roughly 15,000. It lies to the south of Kyūshū in Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan. The highest point on the island is Miyanoura-dake at 1,935 metres (6,360 ft).
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The project in Yakushima Island was supported by Special Coordination Funds for Promoting Science and Technology under the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan. The project director of a series of dialogue experiments was Mr. Sachihiko Harashina, Professor Emeritus of Tokyo Institute of Technology and Professor of Chiba University of Commerce.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
In March 2003, a research hearing was conducted in two towns to analyze participants. The main issues and stakeholders were identified. In addition, a hearing was also conducted with researchers of the project member a few times. As a result, the identified main problems included environmental impacts due to tourist hiking, nightsoil treatment in mountainous areas, pros and cons to introducing an island entry fee, and deterioration of guide service qualities due to newcomers.
Based on this initial research, a series of interviews was conducted in July 2003 with stakeholders. The interviewees were a local government official, six people from a tourism industry and five people from local communities. Each interview was 1 to 2 hours. As a result, it was revealed that the issues of whether the number of tourists should be increased and whether the island entry fee should be introduced, got higher interest from stakeholders and conflicts in their opinions. Upon this interview, the following stakeholders were invited and accepted to join the deliberative meeting:
- Local government – total 5 people: officials from the Environmental and Tourism department from the town level, Kagoshima prefecture’s government officials
- Tourism industry– total 5 people: a tourist association and eco-tour guide
- Local residents– total 5 people: local people and nonprofit organization
Local government officials are key decision makers, people from the tourism industry were senior representatives of companies, and local residents were representatives of nonprofit organizations and people known for environmental activism. All participants except one tourism company accepted the attendance to the deliberative meeting.
Methods and Tools Used
A number of different methods were used during the three year project. Public hearings (forums) were held during the first phase. Youth workshop-style forums were held in the second year of the initiative in order to promote mutual learning. The final year of the initiative was focused on building consensus among stakeholders across the island on the sustainability of Yakushima’s tourism industry. The scenario workshop method was used because: 1) discussion was conducted based on the scenario against the issues, and smooth consensus building can be expected only with two-time meetings; 2) a scenario would be developed based on the interviews with stakeholders, since stakeholders can understand the meaning of scenarios well; and 3) people were also divided into sections such as government, tourism industry and local residents and have a separate group session respectively. It was expected that the scenario workshop would facilitate opinion adjustment and positive effects to build consensus. The results of two different formats were compared and analyzed, with the focus here mainly on the consensus-building session.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The deliberative meeting was an arena-style meeting which aimed to examine sustainable tourism in Yakushima Island.
The project began in 2001 and continued for three years. Its goal was to build a sustainable society model based on three cycles focusing on issues of 1) material, 2) energy and 3) economy. At the initial stage of the project, the main issues of concern to stakeholders were not yet clear, so four forums were conducted to shed light on the community's concerns. The forum served as a basic research resource and a place to exchange opinions. It was conducted in the only two towns on the island. Forums were held twice at each location in order to collect information from as many residents as possible.
In the second year (2002), a workshop-style forum was organized for youth from all six junior high schools and one high school. The workshop was designed to promote mutual learning. It was structured as two continuous sessions, and only students who could join both sessions were allowed to participate.
In the final year of the initiative (2003), a deliberative meeting was convened to build social consensus among stakeholders across the island. The meeting was structured in two sessions: one was a standard round-table style, and the other was a scenario building workshop that addressed several different categories of issues. The scenario workshop was specifically chosen for its design which promotes consensus building. The proposed scenarios were 1) maintaining the number of tourists, 2) increase large group tours 1.5 times, and 3) increase individual (small group) tours 1.5 times. The main discussion point was the number of tourists.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Because the agenda to be discussed at the deliberative meeting was clear based on the interviews and the interview result was communicated with feedback, many stakeholders accepted the invitations to the deliberative meeting.
At that time, there had been no space to discuss Yakushima’s tourism together with the two towns’ government officials, and many tourism companies were eager to have such an opportunity. So, the attendance of the two town's officials were important to form the deliberative meeting. This could take place because the project team had built a trust and good relationship with town governments by meeting and exchanging information with them for the past few years.
The discussion was focused on the number of tourists, because they were defined by what the scenarios addressed.
Summary of discussion on the deliberative meeting:
High support by stakeholders
- Protect primeval nature
- Improve tourism services
- Increase income by tourism
- Awareness raising on manners for tourists
- Maintain or increase number of tourists
- Increase sales per tourist
- Invite tourists to the area where local residents live
- Set an upper limit of the number of tourism and increase the tourists
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Although the scenario workshop could define the discussion points, critical comments against scenarios were raised from participants. For example, some suggested that it is insufficient only to consider the number of tourists, but also proper environmental management measures and efforts to increase a sales per customer are necessary. This is considered to be a constructive opinion aiming to achieve both economic prosperity and environmental protection.
There were topics which participants reached to consensus, and some which they did not. Because the deliberative meetings were limited to only two times, the facilitation of meetings failed to achieve complete consensus. The discussion points to carry out sustainable tourism ranges over various fields. Therefore, at least ten deliberative meetings would be necessary to agree on all points. It would be necessary to consider it as a continuous process and reach to consensus one by one with defining what was agreed or not.
The challenges of forming deliberative meetings, establishing legitimacy of meetings and securing representativeness should be considered further. Often, participants are limited to the people who have high concern or belong to nonprofit organizations. One good solution is to combine a meeting notice and questionnaire research and send it to randomly selected residents. In this way, people are selected randomly, and asked their preference about themes as well as their intention to join meetings. Because of random selection, people can represent various areas and opinions are diversified. Also, by answering the questionnaire, preferences of participants can be understood prior to meetings and participants understand the theme well, which would serve to motivate people to join meetings.
In addition, sharing “a process on how to build consensus” is important before starting discussion. Moreover, during formation of meetings, such a process should be discussed and reached to consensus by a participatory manner. This procedure could be costly, but may be effective to build relationships among stakeholders in the long run.
As to the challenges to facilitate a consensus building, first, it is necessary to organize information on how to judge which meeting technique should be employed for each situation. Second, even after choosing a meeting technique, consensus building can be facilitated by the improvement of facilitation, such as by introducing icebreaker activities at the beginning to increase comfort between participants. Third, training professionals to form and facilitate such dialogue places is necessary. There are still a lot of challenges to establish consensus-building methodology, but also a need to persevere in finding a solution to each challenge.
 Social Consensus Building for Environmentally Friendly Life in Local Communities, Yakushima Island, Kagoshima, Planning Administration 29(4)2006, Japan Association for Planning Administration, Tokyo
This case is based on the article ”Consensus Building for the Creation of Sustainable Regions: How to Organize and Manage the Meeting-place for Dialogues?” by Dr. Shigeo Nishikizawa, Associate Professor of Tokyo Institute of Technology.