The 95,000 miles of U.S. coastline are home to some of the country’s most fragile and valuable habitats. Well over 50% of the American population is located along the coast, as are a variety of industries that contribute tens of billions of dollars to the U.S. economy each year. Strong coastal management is crucial to balancing the conservation needs of coastal environments with the responsible development of economic and cultural resources. The 1972 Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) initiated a unique coastal management partnership between federal and state governments. Anticipating reauthorization of the Act, an effort was undertaken in 2007 to consider how revisions to the Act might improve U.S. coastal management.

The initiative, led by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Coastal States Organization (CSO), sought to engage a broad group of stakeholders in a visioning process. With CBI’s process design and facilitation help, they planned and executed five, full-day meetings in coastal cities across the country. Recognizing that valuable ideas could come from any stakeholder, CBI identified three key challenges:

  • The meetings must engage as large and diverse a group of stakeholders as possible.
  • The meetings must be managed to maximize the diversity, quality, and volume of participant input.
  • Stakeholder input must be effectively captured and analyzed.


CBI enables NOAA and CSO to optimize stakeholder input at five meetings across the country by engaging diverse participants and structuring meetings to allow for both broad and deep discussions.

CBI helped the NOAA and CSO plan and organize meetings in Boston, Atlanta, Honolulu, Chicago, and San Francisco. The purpose of each meeting was to identify regional coastal management priorities; generate ideas for innovative coastal management techniques; and hold in-depth discussions about the feasibility, potential impact, and degree of support for the ideas that generated the most participant interest.

In order to bring a large and diverse group of stakeholders to the meetings, CBI worked with the planning team to identify 1,200 potential participants from across the country. They sought people who could share a range of perspectives, including people from government, coastal industries, academia, non-profits, recreation, and fisheries. The five meetings were open to anyone who registered. CBI trained volunteer facilitators at each location to run breakout sessions, which meant that meetings of 100 people or more could include work sessions of no more than 15 or 20 people. CBI structured the meetings to maximize the amount of time participants spent talking with each other, so meeting participants attended two 2-hour breakout sessions on two different topics of their choice (for example land use and recreation). In each session, participants first discussed key challenges then brainstormed ideas for improving coastal management in that area. Participants then prioritized those ideas and discussed the ones they thought had the most potential. The CBI team captured hundreds of ideas generated by over 400 participants across the five meetings.


CBI helps CSO and NOAA to synthesize stakeholder ideas and reach agreement on four cornerstones and thirteen core principles for improving the Coastal Zone Management Act.

After the large public meetings, CBI facilitated a two-day meeting of coastal experts in Washington, D.C. This group of 25 helped the planning team refine the key recommendations from the public meetings. CBI then facilitated another meeting with just the NOAA and CSO team in which they reached agreement on four philosophical cornerstones and thirteen core principles to improve the Coastal Zone Management Act.

Since 2007, CSO and NOAA have each worked to improve coastal management, and their efforts have been informed both by the hundreds of ideas they heard from stakeholders and from the shared cornerstones and principles. However, due to the political climate, there has not yet been a formal effort to reauthorize the Coastal Zone Management Act. CSO and NOAA continue to work together annually on issues of joint concern, engaging CBI to assist with the planning and facilitation of important multi-stakeholder policy meetings.