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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making
We also offer advice for implementing the principles. For reasons discussed in Chapter 8, we do not consider it advisable to recommend specific techniques as “best practices” for general use. Instead, we recommend a best process for selecting such techniques and for monitoring their effectiveness and adjusting them to achieve the desired purposes.
We remind the reader that there are many goals for public participation processes and thus many criteria for what constitutes a “good” or “effective” outcome and a “good” or “effective” process. Goals include both those focused on the quality of environmental assessments and decisions and those focused on the relationships among the participants. Participation ideally should improve the quality of assessments and decisions and their legitimacy among those involved and potentially affected. It should lead to increased understanding and decision-making capacity among agency officials, scientists, and the interested and affected parties involved and the interests they represent.1 And it should enhance the ability to implement decisions once they are made both by producing better decisions and by producing legitimate, credible, and well-understood decisions.
The evidence suggests that in most cases, these three kinds of desired results are complementary rather than contradictory: achieving one goal of participation usually accompanies success in reaching other goals. A substantial portion of this chapter presents our conclusions and recommendations regarding how best to proceed. Thus, we present a series of principles for public participation that, if implemented in a way that is sensitive to context, can aid in achieving desirable outcomes, and we recommend a process for finding ways to implement those principles in the context at hand.
Our conclusions and recommendations are based on the convergence of multiple lines of evidence, including studies with one or a few cases; statistical analyses of many cases; systematic case comparisons, including several conducted for this study; our review of basic social science research relevant to public participation; analysis of the legal framework for participation; an assessment of practitioner experience embedded in handbooks and agency guidance; and the expertise of the panel members. Systematic research on public participation is still relatively new, and although the literature is growing rapidly, we had to use our judgment to evaluate different forms of evidence. We think our conclusions and recommendations are reasonably robust given the state of knowledge and practice but, as with any statements based on an emerging field of research, we will not be surprised if further work suggests modifications to and elaborations of them.