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A User’s Guide to Joint Fact Finding — “JFF”

Joint Fact Finding (JFF) is a public engagement strategy that creates a needed safe harbor for technical and scientific discussions between all sides.

“JFF” is a specialized consultative public engagement strategy that decision makers can use to resolve or narrow factual disputes over controversial environment, energy, public health, and social policy issues. JFF creates a needed safe harbor for technical and scientific discussions between all sides, gets to the heart of the substantive issues, and reduces some of the unnecessary friction and contention that attend important policy debates. Because findings are jointly developed, the outcomes are likely to be more credible, useful, and durable.


Ensuring food safety and food security … slowing the deterioration and depletion of
potable water… providing health and hospitalization services for homeless families …
rebuilding the economy and creating more jobs …

Conflicts over legal, policy and regulatory problems are an inherent part of
pluralistic societies. Friction is normal, and government-centered institutions have
developed time-tested procedures for grappling with it. However, many of today’s
major science-intensive disputes around matters such as the regulation of
genetically engineered foods, transitioning to renewable energy, and planning for
climate change, are outpacing our conventional approaches to governance and

No set of organizations from government, industry or the community can fully
manage broad problems like these that cross sectors and boundaries. No single
discipline can fully explain them. No particular agency of government or private
interest group has the full jurisdiction to solve them. No single person or institution
has the power to force solutions and no locale can stand as a walled-off entity.

Today’s circumstances require smarter cooperation strategies. Problem solving
must become a team sport.

This manual describes a supplementary approach to constructive engagement that
is gaining traction by virtue of its effectiveness. Joint Fact Finding (JFF) is most
appropriate in the face of difficult, fact-intensive issues and can result in productive
cross-sector dialogues that inform and improve policy decisions.

I. What JFF Is

1. Definition

Joint Fact Finding (JFF) is an intentional and specialized process that decision makers on all sides of a dispute can use to prevent, manage or resolve fact-intensive controversies. A carefully designed working group made up of stakeholders, rights-holders, and scientific and technical experts, engages in rigorous analytical dialogue. The process carves out key technical and scientific questions that are often at the heart of a controversy and maps areas of factual agreement that all parties can respect. Often, this process illuminates the reasons for disagreement and puts those areas in a proper context, thus helping to build a platform for policy agreement.

Depending on the situation, JFF can be embedded as part of a larger consensus-seeking effort or community conversation, or set up as a “stand alone” process. Because it can be tailored to accommodate the circumstances, Joint Fact Finding may be conducted under different names, including: “Independent Review Panels,” “Technical Advisory Groups,” “Stakeholder Panels,” “Study Groups,” “Peer Review Meetings,” “Policy Dialogues,” “Adaptive Management Working Groups,” “Science Advisory Roundtables,” or “Independent Scientific and Technical Advisory Panels.”

2. Why Use It

Read Entire JFF User Manual

Complete materials from the March 6-7, 2014 meetings on “Taking Stock of Joint Fact Finding” have now been posted to the Accord3.0 website.

Attachments to this Article


Peter Adler

Peter Adler directs ACCORD3.0, a group of independent consultants specializing in foresight, fact-finding and conseneus building. He is the former President and CEO of The Keystone Center and has held executive positions with the Hawaii Supreme Court, the Hawaii Justice Foundation, and Neighborhood Justice Center of Honolulu. Peter can also… MORE >

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