While it is no secret that environmental impact statements (EISs) are often difficult for citizens to read and comprehend, no research has examined the actual understanding citizens gain from reading an EIS. We presented the project description portion of an EIS for flood control measures on the Hickory Creek in Joliet, Illinois to 113 Joliet citizens who read the materials and answered a number of questions about the proposed project and its environmental effects. Citizens' understanding of the EIS material was atrocious; on two measures of understanding, 70% of the participants answered correctly at a level no better than chance (blind guessing). Although understanding was significantly correlated with reading ability, even the best readers understood at a level that was far from adequate. Public agencies should examine how well citizens understand the EIS documents they produce. We suggest the techniques and procedures described here may be a fruitful way of conducting such tests.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Geography, Planning and Development
- Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law