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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making
public should be directly involved in doing so remain matters of debate. As noted above and discussed in more detail below, the challenges of public participation in administrative processes are so great that some have questioned the value of the enterprise. But, if public concerns are not adequately addressed in such processes, people can and do become politically involved outside them, through elections, lobbying, social movements, and judicial actions. The issue for policy, and for this report, is whether public involvement in these processes can be organized in ways that provide net benefits at acceptable costs. Our goal is to review what is known about public participation and to extract lessons from that knowledge that can guide such effective participation.
In this volume, we apply social science to the task of informing the continuing discussion about methods of public participation. Although simple prescriptions cannot be found, we think that choices of methods for participation can be usefully informed by empirically and theoretically grounded analysis of how approaches to public participation, deployed in different contexts, influence the results. Our assessment, like other scientific analyses, requires context-specific diagnosis and judgment before being translated into policy. There is no escape from values and judgment in making what are fundamentally political decisions. Consequently, any reasonably comprehensive examination of public participation in environmental decision making must take into account the political context and consequences of such decisions.
Thus we emphasize that the design of any public participation process reflects value choices and the political power of the players to influence those choices, beginning with the decision about what questions are the focus of analysis and deliberation (Thomas, 1995; Schneider and Ingram, 1997; King, Feltey, and O’Neil Susel, 1998; Walters, Aydelotte, and Miller, 2000; Feldman and Khademian, 2002; Wynne, 2005). Those design choices have the potential to advantage some interests over others, empower some and disempower others, and lend differential credence to some values, preferences, and beliefs over others (e.g., Bingham, 1986; Dietz, Stern, and Rycroft, 1989; Forester and Stitzel, 1989; Stirling, 2006, 2008). The advantage of grounding the design of public participation processes in lessons from scientific analysis of public participation is that it can help avoid unintended consequences and make more transparent the implications of the choices made. As subsequent chapters show, the research literature on public participation, while rapidly evolving, already provides sound guidance for the design of effective participation processes.
This chapter begins with a brief overview of the historical development of public participation in U.S. environmental policy management at the federal level. This history shows that public participation has been proposed to serve a variety of purposes, that there is a long record of contestation