Institute for Engagement & Negotiation

Empowering communities to create shared solutions


Introduction to the Institute

The Institute for Environmental Negotiation (IEN) is an environmental dispute resolution organization at the University of Virginia.  IEN has gained international recognition as a leading environmental and public policy dispute resolution organization and has participated in more than 300 projects. IEN conducts about 60% of its work in Virginia, 20% in nearby states, and the rest is national in scope or performed in localities outside of the region. 

Each year the IEN undertakes on average two dozen or so projects requiring multi-party facilitation, mediation, negotiation, consensus building, and community engagement. IEN works on a wide range of issues involving a community’s natural, built and social environment. Watershed restoration, land use, community revitalization, heritage preservation, transportation, natural resource management, public health, sea level rise, food system planning, racial reconciliation, environmental justice, and much more, are IEN’s domain. These projects range from a one-day event involving a single organization to a multi-year initiative engaging dozens of stakeholders in multiple ways, with literally hundreds of millions of dollars at stake.

The Birth of IEN

In 1977 Allied Chemical Corporation was fined $13.2 million for polluting the James River with the pesticide Kepone. This was the largest water pollution fine ever imposed at the time. By court order a portion of the fine ($8 million) was used to fund the creation of the Virginia Environmental Endowment (VEE).

Gerald McCarthy, executive director of the new VEE, was interested in testing the idea of “environmental negotiation” in Virginia.  He invited Rich Collins, Chairman of the Urban and Environmental Planning Department at the University of Virginia, to submit a proposal. The Institute for Environmental Negotiation was founded January 1981, with financial support from the Virginia Environmental Endowment. You can read more about the history of the founding of VEE and IEN here.

Elements from U.VA Strategic Priorities supported by IEN

  • Build on the University’s founding principle as an agent for the common good;
  • Promote public-directed leadership;
  • Connect the classroom with the real world by encouraging students to put theories into practice and build theories based on practice and observation;
  • Connect academic life to public service through academic service learning and community-based research;
  • Ensure that graduate programs serve student expectations, including future employment;
  • Invite professors and students from other nations to the Grounds as a means of internationalizing the University’s intellectual life.


How does IEN provide this value?

Student mentoring and training – nine-month and summer internships allow graduate students to work on a variety of topical, real world urban and environmental planning issues, often taking on substantial responsibilities of facilitation, planning, and project management.

Other learning opportunities – IEN faculty have been teaching since IEN’s inception in 1980, but recent years have seen an increase in teaching new courses that reflect cutting-edge topics and concerns in the field of planning.

Student recruitment – 25% of incoming urban and environmental planning graduate students describe the opportunity to work with IEN as the most compelling reason for selecting the University of Virginia.

Departmental visibility – IEN’s practice, teaching and writing contribute to the Department’s excellent national reputation within the planning profession.

University visibility – IEN conducts more public service projects than any other academically-based Center or Institute, and brings significant credit to the University as a whole.  Much of IEN’s service occurs in high profile situations involving senior elected and appointed officials (e.g., Governor’s Natural Resources Leadership Summit, Tobacco Communities Project, Shenandoah Valley Waste Solutions Forum, Chesapeake Bay Roundtable, and many others).  IEN-led projects enhance the University’s public service leadership in environmental decision-making, providing University faculty opportunities for research and practical applications.

Continue reading A Summary of the Institute for Environmental Negotiation (.pdf)