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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making 5 Practice: Organizing Participation This chapter reviews the evidence on how different ways of organizing the participation itself—the interactions among the agency and the various participants—affects the results of public participation. As in the previous chapter, we begin by stating this main finding from our review and then discuss more specific points and the supporting evidence. A few attributes of the ways environmental public participation is organized are associated with the likelihood of successful outcomes and can be treated as principles of good practice. Successful outcomes are more likely when a process includes the full spectrum of parties who are interested in or will be affected by a decision and encourage their voluntary commitment to it; involves the parties in formulating the problem for assessment or a decision and in designing the participatory process; is transparent to participants and observers; and is structured to encourage the parties to communicate in good faith. There is no single best format, set of procedures, or level of intensity for implementing these principles or for achieving good outcomes in all situations. The best results follow when the participation is organized so as to be responsive to context-specific challenges, such as those discussed in Chapters 7 and 8. PUBLIC PARTICIPATION FORMATS AND PRACTICES Public participation processes can be organized in many different ways. So it is reasonable to ask if certain formats work better generally, or in some circumstances, than others. However, the evidence does not support
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making such conclusions. Various public participation formats have been successful in achieving the goals of high-quality and widely acceptable assessments and decisions, and each format has also failed at times in achieving these goals. Many terms have come into use over time to describe ways of organizing participatory processes. Numerous typologies of them can be found in the published literature (e.g., Creighton, 2005). Some terms refer to broad “formats.” Examples include public hearings, scoping meetings, focus groups, workshops, open houses, charrettes, listening sessions, advisory committees, blue-ribbon commissions, summits, policy dialogues, negotiated rule-making, task forces, town meetings, citizen juries, study circles, future search conferences, online deliberation, and deliberative polling. Other terms refer to more specific practices, tools, or techniques that can be used together with particular formats. These include working groups, panels, debates, field trips, web sites, listservs, voting, consensus-building exercises, professional facilitation, process steering committees, visioning exercises, decision analysis exercises, scenario-building exercises, participatory budgeting, media campaigns, surveys, various educational or outreach activities, and so forth. The International Association for Public Participation, for example, offers a “toolbox” of dozens of such tools and techniques, classified by the purposes for which they are commonly used (see http://www.iap2.org/associations/4748/files/06Dec_Toolbox.pdf). Frequently, different formats share practices in common or a single format is flexible enough that it can, under the right circumstances, integrate practices that are usually associated with a another format. As a result, processes called by the same name can look quite different in use, and processes with different names can have many specific components in common. For example, an expert panel can be assembled and integrated into virtually all the formats above, as can many other specific practices. Table 5-1 identifies and distinguishes three broad classes of public participation formats for purposes of reference. Even a process that is tightly controlled by an agency may include a limited participatory role for the public. Information dissemination, not listed in the table, is sometimes considered to be a kind of public participation, albeit a very passive one (Creighton, 1999; Zarger, 2003). Conventional rule-making procedures often require that agencies publish a proposed regulation and allow a period of time for public comment before finalizing and implementing the rule (see Chapter 2). Such processes are open to the public, and they may or may not influence decision outcomes (e.g., Creighton, 1999; Beierle and Cayford, 2002; Zarger, 2003; Langbein, 2005). Information exchange, as noted in the table, allows for somewhat more interaction but still leaves little space for public influence. Advisory committees and similar activities encourage a more active role
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making TABLE 5-1 Classes of Participation Formats Often Used by Government Agencies Format Type Breadth of Public Participation Information Exchange (used both to inform and consult) Open access; often oriented toward individual citizens, but often includes interest group representatives Includes public hearings, comment periods, scoping meetings, focus groups, workshops, open houses, and listening sessions Involvement Predefined group selected to represent diverse perspectives; may include individual citizens or group representatives Includes citizen panels, deliberative polling, charettes, some advisory committees, citizen juries, study groups, town meetings, future search conferences, and online deliberation Engagement (in both decision making and collaborative action) Predefined to represent interested groups, sometimes geographically defined in the cases of partnerships or comanagement of projects to include stakeholders with local ecological knowledge Includes joint fact-finding, policy dialogues, negotiated rulemaking, blue-ribbon commissions, summits, community partnerships, and comanagement of projects or programs NOTE: We use descriptive terms to describe generic approaches that are distinct enough to be readily distinguished by a nonspecialist. Some of the terms in the first column of the table are sometimes used to refer to very carefully defined procedures. We do not mean to imply that all the formats in the same row of the table are alike, but rather that they have more in common with each other than they do with formats described in other rows. SOURCES: Compiled from Renn et al. (1995); Beierle and Cayford (2002); International Association of Public Participation (2003); Zarger (2003); Leach (2005). for some people. Committee members are chosen to represent a range of interests, and they may be asked to produce recommendations or other deliverables (Lynn, 1990; Lynn and Kartez, 1995; Renn, Webler, and Wiedemann, 1995; Bradbury and Branch, 1999; Zarger, 2003). Their meetings may be structured to encourage intracommittee interaction or participation by other citizens and groups. Agency personnel might or might not play a substantive role. Variations from traditional advisory committee structures include citizen juries, policy dialogues, citizen panels, study groups, and consensus conferences (Stewart, Kendall, and Coote, 1994; Dienel and Renn, 1995; Renn, Webler, and Wiedemann, 1995; Beierle and Cayford, 2002). More collaborative formats may include a commitment to shared decision making among agencies and citizen groups, usually extending over a relatively long time period. They may incorporate interagency and intergroup relationships, and they may evolve over time (Pinkerton, 1994;
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making Zarger, 2003; Lubell and Leach, 2005; Leach, 2006). Some collaborative decision-making activities encourage interactions between agency scientists and citizens with local ecological knowledge (Murphree, 1991; Pinkerton, 1994; Berkes et al., 2001; Kemmis, 2002). Many require that agencies and public participants invest in building capacity and trust (Pinkerton, 1994; Cestero, 1999; Zarger, 2003; Lubell and Leach, 2005). Consensus-building formats tend to promote binding agreements between an agency and a relatively small number of participants, selected to represent a range of stakeholders (Zarger, 2003; Birkhoff and Bingham, 2004; Langbein, 2005). These formats include negotiated rule-making, dispute resolution, and other mediated processes. They require some level of facilitation, whether by an involved agency or stakeholder or by an uninvolved professional. Outcomes might be constituted as a proposed rule, a memorandum of understanding, a statement of principles, a legal settlement, or a less formalized agreement.1 Public participation processes are commonly tailored to the specific circumstances of an assessment or decision, drawing on elements or practices from the various available formats to suit the context, explicitly addressing potential obstacles to success that are diagnosed at the planning stage and incorporating different participatory modes at different project stages (Creighton, 1999; Bleiker and Bleiker, 2000; Bradbury, Branch, and Malone, 2003; Zarger, 2003). Each decision process might schedule a number of participatory events, each tailored for a different procedural purpose and a different mix of participants (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1998; Cestero, 1999; Creighton, 1999; Lawrence and Deagen, 2001; Bingham, 2003). As already noted, most types of formats can incorporate specific mechanisms, tools, or practices. Most of these formats also can be more or less formal with regard to organization, protocol, and overall tone of communications. Most can be pursued with small or large budgets. Few studies have rigorously and empirically compared participation formats, incorporating multiple cases with two or more formats. Such work would in fact be difficult to do because most of the formats are not very rigorously defined. The few comparative studies have examined relatively well-defined and distinct formats (e.g., conventional and negotiated regulation; e.g., Langbein, 2005) or have coded processes into categories based on reports about them (e.g., Beierle and Cayford, 2002). Moreover, almost all the studies are ex post assessments and have all the problems of this research form in attributing effects to causes. Moreover, as we note above, it may not be the format itself that matters, but practices carried out within the format, on which researchers may or may not have data. In short, the ability to draw conclusions about for-
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making mat is limited by varying conceptualizations of what the formats are and inadequate theory about how they produce their effects. A discussion of formats would not be complete without considering the potential role of the Internet in public participation. Though not a format in itself, it is attractive because it might provide a way to deal with some of the practical difficulties of conducting participatory processes when the participants are geographically dispersed or have limited available time and cannot be available for face-to-face contact. The individual and institutional costs of information transfer and acquisition can be lowered by Internet technologies, while convenience can rise. However, concerns persist about the “digital divide” in which access to and facility with online communications are not equitably distributed, with the possible results that use of the Internet will diminish the participation of some groups (Mossberger, Tolbert, and Stansbury, 2003; Chakraborty and Bosman, 2005; Martin and Robinson, 2007). Moreover, one cannot assume that interactions via the internet will have the same effects as face-to-face processes. The limited evidence on using the Internet for public participation suggests that successful participatory processes can be conducted online, but the conditions for success are not yet established (Beierle, 2002). Studies suggest that online participation yields many of the benefits of face-to-face participation, but that in some cases it can also increase polarization (Capella, Price, and Nir, 2002; Price and Capella, 2002; Price, Nir, and Cappella, 2002; Inyengar, Luskin, and Fishkin, 2003; Price et al., 2003). A randomized comparison of face-to-face and electronic participation in deliberative polls found the two to perform similarly, with the benefits of electronic participation being slightly weaker (Iyengar, Luskin, and Fishkin, 2005). In our judgment, electronic participation processes are most likely to be valuable when the assessment or decision problem will affect people who are not in geographic proximity to each other and thus are hard to bring together. However, we believe electronic processes should be tried only when adequate representation of the interested and affected parties can be obtained from among the subpopulation that has access to, and is comfortable using, available technology for online participation. Clearly, however, this is an area for continued experimentation. DIMENSIONS OF PARTICIPATORY PROCESS This section focuses on attributes of participatory process that cut across different formats. Evidence suggests that attributes are more relevant than formats to developing principles of practice. As noted in Chapter 3, one process can be more participatory than another in several distinct ways. The dimension most commonly used to organize typologies of public
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making participation in the practitioner literature is variation in the nature of the public’s role (termed influence below and often described by practitioners as the objective of the process), with some process formats being designed to inform the public, some to elicit public perspectives, others to involve the public in consensus decision making or recommendations, and still others to engage in collaborative action. As Table 5-1 indicates, formats can be roughly classified in terms of such objectives. We have identified four dimensions of participatory process: breadth: the number and variety of participants involved; openness of design: the degree to which participants are involved at early stages of the process, the number of points in the process at which they are involved, and their influence on the design of the process; intensity: the amount of time and effort participants put into the process and the amount of interaction that takes place among them, as well as between public participants and the agency officials and scientists who would otherwise be involved; and influence: the extent to which the process allows for or provides mechanisms by which the public participants can affect how the convening agency defines, considers, and acts on the issue. In much of the literature on public participation, the dimensions of breadth, openness of design, intensity, and influence are treated as highly correlated, in the sense that advocates often favor more participation on all these dimensions at once, and researchers do not always clearly distinguish them so that their effects on results can be assessed independently of each other. The largest multicase comparison study of public participation (Beierle and Cayford, 2002) found that the dimensions are strongly correlated in practice. Reflecting this correlation, Beierle and Cayford’s classification of formats closely corresponds with the intensity of the deliberative process they required. Comparisons of negotiated and traditional regulations (e.g., Langbein, 2005) similarly link a difference in formats with differences in intensity. In addition to the above dimensions, formats differ in what we call “boundedness.” Some processes are bounded in that they identify and target specific parties and stakeholders or individuals representing those interests. Other processes are unbounded, in the sense that they are open to all parties and constrained only by the extent to which individuals and organizations have sufficient interest and resources to participate. Unbounded processes often tend to attract well-organized interests. Agencies sometimes use bounded processes to make sure that important interests or perspectives that might not find representation in an unbounded process get a place at the table—that is, to increase the breadth in comparison with
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making what would happen in an unbounded process. However, some parties may still be left out. Generally, processes designed to involve stakeholders in consensus building, such as advisory committees, summits, or commissions, are usually quite bounded even when meetings are open to the public, in that specific individuals are named as members of the group. In contrast, processes designed to inform or consult the public, such as scoping meetings, listening sessions, and online deliberations, often are more open. In some circumstances, process formats are combined so that both characteristics can be found in a single public participation effort. Some observers suggest that less bounded formats may be appropriate early in a process for the purpose of problem formulation, when organized interest groups have not yet formed, or when there may be affected groups that are unorganized. As interests become more organized and the needed information and expertise clarified, it may be useful for the process to become more formalized and less open to new participants. Hypotheses like these are attractive because they specify intervening variables that might explain how formats affect outcomes through mechanisms of social interaction—but they are very hard to evaluate given the current state of knowledge. Although dimensions such as intensity and boundedness are often correlated, decisions about how to organize public participation also can affect these dimensions independently. Agencies commonly face separate process choices about whether to invite or include some participants (breadth), whether to include public participants in particular discussions, including discussions about the process itself (openness of design), how many public meetings to hold (intensity), and how much influence to allow ideas and suggestions from public participants to have in making decisions (influence). We thus divide most of our discussion about the effects of the way participation is organized according to these four dimensions. Before discussing the evidence on the effects of various ways of organizing the participation, it is worth characterizing this evidence. The best evidence of cause-effect relationships comes from controlled case-comparison studies in which an aspect of a participatory process is systematically varied and differences in outcome indicators are observed. Although such studies could be carried out to investigate the effects of various aspects of participation practice, very few have been done. A notable exception is the work of Fishkin (Farrar et al., 2003, 2006; Ackerman and Fishkin, 2004; Fishkin and Luskin, 2005) on the deliberative polling method, which has addressed energy policy options (but not other environmental topics). The lack of experimental research probably reflects some combination of practical difficulties, tight budgets for public participation, the absence of a culture of evaluation in many of the relevant agencies, and perhaps a lack of exper-
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making tise in social research design in those agencies. Whatever the reasons, the shortage of studies with true experimental or quasi-experimental designs considerably weakens the confidence that one can have in inferences from experience. Experimental studies alone, however, will never be sufficient for the study of public participation. Although experiments greatly enhance the ability to understand causation, it is usually at the cost of creating a somewhat artificial situation and that may lead to different behaviors than would be found in real-world participation. Understanding of public participation will require “triangulation” across multiple methods. While more evidence accumulates, our conclusions should be assessed as provisional and requiring stronger evidence for certainty. In Chapter 9, we return to the issue of improving the quality of research on environmental public participation. BREADTH Public participation processes are more successful when they include the full spectrum of parties who are interested in or will be affected by a decision. The argument to include all interested and affected parties goes back at least to Dewey (1923), who uses the idea of affected parties to define “the public.” The idea is foundational to democracy. A major rationale for public participation processes is that, without such processes, many who are interested in or who will be affected by a decision may not have a chance to influence that decision, a situation widely judged inappropriate in a democracy. However, this normative justification does not necessarily entail that public influence is best organized through the kinds of direct participation in agency activities that are the focus of this volume. There are other avenues for public influence in environmental decisions. Moreover, governmental agencies, in exercising their duty to act in the public interest, sometimes see broad and direct public involvement as an impediment to their work. The issue for the present discussion is an empirical one: whether public participation improves decision quality, legitimacy, and the capacity of agencies and participants. A number of analyses of environmental assessments and decision-making processes argue that inclusiveness is important for achieving legitimacy with the public (reviewed in National Research Council, 2007a). Mitchell et al. (2006) noted that global change assessments may lack credibility with key audiences if local expertise has not been included, and often participatory mechanisms are the only effective way to engage such local knowledge. In her study advisory boards at the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Bradbury (2005) emphasized the importance to widespread acceptance of active outreach on the part of boards to make sure diverse perspectives were represented. Leach’s (2005)
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making assessment of Forest Service participation also emphasized the importance of inclusiveness. However, a number of studies cite practical justifications for some limits to inclusiveness. Some of the justifiable restictions that Leach extracted from the literature include excluding journalists, avoiding having too many parties involved, and being selective in including those who have the time and knowledge to effectively engage and are able to accurately reflect the views of their organizations (Leach, 2005; see also Wondolleck and Yaffee, 1994). For example, Floyd et al. (1996) found a negative correlation between the number of parties and perceived efficiency and equity of outcomes. A number of studies have suggested that participation should be restricted to those who can commit for the duration of the process and who have some expertise or can speak authentically for interested and affected groups (Selin and Myers, 1995; Shindler and Neburka, 1997; Yaffee, Wondolleck, and Lippman, 1997). Selin and Chavez (1994) argue that a proper mix of participants, including those with collaborative personalities and diversity of skills and resources, is helpful. Some of these suggestions about whom to include or not to include are related to concerns with decision quality and some to legitimacy. Such suggestions for restricting participation have to be balanced with the importance of building capacity among communities of interested and affected parties, one of the objectives of public participation. Concerns about legitimacy tend to generate recommendations to involve parties that are already organized or that might become organized if they object to a decision—either by open invitation or through representatives. Concerns about quality tend to generate recommendations for breadth in terms of getting all significant viewpoints and sources of knowledge represented. There may be categories of individuals that it makes sense to exclude because of their professional relationship to the policy process. For example, attorneys who might be invovled in litigation about decisions or journalists who are covering the issue may not be appropriate participants. A problem deserving special attention in considering breadth is the balance between national and local interests. In some cases, such as many toxic contamination problems, local issues logically predominate because there are few effects distant from the site. But for many natural resource management problems, there is a strong national interest in both economic development and environmental protection. The U.S.D.A. Forest Service (2000) has noted that local and national perspectives have to be balanced in participatory processes, although Shindler and Neburka (1997) argue that the inclusion of national interest groups may lead to their strong influence on and even domination of a local process. This is a problem deserving further research and careful thought when designing a process. As noted above, the Internet may be helpful in dealing with extra-local participation.
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making Global interests and affected parties are also relevant in some environmental decisions, such as those affecting climate or biodiversity. As discussed in Chapter 7, the spatial scale of the environmental issue affects who the parties are, and particular constellations of parties can present specific challenges to effective public participation. Some of the issues regarding inclusiveness are pragmatic ones. Processes that are too large for real communication are not likely to be effective. The large body of research on collective action includes strong theoretical arguments and evidence that the ability to develop and realize a common agenda is inversely related, among other things, to the size of the group involved (e.g., Olson, 1965; Wade, 1994; Baland and Platteau, 1996). However, there is also contrary evidence (e.g., Marwell and Oliver, 1993). It seems most likely that the effect of group size is mediated by other factors. The ones most likely to be relevant to a public policy process are the levels of heterogeneity and interdependence among those in the group (Agrawal, 2002). In most environmental policy contexts, heterogeneity is fairly high and interdependence relatively low, suggesting that group size is likely to be an impediment to consensus. However, several process formats are specifically designed to accommodate large numbers of participants, including “world cafes,” study circles, online dialogues, and large “town meetings” using electronic polling technology. Having large numbers of interested stakeholders is a contextual variable discussed in more detail in Chapter 8. The larger the number of participants, the greater the transaction costs of engaging with them (National Research Council, 2007a). Some of the process formats for accommodating large numbers can be expensive. An agency has to balance these costs against the value to be gained by engaging all the interested and affected parties and by helping individuals and groups to build capacity. Many practices are available to identify and include all stakeholders. For public hearings and workshops, agencies often provide public notice of the event through advertisements in local newspapers and through press releases or, at the federal level, the Federal Register. Agencies may also send electronic messages to individuals who have attended past workshops or meetings and ask stakeholder organizations to forward meeting notices through their membership communication channels. Public participation professionals often call key stakeholders as part of the initial assessment and process design phase to be proactive about learning who might be interested in participating. In some circumstances, such as under the Negotiated Rulemaking Act and the Federal Advisory Committee Act at the federal level (see Chapter 2), agencies are required to publish a notice of the intent to form an advisory committee and to solicit comments on whether the proposed participant list represents all affected interests. In sum, the literature indicates that it is very important to have rep-
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making resentation for the spectrum of interested and affected parties and that, especially at the outset, it is important to identify all such parties in order to engage them. The research and practitioner literature indicates that it is better to err on the side of too much rather than too little inclusiveness. However, some of the advice emerging from recent studies appears to suggest that the notion of a “spectrum of interested and affected parties” (National Research Council, 1996:30) may be reasonably interpreted differently in relation to the needs of different parts of an assessment or decision process. For example, problem formulation requires enough of a range of parties to get all the plausible problem formulations considered. This may be a somewhat different range of parties from the ones needed to design the process, consider decision options, or interpret scientific information. Because a convening organization cannot always know in advance who will be needed to fulfill these roles, the admonition to err on the side of too much inclusiveness makes sense. Public participation processes are more likely to be successful if they are structured to encourage voluntary commitment to them. Achieving inclusiveness requires that the interested public actually participate. Thus, it is important to understand what would motivate people, whether organized into interest groups or not, to engage seriously in a participatory process. Successful designs maximize existing incentives to participate, create new ones at times, and minimize disincentives and obstacles. Effectively engaging those who might otherwise be absent from or not effective in the participatory process sometimes requires extensive outreach efforts and special ways of engaging those with limited time and skills. Issues that may seem minor to agency staffers, such as scheduling meetings at times and places that are accessible to those who should participate, can be consequential in terms of including certain parties (Tuler and Webler, 1999). Particular care may be needed to engage representatives of organized economic interest groups that may not see the advantage of engaging in a public forum (National Research Council, 2007a). Special efforts to increase attractiveness make a difference because, as noted in several studies of families of public participation cases, it can be difficult to get a broad spectrum of the public to participate and easy for key individuals to drop out of the process as it goes on, either because they feel it is not of value or simply because of the press of other priorities (Bradbury, 2005; Leach, 2005; Moser, 2005). A key feature that makes a participation process attractive is the likelihood that the results of the process will influence agency decision making. Collaborative design of the process can also help make a process attractive to those who should be participating. We address these issues below.
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making participation processes may well benefit by using elements of the standard scientific process of independent peer review. This is especially true if practical constraints require that a process engage with people who are presumed to represent interested and affected parties rather than with all who are interested. In such situations, peer-review-style processes can ensure that the representatives are well calibrated with those they are intended to represent. It also may be useful to submit any interpretations of information resulting from the process to a structured peer review process (National Research Council, 2007a). This process is likely to increase the quality of the product, as well as its legitimacy, and it allows the outputs to be refined as a result of comments received. There is some evidence that holding a group’s outputs “accountable” through a peer review process increases objectivity and reduces bias (Delli Carpini, Cook, and Jacobs, 2004:328). INTENSITY Most studies in the public participation literature find a positive association between the intensity of deliberation—such variables as the number and length of face-to-face interactions and the amount of time participants spend in the process—and desired results (e.g., Beierle and Cayford, 2002). In our judgment, this overall association between intensity and outcomes reflects the great importance of intensity in many situations in which a major controversy or mistrust demands intense interaction to reach a resolution. Intensity may not be as important in other situations. The key point is to have a process for which the intensity is appropriate to the context. Of particular importance is the structure of the face-to-face interactions that are the heart of a participation process. Results can be highly sensitive to the extent to which the participatory process is organized so as to ensure that the advantages of group deliberation are enhanced and the potential adverse effects are minimized. The intensity of the deliberative process does not have a simple or universal relationship to results. The best results follow from processes whose intensity is dictated by responding to context-specific challenges (see Chapters 7 and 8) with appropriate participation strategies. Contexts that present challenges that require intensive interactions, such as those involving serious potential for conflict, can benefit more from high-intensity processes than contexts that do not present such challenges. However, when the context calls for intense interactions, results are highly dependent on how those interactions are organized. Intense deliberative processes create significant potential to promote desired results from participation, but at some costs. They can increase opportunities to improve mutual understanding among those who participate, to modify the process as it proceeds, and for all participants to
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making develop a solid understanding of both the relevant scientific information and the perspectives of various communities used in understanding the issues. However, there can be a trade-off between the intensity and the breadth of participation. Beierle and Cayford (2002) found that in their large sample of cases, more intensive processes tended to be less inclusive and less representative. Furthermore, intense processes may create distance between those participating and other interested and affected parties not involved, thus reducing transparency. They can also lead to consensus on novel solutions among those participating that may meet resistance among the constituencies that the participants are expected to represent. And, of course, more intense processes can be financially costly and so may not be feasible in some circumstances. The research literature does not give a clear overall message regarding intensity, perhaps because the effects of intensity are so dependent on context. Tuler (2003) reviewed 15 multicase studies from different policy arenas, with somewhat mixed results for the intensity of deliberation. For example, Duram and Brown (1998) found no significant relationship between meeting frequency and perceived effectiveness, whereas Henry S. Cole Associates (1996) found that ongoing committees or panels were more effective than forms of participation with less continuity. Although Tuler (2003:18) concluded that “more extensive roles for participants within a process can improve the competence of decisions,” much of the evidence cited seems more closely related to the early involvement of various parties and the incorporation of community knowledge than to the intensity of interactions. Early involvement may imply a longer engagement, and hence greater intensity, but the issue is which variable influences the results. Tuler reported mixed findings about the effect of duration of the process. For example, among the studies examined by Leach, Pelkey, and Sabatier (2002) found that older watershed partnerships had higher perceived impacts, but Gericke and Sullivan (1994), in a study of 61 Forest Service forest land management plans, found that total time spent on public participation did not reduce the number of appeals of forest plans or the time spent to resolve them. However, this same study found that processes involving two-way communications between the Forest Service and stakeholders had a lower probability of high numbers of legal appeals compared with processes in which the Forest Service only gathered information from or provided information to stakeholders. Ashford and Rest (1999), in reviewing successful participation processes at seven hazardous waste cleanup sites, indicated that both longer ongoing procedures and shorter, more intense procedures (e.g., summits) can be successful. Since their study did not include unsuccessful cases, it does not provide evidence of whether or not success is more likely with intensive processes but provides an important existence proof that less
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making intensive processes can yield success. Another such indication comes from a comparison of responses to a willingness-to-pay survey with and without a brief structured group discussion before answering that demonstrated some significant positive effects of even minimal deliberation (Dietz, Stern, and Dan, in press). A few studies of negotiated regulatory rule-making provide evidence based on comparisons between processes that are quite similar in many respects but that differ systematically in the intensity of participation. For example, negotiated rules require much more intense public participation than the conventional, notice-and-comment style of rule-making. A study by Coglianese (1997) reviewed archival sources to compare conventional and negotiated rule-making processes at EPA and found that negotiation neither lowered the probability of subsequent lawsuits nor significantly shortened the amount of time required for rule-making. The study’s methods and conclusions, however, have been strongly disputed (Harter, 2000). Kerwin and Langbein (1995; Langbein, 2005) examined six conventional and eight negotiated rule-makings at EPA and found no difference in litigation rates, but they drew several more nuanced conclusions. Compared with participants in conventional rule-making (who only submitted written comments on proposed rules), participants in regulatory negotiation had more favorable overall assessments of the processes, both in terms of their assessments of the final rule and of some aspects of the process. This was true even though participants in regulatory negotiation perceived the regulatory issues at hand to be more complex than those involved in cases of conventional rule-making and perceived negotiated rules to address more difficult issues of regulatory compliance and implementation (Langbein, 2005). These differences persisted even after controlling statistically for participants’ perceptions of the final rule’s benefit to their own organizations and of economic efficiency for society. In addition to being more satisfied with final rules compared with participants in conventional rule-making, participants in negotiated rule-making varied less in their levels of satisfaction, indicating higher levels of interparticipant agreement or consensus (Langbein, 2005). This study also found differences in evolving relationships between participants and the convening agency and also among participants. Participants in regulatory negotiation were significantly more likely to perceive EPA to have encouraged their participation, compared with participants in conventional rule-making. Although participants in the two formats were equally likely to perceive disproportionate influence by some parties, participants in negotiated rule-making tended to see this disproportionate influence as affecting only aspects of the process, not of the rule. Participants in conventional rule-making more frequently perceived undue influence to manifest in the rule itself, and more frequently named EPA as the interest
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making group with disproportionate influence. In addition, informal negotiations among the participants with the goal of seeking greater unanimity or consensus were more frequent in negotiated rule-making, whereas in conventional rule-making, external informal negotiations were more likely to be aimed at negotiating a rule that would work for EPA (Langbein, 2005). Finally, parties in negotiated rule-making indicated that they learned more than did participants in conventional rules, suggesting an association of deliberation intensity with increased capacity among participants. Some additional studies have examined how intensity influenced the perceptions of the participants. Lubell and Leach (2005) reported that intensiveness of deliberation was positively associated with perceived partnership effectiveness for the National Estuary Program (NEP) and the Watershed Partnership Project (WPP) but noted that causation was uncertain: individuals’ perceptions that a process is effective might cause them to participate more intensively. They also noted that continued participation could lead individuals to make more positive judgments as a way to reduce cognitive dissonance—that is, to justify their investment of time and effort to themselves. Intensiveness in this study was measured by an indicator of teamwork among stakeholders for the NEP and as hours spent on activities for the WPP. In multiple regressions that controlled for other variables, positive relationships were found between intensiveness and the following dependent variables: perceived effectiveness (an index of 12 ecological and social variables), cooperation, and consensus for the NEP, and perceived effects on watersheds and on human and social capital for the WPP. For the WPP, longer project durations were also positively associated with policy agreement and project implementation. Regression analyses predicting policy agreement and project implementation were conducted using the watershed (i.e., the case) as the unit of analysis, whereas all other regressions used the individual respondent as the unit of analysis. Moser’s (2005:63-67) study of participants in the various regional assessments under the National Assessment of Climate Change found similar results. Individuals with more intense involvement judged the assessment as more legitimate and believed it was “more likely to build lasting and trusting relationships or spawn new collaborations” and to produce broader environmental and social outcomes. Although the regional assessments varied greatly in the intensity of the processes used, the small number of respondents per regional assessment made it impossible to analyze the relationships between intensity and the quality of the output by comparing across assessments. Advisory committees are a particularly intense form of public participation. Although some studies have associated advisory committees with successful results (Ashford and Rest, 1999; Bradbury, Branch, and Malone, 2003; Lubell and Leach, 2005), participants from low-income and racial
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making minority communities have expressed frustration with advisory committees that they felt diluted their voices (Ashford and Rest, 1999) and a preference for public meetings, in which they saw their concerns as less likely to be muffled by other interested and affected parties, such as businesses. This concern is consistent with our judgment that it is not intensity in itself that matters, but a design that is appropriate to the context, including the nature of the parties and their relationships. Moser (2005) noted another potential negative effect of intensity: that participants in regional climate change assessments who were more intensely involved might be more disappointed when the assessments were not completed. Taken together, these studies present evidence of a relatively strong positive association between the intensity of deliberation and the success of public participation efforts. However, it is not clear that this association is evidence for a direct causal effect of intensity on success. Rather, the effects of intensity may be spurious, in the sense that more intensive participatory processes tend to be more successful because they tend to include certain kinds of activities or social interactions that are actually responsible for positive effects. It is important to be clear about whether simply increasing intensity (e.g., adding meetings) can be expected to yield better results, or whether those results instead derive from specific actions taken during the meetings that do occur. In our judgment, the latter is more likely the case. This judgment is difficult to test against evidence. Although researchers on public participation have for some time argued that the rules for and structure of the face-to-face interactions characteristic of public participation settings can be very consequential (Dietz and Pfund, 1988; Renn et al., 1993; Renn, Webler, and Wiedemann, 1995), empirical research on environmental public participation has not given much systematic attention to the details of how the interaction among participants is structured. It has instead focused primarily on the contextual issues reviewed in Chapters 7 and 8 and some of the issues of process management, such as breadth and intensity of participation addressed earlier in this chapter. However, a substantial research literature on small-group interaction and deliberative process, much of it conducted by experimental methods that allow for fairly strong inferences about cause and effect, gives ample evidence for the importance of the interaction process and provides useful insight into what happens in relatively intense interactions that affect the quality and legitimacy of their outputs. First, research from a variety of experimental settings demonstrates that face-to-face communication enhances the probability of cooperation (Dawes et al., 1990; Bornstein, 1992; Sally, 1995; Ostrom, 1998; Delli Carpini, Cook, and Jacobs, 2004). It is well known that individuals are more likely to support decisions made by a group if they feel that the decision-making process was fair. Fairness often implies that all views are given
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making reasonable hearing, whether they are held by a majority or a minority of participants. A number of studies have shown that there can be a tendency for groups to converge on majority views (Moscovici and Zavalloni, 1969; Myers and Lamm, 1976; Schkade, Sunstein, and Kahneman, 2000), a result that is likely to bring with it suboptimal-quality decisions, particularly when important information is held by a minority (see, e.g., Gigone and Hastie, 1993, 1997; Wittenbaum, Hubbell, and Zuckerman, 1999; Delli Carpini, Cook, and Jacobs, 2004). However, under well-structured group processes, minority views, rather than being ignored, can cause majority groups to “consider new alternatives and perspectives,” “seek out new information,” and “empathize with the minority’s viewpoints” (Delli Carpini, Cook, and Jacobs, 2004:327). Well-structured interactions can also reduce bias and increase agreement (Gaertner et al., 1999). In their study of willingness to pay with and without small group deliberation, Dietz, Stern, and Dan (in press) found no evidence of convergence on the majority opinion but did find that group participation led respondents to take more aspects of the choice into account in assessing their willingness to pay and to be less influenced by their personal perspectives. However, strong communication within groups and cooperation can also degrade communication and cooperation across different interacting groups (Bornstein, 1992; Insko et al., 1993; Mendelberg, 2002). This research suggests that although enhanced communication and cooperation within a group engaged in deliberation is a benefit of the process, it holds the potential for alienating those actively participating from the larger groups they represent, with a resulting loss of transparency and trust in the process by the larger community. A number of studies emphasize the importance of different “languages” that are deployed by various groups in deliberation (see Delli Carpini, Cook, and Jacobs, 2004, and Mendelberg, 2002, for discussions of this research). Public participation in environmental assessment and decision making inevitably involves multiple such languages, including those of technical experts, such as scientists and lawyers; experts on what is politically and organizationally feasible, such as agency officials and politicians; and interested and affected parties, who bring knowledge of both local context and the concerns of their communities (e.g., Dietz, 1987). There are likely to be substantial differences in languages within each of these three types of participants as well. It is thus crucial to have a process of interaction structured so that language barriers to mutual understanding can be overcome. In particular, it is important that domains of expertise be acknowledged but also delimited, so that expertise in one area (e.g., scientific expertise about the dynamics of an ecosystem) does not become conflated with expertise in
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making another (e.g., expertise on what is important to members of the local community) (Mendelberg, 2002). A recent review of the literature on public deliberation (Delli Carpini, Cook, and Jacobs, 2004:336) concludes that “although the research summarized in this essay demonstrates numerous positive benefits of deliberation, it also suggests that deliberation, under less optimal circumstances, can be ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst.” We echo those findings. A number of specific procedures for conducting face-to-face deliberations have been proposed, which may provide useful guidance. However, because of the great variety of settings and the potential for surprises in dynamic social processes, we think it is more important to identify and focus on principles of good process, such as those enumerated at the beginning of this chapter, than to closely follow any set procedure. We emphasize that the processes and methods used in the face-to-face interaction at the heart of a typical participation process must be tailored to the context, as discussed in Chapters 7 and 8. INFLUENCE As discussed in Chapter 2, the power to make public policy decisions about the environment is typically vested by legislatures in government agencies. Thus, the formal power and influence of the public on these decisions lies in the ability to elect legislators and chief executives, to contest administrative decisions in courts or in established appeal procedures, and to influence decisions in administrative procedures established by law. However, agencies also have considerable discretion to go beyond the letter of the law and open themselves to input and influence from interested and affected parties in many ways, both in assessing environmental conditions and in dealing with them. From the perspective of public administration, this is the import of the kinds of public participation mechanisms examined in this volume. Such mechanisms can vary considerably in the degree to which they provide for public influence. This section examines evidence on how the extent to which public participation processes invite or allow such influence affects their results. Public participation processes yield better results when they are transparent to those involved and to those observing them. Transparency includes an understanding of the purpose and objectives of the assessment or decision process and of the legal and administrative authorities, requirements, and constraints governing it and public participation in it. Transparent processes typically include ongoing communication about the process and public access to information about the process and about informational and other inputs to it. Transparency is necessary for the possibility of public influence, and
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making most research indicates that it is essential to effective participatory processes. Transparency does not necessarilty require that every meeting and activity be open to the public. There are valid reasons for having some nonpublic activities within a broadly transparent process (see Chambers, 2005). However, when an agency is perceived as having a history of secrecy and decision making “behind closed doors,” it can be particularly difficult for the public to accept a process that is not fully open (Bradbury, 2005:9). In such instances, a process that provides open access to information in a way that is appropriate for the participants can help in overcoming mistrust (Bradbury, 2005). The benefits of transparency have been documented from the earliest through the final stages of public participation processes. Several studies found that transparency in the process of selecting participants partly determines the credibility and legitimacy of the overall program (National Research Council, 1996, 2007a; Watson, Bulkeley, and Hudson, 2004). At least one study noted that it can be helpful to ask participants to publicly state their biases at the outset of the process (National Research Council, 2007a). In the later stages of a decision process, some studies have suggested that transparent and extensive reviews can help to increase credibility, partly by expanding the number of involved stakeholders (Edwards and Schneider, 2001; Watson, Bulkeley, and Hudson, 2004; Goldschmidt and Renn, 2006; National Research Council, 2007a). A substantial literature shows that given an open process and access to scientific information, the public can develop sound understandings of many aspects of enviornmental science and thereby increase their capacity to participate in future decisions (Brown and Mikkelsen, 1990; Kinney et al., 2002; McCormick et al., 2004; McCormick, 2006, 2007a,b). For example, Brown and colleagues (Brown et al., 2004, 2006; McCormick, Brown, and Zavestoski, 2004; McCormick et al., 2004; Zavestoski, McCormick, and Brown, 2004) examined health movements and found that these movements, which are usually disease specific, are quite effective at forming liaisons with health researchers and identifying inadequacies in research on the diseases that are their focus. In particular, these movements have emphasized the need to examine environmental causes of disease. McCormick (2006, 2007b), in a case study of popular resistance to dam construction in Brazil, shows how citizen activists, working with scientists, produced new scientific conceptualizations of the issues to be addressed in considering the dams. In at least one North American case, stakeholder mediation over plans to dam a river generated a broader slate of options, including not only flood control, but also more general economic, land use, and conservation planning for the affected area (Cormick, 1980). Another stakeholder group, advising the U.S. Department of Energy on remediation of a nuclear weapons facility was credited by the agency for a cost savings of more than $2 billion (Applegate and Dycus, 1998; Beierle and Cayford,
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making 2002). The ability of citizens to produce such pertinent and effective recommendations requires that they acquire pragmatic understandings of agency goals, capabilities, and constraints. One practice that has been advocated on grounds of transparency is that of establishing fixed rules of process and decision making. The evidence on the effects of this approach is mixed: Leach (2005) found that seven studies of public participation in the Forest Service concluded that clear fixed rules contributed to success, while two studies favored flexible or informal processes. We note, however, that it is possible to achieve transparency and to have a process open to public influence with process rules that are relatively stable or that change substantially over time. The keys are the nature and extent of public influence in setting or changing the process rules and the openness of information about rule-setting and changing. Some types of participatory process cannot be open to all who are interested, simply for practical reasons. When participation must be limited to representatives of various groups and points of view, transparency regarding who is selected and how they are selected is especially important (National Research Council, 2007a). And as noted above, a peer review process may be useful in ensuring that representatives are in fact representing the views of the groups from which they were selected. Participatory processes have better results when all parties commit to act in good faith and maintain communications with each other and those they represent. Good-faith communication is partly a matter of attitudes, but it also involves behavior (e.g., responding appropriately to input from others) and creating and maintaining mechanisms for communication to and from decision makers, scientists, interested and affected parties, and the public. It involves, for the responsible agency and the interested and affected parties, keeping the other parties informed of progress and reporting on actions taken or other changes that may affect the process and the reasons why such changes occurrred. A negotiated consensus on rules for communication, deliberation, and decision making, before the substantive issues are discussed, creates a basis for good-faith communication because with agreed-on procedural rules, it is easier for the moderator to enforce these rules and to ensure fair play among all participants. Especially when an agency has problems of public trust, demonstrations of good-faith communication through action and the maintenance of mechanisms provides an avenue for public influence and an indication to interested and affected parties that influence is possible. Good-faith communication on the part of all parties is important for an open and transparent process and, obviously, for maintaining trust among parties. Research on group processes suggests that perception of outcomes can be influenced by how participants treat each other (e.g., Leventhal, 1980; Tyler and Lynd, 1992). Bradbury (2005) reported several specific
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making examples in which DOE took special steps to ensure open, clear communication among parties that contributed substantially to the success of its processes. She also noted that the agency’s clear and ongoing demonstration of a commitment to take public inputs seriously was helpful in overcoming mistrust. Leach (2005) found that both professional facilitation and the training of participants in communications skills enhanced the chances of success. Although facilitation and training do not preclude disingenous communications, they can reduce misunderstandings. CONCLUSION The evidence supports four principles of good practice for organizing public participation processes: inclusiveness, collaborative problem formulation and process design, transparency of process, and good-faith communication. As with the management principles described in Chapter 4, it is not always easy to implement these principles, and some contexts can make it especially difficult to implement certain principles. In difficult situations, success depends on identifying the likely difficulties and finding ways to address them. We return to these issues in Chapters 7 and 8. NOTE 1This summary of public participation formats is limited to those in which government agencies might choose to become directly involved. As discussed in Chapter 1, other modes of public participation may be initiated outside the auspices of government agencies. They include voting in elections, citizen ballot initiatives, citizen referendums, New England–style town meetings, lobbying of legislatures and executive offices, formal and informal debates and deliberations, public information campaigns, public demonstrations, civil disobedience, lawsuits, and other activities. These extra-agency activities may proceed on timelines that either support or interfere with agency-led forms of public participation.
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