wake county sustainability task force report: an alternate opinionregional brief
Task force members received a “Scope andProcess” document that outlined the objec-tives, timeline, and meeting process. The pro-cess was a “consensus-based decision making process rather than majority voting process.”In other words, facilitators assisted membersin reaching consensus, and when that couldnot be accomplished, disagreements were tobe noted in the task force reports. While this consensus process is quitecommon at all levels of government, it is notwithout problems. Typically, proponents of a recommendation are not asked to providesupporting scientic or economic data to sup-port the viability of their recommendation.The recommendation is assumed to be theconsensus of the task force unless a memberobjects. The member who objects is thenasked to explain the reasons for his objection.This process is effective at reaching consensus,but it is not an effective way to evaluate effec-tiveness or efciency of recommendations. Itoften leads to the well-documented phenom-enon of “groupthink.”
The process used by the facilitators inevi-tably produces groupthink, described as
the mode of thinking that happens whenthe desire for harmony in a decision-mak-ing group overrides a realistic appraisal of alternatives. Group members try to mini-mize conict and reach a consensus deci-sion without critical evaluation of alternativeideas or viewpoints.
Task force membership
Task force members were not selected onthe basis of scientic or economic expertise.On the contrary, the members were selectedbecause they represented special-interestgroups or governmental interests that mightbe affected by the recommendations. In fact,no resource economists were on the task forcenor were any resource economists on handto act as support staff. Additionally, the task force process did not include a procedure toevaluate recommendations for their scienticor economic validity or effectiveness.
Those seem to be fundamental aws in theprocess since the task force was charged withmaking recommendations on three issues con-cerning natural resources: water and energyresources and solid waste disposal. Thus task force members were without a mechanism tocheck their recommendations for economic orscientic validity, unintended consequences,or costs and benets of various options.
Most speakers represented special-interest groups or governmental interests
The task force did hear from a series of speakers.
Unfortunately, these speakers repre-sented either private interests or governmen-tal interests. For example, the solid waste andrecycling information presented on March 18,2010, did not include any total cost data sothat members could determine the landll vs.recycling costs.
It was only after the urging of severalmembers of the task force that an energy paneldiscussion with divergent views was presentedat the November 2010 meeting, nearly a yearinto the process. Furthermore, an alternativeeconomic point of view delivered by a quali-ed resource economist
was not presented tothe members until more than a year into theprocess, and his presentation is not listed onthe task force website.
As a further illustration of the lack of concern for economic or scientic rigor, thetask force members did not have a commondenition of sustainability. In other words,each member was free to apply his or her ownsustainability denition to the issues being dis-
I. The Task Force Process: Flawed from the Start