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7 Context: The Issue T his chapter and the next review evidence on how the context in which an environmental decision is made influences public partici- pation. By context we mean factors that are outside the control of those who convene a public participation process, at least in the short term. These factors may explain the variation in results associated with particu- lar modes of practice in public participation, and they must be taken into account in planning and implementing public participation. Unfortunately there is no established theory that specifies which contextual factors matter, and how they matter, to the results of public participation. We consider contextual factors under five broad categories of attributes that cover much of the variation: the purpose of the process (assessment or decision making); the environmental issue under consideration; the state of the relevant science, including scientific uncertainties and disagreements; the responsible agency and the laws and external organizations that affect the assessment or decision; and the interested and affected parties. We examine the first three, issue-related aspects of context in this chapter; we examine the last two, the people-related aspects, in Chapter 8. In both chapters, we draw conclusions from the range of available evidence about whether these contextual factors make a difference in terms of the likelihood of a successful process or in what a convening organization needs to do to make the process successful. The available evidence indicates that some contextual factors make little difference to the effects of public participation. Others can make an important difference, although they seldom present insurmountable barriers to successful public participation or determine the results in and of them- 157
158 PUBLIC PARTICIPATION selves. Rather, contextual factors can make the principles of good public participation described in Chapters 4-6 harder to implement. In this chapter and the next, we describe some of these relationships and provide examples of tools that practitioners have used to attempt to overcome contextual difficulties, although evidence on the efficacy of these tools is weak. For this reason and others elaborated in Chapter 8, we do not recommend any of the tools discussed as âbest practice.â In Chapter 9, we recommend a process for identifying effective ways to address the various difficulties that can arise in the many contexts of public participation. The evidence reviewed in this chapter and the next shows that achiev- ing quality and legitimacy and building capacity in public participation depend very much on how well a participatory process is tailored to the challenges or potential difficulties presented in any specific context. Ad- dressing certain key questions can aid substantially in diagnosing them. Such diagnosis, in turn, enables more explicit consideration of processes and approaches that can help overcome potential problems or make ac- commodations for them. Our review of available knowledge and experience enables us to de- scribe a set of diagnostic questions that can be useful for identifying those aspects of a situation that are likely to make a difference in the outcome of a public participation process and the ways in which these contextual fac- tors may affect the process. Such diagnosis can form the basis for tailoring participation processes for more successful results. PURPOSE OF THE PROCESS: ASSESSMENT OR DECISION MAKING The evidence indicates that the determinants of successful public par- ticipation are largely the same for processes focused on assessment and those focused on decision making. Direct comparisons of the two purposes are not possible because of a lack of studies of multiple public participation cases that include both as- sessment and decision-making objectives. However, it is possible to consider whether success is easier to achieve or whether different factors are condu- cive to success when the objectives are different (Stirling, 2006). Public participation in environmental assessments involves a shift away from an approach in which only scientists participated in gathering and synthesizing information, and reflects increasing acceptance of the idea that nonscientists possess knowledge and expertise that complements the expertise of the scientific community and can help improve environmental understanding, particularly when it is applied to practical problems. Expe- rience is accumulating as the conveners of assessments respond to calls for public involvement in risk assessment (National Research Council, 1989,
CONTEXT: THE ISSUE 159 1994, 1996; President/Congressional Commission on Risk Assessment and Risk Management, 1997a,b) and global environmental change assessment (National Research Council, 2007a). Government science agencies at vari- ous levels and in different countries have increasingly engaged publics in environmental assessments (Kasemir et al., 2003). Examples include the U.S. National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Vari- ability and Change (http://www.usgcrp.gov/usgcrp/nacc/default.htm), the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (http://www.maweb.org/en/index.aspx), and the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (http://www.acia.uaf.edu/) (see National Research Council, 2007a). The Presidential/Congressional Commission on Risk Assessment and Risk Management (1997b:75-76) offered, in the report subsection on âIdentifying Highly Exposed Populations,â a compelling example of how public participation in environmental assessment can contribute to âgetting the science rightâ by gathering important information for analysis that is not otherwise available. Some population groups are at increased risk for toxic effects of chemical exposures because their exposures are greater than those of other popula- tion groups. Cultural practices, occupational exposures, behavior patterns, eating habits, and effects of related chemicals can be responsible. The high- risk subpopulations might be of special concern when risk assessments are conducted and risk management decisions are made. Risk assessors often have not sought information from knowledgeable citizens and con- sequently have not explicitly considered specific exposure conditions that might be present in minority group communities, certain occupational settings, or areas of particular socioeconomic status. The commission recommended broad participation and further acknowl- edged the possibility that public engagement might even enhance the quality of risk management decision making (Presidential/Congressional Commis- sion on Risk Assessment and Risk Management, 1997b:76-77): Affected parties should be consulted in the early stages of an assessment to obtain information about all known sources of exposure to a particu- lar chemical and related chemicals and to characterize exposure factors peculiar to particular subpopulations. . . . Specific information gathered from the community and stakeholders could reduce the need for default assumptions and improve the quality of risk assessments. . . . Community assistance in characterizing exposure factors peculiar to particular seg- ments of the population can focus a risk assessment and broaden risk management options. There are relatively few careful analyses comparing different degrees of public participation in comparable environmental assessments. As we note
160 PUBLIC PARTICIPATION in Chapter 3, a study of a set of global environmental assessments (Mitchell et al., 2006) found that the extent of stakeholder involvement was strongly and positively associated with the perceived impacts of the assessments and that those impacts were dependent on the scientific credibility of the assess- ments, their legitimacy, and on whether their results were perceived as deci- sion relevant. Participation, the study concluded, fosters all three results. The National Research Council (2007a) study of global change assessments similarly noted the advantages of broad participation but also noted costs in terms of efficiency. A review of several European environmental assess- ments found that stakeholder participation has increased the knowledge base of modelers and added credibility to both the assessment process and the concerns of stakeholders (Welp et al., 2007). Moser (2005) and Morgan et al. (2005) provide detailed analyses of the U.S. National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change. The national assessment was perhaps the most ambitious effort yet undertaken in the United States to engage scientists and citizens in a deliberative process intended to produce an assessment rather than policy recommendations. The results of these analyses are com- plex. Participants varied considerably in their views of whether or not the national assessment was successful in producing sound information about climate change and its impacts, giving it an average grade of a high âCâ or low âB.â There seemed to be a general sense among participants that the idea behind the assessment was sound and the process useful, but that the effort did not have sufficient resources, an important issue for participation in decisions as well (discussed in Chapter 4). The meaning of these data is unclear because of the absence of comparable cases, which would make it possible to determine whether respondentsâ lukewarm evaluations reflected the character of climate change as an environmental problem, the nature of public participation in an assessment rather than a policy process, the shortage of resources, or other issues. A fairly extensive body of practice-based knowledge exists for evalu- ating the effects of public participation in environmental assessment and determining which factors affect them, much of it examined in reviews of the practice of risk assessment (e.g., National Research Council, 1996; Presidential/Congressional Commission on Risk Assessment and Risk Man- agement, 1997a,b) and in the recent study of global change assessments (National Research Council, 2007a; Welp et al., 2007). As is discussed in Chapter 3, there is strong convergence between the practical lessons that come out of this experience and the ones drawn by practitioners of regulatory negotiation, environmental dispute resolution, and other deci- sion-focused public participation processes. We see no evidence to support organizing public participation differently for supporting assessments and for decisions.
CONTEXT: THE ISSUE 161 NATURE OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUE The evidence indicates that subject matter of an environmental assess- ment or decision has little direct effect on the ability of the public participa- tion process to produce good results. Certain environmental issues, because of specific characteristics, often create particular difficulties in participatory processes that, if left unaddressed, can affect the likelihood of success. However, the nature of the issue by itself is not the determining factor in achieving successful results. Much more important is the design of the pro- cesses to address potential difficulties. Subject Matter Subject matter has little direct effect on the results of participation. Public participation is used in environmental assessment and decision- making processes related to highly diverse substantive issues: air quality standards, biotechnology policy, brownfields remediation, climate change, dam relicensing, forest planning, habitat restoration, highway construction, oceans policy, water allocation, wetlands protection, and many other top- ics. Subject matter is also diverse at an abstract level: one can distinguish decision processes that focus on collective goods (resources) or collective bads (pollution); involve human health effects or nonhealth effects; do or do not raise environmental justice issues; do or do not concern harm to innocents; and so forth. These differences suggest to some that the ways in which public participation efforts unfold and, in particular, the factors leading to better or worse outcomes, may differ substantially on the basis of the subject. Agencies or divisions of agencies are usually specialized around one or a few substantive areas. Specialists in a substantive area sometimes believe that that area is unique, so that experience in other areas is not relevant. Many are skeptical, for example, that there is any useful transfer of knowledge from forest planning to remediating a contaminated site or to engaging the public in assessments of climate change impacts. This argument seems to make intuitive sense. Public concerns are dif- ferent in different substantive domains. They can vary widely. For example, concern in one setting may focus on health risks to a community, especially children, and on the costs of cleanup of toxic contamination. In another setting, concern may focus on the revenues to be generated by timber harvesting and the reduction of ancient forest habitat. In other settings, concern may focus on the competition for water for municipal, agricultural, and recreational uses or any of dozens of other issues. Yet despite these differences, the proposition that successful outcomes are more likely to be achieved for some environmental issues than others finds little support in research on public participation. Studies that have compared public partici-
162 PUBLIC PARTICIPATION pation in different problem contexts generally fail to find that the type of environmental problem is related to the likelihood of successful results (e.g., Bingham, 1986; Consensus Building Institute, 1999; Beierle and Cayford, 2002; Mitchell et al., 2006). These studies also suggest that the factors that lead to better or worse outcomes are essentially the same across types of environmental issues. For example, the geographic scale of the issues or the number of agencies with jurisdiction over aspects of the decision to be made are important attributes to consider in the design of a participation process, regardless of whether the environmental issue is toxic waste management, ecosystem planning, or climate change assessment. Beierle and Cayford (2002:40-41) conclude from their extensive comparative study that âdifferences among environ- mental issues, preexisting relationships, and institutional contexts appear to play surprisingly small roles in determining whether public participation is successful. . . . [They] play a role in how participatory processes play out, but they do not appear to predetermine outcomes.â Potential Difficulties Environmental issues may have certain characteristics that predispose to particular difficulties in participatory processes. The available evidence suggests that these characteristics affect public participation by making it easier or harder to implement the principles of good practice described in Chapters 4-6, such as clarity of purpose, inclusiveness of representation, and availability of decision-relevant information. It is the way such dif- ficulties are addressed, more than the environmental issue, that affects the prospects for success. For example, temporal and spatial scales associated with an issue may affect the number of interested and affected parties and who among them is able to participate. Such characteristics as complexity of the issues, qualita- tive characteristics of the hazards, and collective action and common-pool attributes can also affect the complexities of the relationships among the parties and the processes of organizing and deliberating necessary for an effective public participation process. We explore each of these separately. Temporal Scale Issues of the time scale appropriate for environmental decision making are at the heart of many debates about sustainability. For example, deci- sion making about long-lived environmental hazards can create challenges because of needs for long-term monitoring (Leach, Sabatier, and Quinn, 2005). Research on common-pool resource management has long empha- sized the need for institutional mechanisms involving all resource users
CONTEXT: THE ISSUE 163 (e.g., Ostrom, 1990; National Research Council, 2002a), and there has been increasing interest in public participation in the design of institutional mechanisms for addressing such long-lived problems as ecosystem restora- tion and management of radioactive waste. For example, a diverse set of civic leaders in Washington State convened a participatory initiative across 14 watersheds following the listing of Puget Sound Chinook salmon as an endangered species. The effort resulted in the adoption of a federal recovery plan and state legislation in 2007 establishing the Puget Sound Partnership, a new state agency with cabinet-level status governed by a seven-member âleadership council.â The literature on public participation has not yet addressed temporal scale explicitly other than to say that representation of the interests of fu- ture generations and sustaining collaborative governance mechanisms for problems spanning generations pose obvious difficulties. It is not clear how well public participation processes deal with the difficult trade-offs between short-term and long-term benefits, costs, and risks. Certainly one of the goals of participation processes is to address the beliefs and values of af- fected publics on just such trade-offs, and, if possible, develop a consensus on such issues that can guide decision making. Many of the tools of conflict resolution, decision science, and economics are intended to aid in such ef- forts. See Chapter 8 for further discussion of value trade-offs. Spatial Scale The scale or scope of the problem plays an important role in defining who the appropriate public is (Markus, Chess, and Shannon, 2005). For some local environmental problems, such as remediating contaminated sites, it can be relatively easy to identify the affected population. Other is- sues are localized but have aspects that are of broader public concern. For example, a decision to develop mineral resources in a wilderness area may have very localized economic and ecological effects but generate national or global interest, perhaps because of an endangered species. Some environ- mental issues, such as transport of air pollutants and the management of the Great Lakes, are regional. Still others, such as climate change and ozone depletion, are global in scope. There are some indications that environmen- tal issues with well-defined geographic boundaries can provide a focus that is compelling to participants (Wondolleck and Yaffee, 1997). The limited available evidence suggests that the success of public par- ticipation processes does not depend on whether the issue is local, regional, or national. Processes conducted at large geographic and institutional scales do present potential difficulties for public participation, notably that of ensuring adequate access and representation of the number and range of interested and affected parties. In such situations, practitioners have used a
164 PUBLIC PARTICIPATION variety of formats, including holding workshops in multiple locations, In- ternet participation, study circles, deliberative polling, and formal represen- tative processes, such as blue-ribbon commissions or mediated negotiations among organized interests. With sufficient resources, each of these can be designed to achieve representation over large geographic scales. Achieving inclusive representation when both local and regional or national interests exist may pose the greatest difficulties. When resources permit, multiple processes with different formats can be used so that pro- cesses suitable for local participation can be linked to processes that can reach those at a distance who may be concerned about a local action. For example, in its Western Oregon Plan Revision process, the Bureau of Land Management held dozens of local open houses combined with an Internet site for electronic submission of comments, periodic newsletters, and regu- lar meetings with âformal cooperators,â including state and federal agen- cies and representatives of many of the affected western Oregon counties. As Lubell and Leach (2005) point out, environmental problems that span political boundaries cannot be addressed by individual agencies work- ing in isolation. The more agencies that have jurisdiction over parts of the issue, the more difficult it can be to establish a clear purpose for the process and obtain commitments about how the results will be used. Interagency working groups are sometimes used to address this difficulty, although this approach can present complications of its own. The overwhelming majority of research on public participation has focused on local and regional issues in which participants live close enough to each other so that face-to-face interaction can be the basis of participa- tion. While there are notable exceptions, most participation practitioners have more experience with local and regional processes than with national or international ones. National policy issues constituted only about 16 percent of the cases of public participation in Beierle and Cayfordâs (2002) large database. That study compared state and national policy issues with site-specific issues and found a correlation between scale and a composite measure of success of only +0.02. So it would appear that there is little reason to expect differences in success based on geographic scale alone. However, the organizations that convened the large-scale cases included in their database appear to have had adequate resources for handling the ac- cess problems raised by scale. Although research is limited on the role that temporal and spatial scales play in the outcomes of public participation processes, scale clearly affects the level of effort required to get adequate participation by the range of relevant parties.
CONTEXT: THE ISSUE 165 Complexity Although characteristics of the environmental issue do not strongly and directly affect the likelihood of a successful public participation process, they may affect the motivation of the potential participants, and motiva- tion has a moderate positive correlation with success (Beierle and Cayford, 2002). Lubell and Leach (2005), for example, found that watershed part- nerships are most likely to develop in severely degraded watersheds, an association that they attribute to the motivational levels of the participants. However, their overall conclusion is that âfeatures of the watershed itself, such as size and problem severity, influence success much less than do the social and structural characteristics of the process.â Langbein (2005) found that participantsâ satisfaction with negotiated rule-making procedures was lower when the process was more complex. Complexity of issues may contribute to diversity of perspectivesâhaving many sides with a variety of interests in the outcome rather than only two perspectives: those opposed and those in favor of a particular action. It was this feature of the conflict more than the environmental issue itself that made a difference. Langbeinâs finding for regulatory negotiations may also apply to many, if not most, other environmental contexts, such as water resource use plans, climate change policy, and transportation projects, in which there may be many sides. The more sides to an issue, the more likely that there will be multiple views about what the focus of a public participation process should be. This can make clarity of purpose difficult to achieve and requires careful atten- tion to developing shared understandings of how different participants un- derstand the issues. A member of the panel reported a local example. When a mining company with mineral rights near a national wildlife refuge in the Southeast took the initiative to involve interested stakeholders in its permit application process, many sides quickly emerged. Some were interested in the opportunity for new jobs associated with the mine; others brought the knowledge and historic concerns of regional Native American people; still others were concerned about the impact on the wildlife refuge. Some were responsible for implementing state law, others had federal responsibilities, and still others were local elected officials. These sides had differing views about what would constitute a legitimate purpose and scope for the process. Some participants would only participate if the question were whether or not to open the mine, while others would only participate if the question were how to mine in an environmentally appropriate manner. In this case, two processes were conducted in parallel, neither of which required par- ticipants to agree in advance that a permit would be approved. In one, the participants discussed the circumstances under which the company would withdraw its proposal. In the other, participants developed the scope and
166 PUBLIC PARTICIPATION approach to an environmental assessment process to identify potential im- pacts of the mine, if it were to be permitted. The result of the first process was an agreement not to open a mine. Qualitative Characteristics of Risks Considerable research shows that peopleâs judgments and levels of concern about environmental and other risks depend on a number of qualitative characteristics of the hazards in addition to the probability and magnitude of the potential harm (Fischhoff et al., 1978; Slovic, Fischoff, and Lichtenstein, 1979, 1980, 1985, 1986; Slovic, 1987, 2000; McDaniels, Axelrod, and Slovic, 1995, 1996; McDaniels et al., 1997; Lazo et al., 2000; Rosa, Matsuda, and Kleinhesselink, 2000; Morgan et al., 2001; Willis et al., 2004, 2005; Slimak and Dietz, 2006; Willis and DeKay, 2007). For example, things that are perceived as under individual control, such as smoking and driving, tend to be perceived as relatively less risky than things that are perceived as less controllable, such as exposure to toxic substances in the air and flying by commercial jetliner. Hazards that threaten especially catastrophic or dreaded outcomes, such as genetic damage to future genera- tions, are likely to be perceived as especially risky. Research also indicates that such factors are also associated with peopleâs desires for stricter government regulations or other risk reduc- tion efforts (e.g., Slovic, Fischhoff, and Lichtenstein, 1985; Slovic, 1987; Baron, Hershey, and Kunreuther, 2000; Willis et al., 2005), suggesting that the kinds of risks presented by environmental conditionsâand the emotions that those risks evokeâmay affect the propensity of otherwise uninvolved individuals to become involved. For example, Fischhoff, Nadai, and Fischhoff (2001) reported that firms that engage in activities involving unknown, dreaded hazards are more likely to be the target of consumer boycotts and more likely to be screened out by socially responsible invest- ment funds (see also Stern, Dietz, and Black, 1986). An intense emotional reaction can act as a signal to take immediate action (e.g., Lazarus, 1991; Cacioppo et al., 1999; Loewenstein et al., 2001), but in some contexts it impairs effective responding (Holloway et al., 1997; DiGiovanni, 1999; Loewenstein et al., 2001). The difference may depend on the nature of the emotion evoked. Characteristics of the environmental issue that generate involvement can make it easier to secure participation from otherwise silent segments of the public. However, there are cases in which high motivation is accompa- nied by substantial mistrust of either the agency involved or of other par- ticipants, and that mistrust can make effective participation very difficult. The point is that it is not the character of the environmental problem itself that is critical, but, rather, the history of the problem and the psychologi-
CONTEXT: THE ISSUE 167 cal and social factors and relationships that emerge from that history (e.g., Peters and Slovic, 1996; Loewenstein et al., 2001). Collective Action and Common-Pool Resources Research on collective action and the management of common-pool resources (e.g., Olson, 1965; Ostrom, 1990; National Research Council, 2002a; Dietz, Ostrom, and Stern, 2003) supports the idea that results depend much less on what kind of resource is involved than on the distri- bution of costs and benefits and other issues related to acquiring informa- tion, monitoring the environmental condition and the people involved, and resolving conflict. For example, some issues, such as construction of a new electrical transmission line, subway station, or highway, tend to align many who may benefit or lose a little on one side against a few on the other side who stand to lose or gain a lot. In such cases, effective participation by the many can be difficult to obtain. We return to the issue of involving the parties in Chapter 8. Motivation to resolve conflict can also be a critical component to a suc- cessful participation process. Such motivation may come from the nature and intensity of a personâs or groupâs interests in a resource problem or from a shared recognition of the interdependent nature of participantsâ interests (Selin and Myers, 1995; Yaffee, Wondolleck, and Lippman, 1997). Moti- vation may also increase when participants perceive a political stalemate in which there is a lack of viable alternatives to collaboration (U.S.D.A. Forest Service, 2000). These examples suggest some of the ways that the characteristics of an environmental issue or hazard may affect public par- ticipation processes by affecting the motivation of important segments of the public to participate. These findings have two hopeful implications. One is that good public participation practice, in the form of processes designed to meet the poten- tial difficulties that the problem context may create, can improve results for any kind of environmental issue. The other is that what is learned from ex- periences with public participation in one problem area can be transferred to others: strategies for addressing potential difficulties may be transferable across environmental issues. THE SCIENCE Although scientific complexity and uncertainty are often cited as bar- riers to effective public participation and although scientific knowledge is nearly always limited relative to the question being asked, the available evidence fails to support the contention that incomplete or difficult science precludes effective public participation. How the available knowledge is
168 PUBLIC PARTICIPATION introduced and used in the process and how new information is generated seem to matter more than the characteristics of the knowledge itself. In Chapter 6 we review some of the practices that allow for effective integration of science and public participation. These practices are espe- cially important because there has been a tremendous increase over the past decade in the amount of scientific information available to inform environmental policy as well as an improvement in methods for assessing and integrating that information. Despite this growth in the quantity and quality of information brought to environmental decision making, it is rare to face a policy problem for which the information lights the way to a single solution acceptable to all interested and affected parties. In some situations, significant additional information may not further clarify the policy options, and, in most situations, value conflicts are important enough that scientific information alone, no matter what its quality, will not be suf- ficient to determine a decision. Here we focus on the potential difficulties in public participation that may arise because of the importance of scientific information in environmental assessment and decision making. As noted in Chapter 6, Bingham (2003) has provided a useful classifi- cation of the kinds of problems that can arise in science-intensive disputes. She suggests that there are five âknotsâ that tie up such disputes: (1) the adequacy of the information for the problem, (2) the clarity of the decision- making process with respect to science, (3) the problems parties have deal- ing with the data, (4) the problems scientists have among themselves and in communicating with stakeholders, and (5) problems of trust. Each of these is present to some degree in nearly every environmental assessment and decision process. Box 7-1, which draws on this classification, identifies four key sets of questions about the available scientific information that are diagnostic in the sense that the participatory processes can benefit from being designed differently depending on the answers. Adequacy of Information The information available to understand an environmental issue can be insufficient in many ways, of which knowledge gaps and scientific uncer- tainty are only the most obvious ones. Indeed, a very long list of reasons for scientific inadequacy is easy to develop (see Fischhoff, 1989, and Bingham, 2003, for useful compilations). Data may be outdated or from the wrong context. Models may not address key issues of concern, may rely on as- sumptions that are not accepted by everyone, or may be of limited applica- bility to the context being considered. Inadequacy of information includes situations in which all participants can readily recognize knowledge gaps as well as situations in which knowledge seems adequate to some participants and inadequate to others because they see the problem differently. Any of
CONTEXT: THE ISSUE 169 BOX 7-1 Key Questions Regarding the Character of the Science Available in Environmental Assessments and Decisions 1. Is the information adequate to give a clear understanding of the problem? To what extent do parties define the problem in different ways? Do the various parties agree about the adequacy of the information for the problem(s) defined? 2. Is the uncertainty associated with the information well characterized, inter- pretable, and capable of being incorporated into the assessment or decision? 3. Is the information accessible to and interpretable by interested and affected parties? 4. Is the information trustworthy? these contextual factors may make it more difficult to achieve the attributes of good public participation described in Chapters 4-6 unless processes are designed to address them. The research literature includes numerous examples of problems that can arise from the inadequacy of science in environmental assessment and decision processes. Leachâs (2005) review of 25 empirical studies of public participation in the Forest Service from 1960 to the present examines the importance of adequate scientific and technical information. Nine of these studies identified adequate information as critical in facilitating a success- ful process. Lubell and Leach (2005:23-24) found that adequate scientific expertise, as perceived by participants, was associated with more successful outcomes across the watershed partnerships he examined. He notes that what matters is confidence in expertise rather than mere information and suggests that the key factor may be the embodiment of relevant information in those who can engage in dialogue with participants and perhaps offer judgments in the absence of scientific certainty. We return to the issue of trust below. If adequacy of information is a matter of participantsâ judgment, then there may be value in efforts to ensure that participants share in whatever information is available and attempt to reach agreement about what is and is not known. Consistent with this idea, Shindler and Neburka (1997) re- port more success in processes that selected participants who were already knowledgeable about the issues.1 Wondolleck and Yaffee (1994) advocate such techniques as âjoint fact-finding exercises,â in which participants or
170 PUBLIC PARTICIPATION their designated experts share information and engage in collaborative in- formation generation. Similarly, Daniels and Walker (1997) found evidence that a systems approach to assessing the extent and underlying causes of a problem was useful. Binghamâs (2003) recommendations from practitioner experience emphasize processes that are likely to build mutual understand- ing about the data available, develop new information to fill gaps, and increase confidence that the information is adequate for the decision. And to reiterate a point from Chapters 2 and 6, public participants often bring important context-specific knowledge to the process. Thus, the sharing of relevant information is more than a one-way transmission from scientists to nonscientists. In some situations, the problem is relatively simpleâkey information is simply missing. For example, in the case of a power plant in Virginia, all sides agreed that the plantâs cooling waters exceeded thermal limits of its discharge permit. What they didnât agree onâand did not have information aboutâwas whether the temperature of the discharge waters had an actual adverse effect on the ecosystem of the lake into which it flowed. Federal and state agencies, the company, and segments of the public were represented by scientists on a steering committee that designed a research project (a joint fact-finding effort) and selected a mutually acceptable research team to answer the question. Sometimes important information gaps cannot be filled in time for a decision, even if those affected are willing to devote considerable time and resources to joint fact-finding. In one such case reported by a panel mem- ber, in which an agency had an unusually short deadline for proposing new regulations for carbon sequestration, the agency organized an iterative pro- cess featuring two open workshops, a proposed rule, and plans to use the proposal as a basis for further dialogue. The first workshop was to inform the public about the process, to establish a foundation for ongoing dia- logue, and to learn about stakeholdersâ concerns. In the second workshop, a few months later, the agency informed participants about key questions remaining in the options under consideration and invited thoughts about those questions. Both workshops used a âfishbowlâ technique in which experts from the agency and from diverse stakeholder groups discussed the scientific issues in the presence of the other participants, who could use the discussion to improve their understanding rapidly. This combination of practices, along with the opportunity for extensive submission of technical information in response to the proposed rule and for continued iteration of analysis and deliberation through a regulatory mechanism called a notice of data availability, constituted a creative attempt to provide needed informa- tion under serious constraints. Because of the potential for ambiguity, it can be difficult to determine whether or not the information available is adequate for informing an
CONTEXT: THE ISSUE 171 assessment or decision. Most environmental issues can legitimately be ad- dressed from various disciplinary perspectives, in terms of various agenciesâ responsibilities and in terms of different kinds of public concerns, so there may be competing definitions of the issues. An example cited a decade ago (National Research Council, 1996) is still telling on this point. The Pennsylvania Environmental Protection Agency, in considering a proposal to site a soil decontamination plant in the low-income, largely African American city of Chester, proposed to make the decision on the basis of an assessment of the incremental health risks to the local population from expected additional hazardous chemical exposures. The Chester city government argued that this assessment would not address the right question. It demanded analyses of the possible synergistic effects of the added exposures and existing exposures from the cityâs oil refiner- ies, trash incinerator, infectious materials processing center, and Superfund sites; of special risks due to the populationâs health status and past toxic exposures; and of comparison between the health effects of siting in Chester and in nearby, more affluent communities whose populations were healthier and had lower past exposures. As this example suggests, legitimate disagreements can arise about how issues for scientific analysis are framed and about which analyses are needed. Scientific information that would be adequate for addressing a policy question when framed in one way would be clearly inadequate under a different framing. Discordant framing or structuring of the issue among the parties can be an important factor underlying conflict about risk and environmental management and can make it more difficult to achieve clarity of purpose for a public participation process (e.g., Miller, 1989; Fisher, 1991; Carnevale and Pruitt, 1992; Fischhoff, 1996a; Kunreuther and Slovic, 1996; Pellow, 1999; Bazerman et al., 2000; Gray, 2004). It can also drive out some affected parties and potentially reduce the inclusiveness of participation and, potentially, the legitimacy of the process, if some parties no longer see the possibility of their concerns being addressed. When discordant issue framing is a possibility, an explicit and transpar- ent effort to involve participants during the diagnosis and process design in framing or structuring an issue may allow shared frames of reference and definitions of the problem to evolve or, at least, make it possible to come to a shared agreement on the questions or issues to be addressed and a common understanding of the adequacy of information for the decision to be made. Successful negotiations can result in compatible definitions of the problem and ideas about subsequent goals (Kruglanski, Webster, and Klem, 1993). Such successful negotiations were evident in the first U.S. National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variabil- ity and Change, in which participants in several regions worked together to reframe the focus of the entire assessment from one focused solely on
172 PUBLIC PARTICIPATION climate change to one focused on climate variability and change (Moser, 2005). Practices commonly used to establish a shared framing or focus for a public participation process include interviews with potential stakeholders to understand their perspectives, drafting a formulation in terms of how to achieve interests at stake rather than whether to accomplish something proposed by one side, publishing and requesting comments on the proposed scope of a process in such publications as the Federal Register, holding organizational workshops in the planning phase of a public participation process, and organizing process steering committees. Disputes about the adequacy of information can also arise because of difficulties over separating the scientific issues involved in understanding and predicting phenomena from the value issues of how to make appropri- ate trade-offs among goals. At an abstract level, there are serious objections to making a clear-cut division between facts and values (e.g., National Re- search Council, 1983, 1996; Jasanoff, 1996). More concretely, arguments about facts and arguments about values are often confused with each other in disputes about environmental policy (e.g., Fischhoff, 1989; Dietz, 2003). One problem arises when value assumptions become embedded in analytic methods. For example, in estimating environmental risks, conservative as- sumptions may be built into the assessment process so that some adverse ef- fects (such as human cancer from pesticide exposure) are much less likely to be underestimated than overestimated (National Research Council, 1983). Generally, the meaning of scientific findings can depend on how they are cognitively framed (Tversky and Kahneman, 1981) and what is regarded as value depends on prior knowledge about the factual implications of dif- ferent value preferences (Fischhoff, 1975). The decision relevance of scientific knowledge can also be subject to legitimate dispute. Another decade-old example provides a useful illustra- tion (National Research Council, 1996). A dispute in California in the early 1990s concerned a proposal to spray the insecticide malathion to eradicate populations of Mediterranean fruit flies, believed to have arrived in small isolated groups on infested imported fruit, that threatened the stateâs $2 billion fruit and vegetable industry. Much attention was given to risk assessments concerning the possible human health effects of malathion exposure. Some critics argued that the fly populations were not isolated and were already established and that therefore targeted malathion spraying would not solve the problem, and the health risk assessment was largely beside the point. They proposed biological pest controls that did not create human health risks, a proposal that required quite a different kind of sci- entific assessment. In this case there was substantial uncertainty about key facts (whether or not the fly populations were established) that was more important to the controversy than the uncertainty in risks captured in the health risk assessment.
CONTEXT: THE ISSUE 173 The potential for such fundamental disputes about whether and how available scientific information is decision relevant implies that the ad- equacy of information cannot be determined without considering partici- pantsâ perspectives. Issues that are important to some of the parties but are excluded from analysis can create serious conflict, particularly when there is no other forum for addressing these issues (Bradbury, 2005). It is therefore helpful to diagnose whether different understandings of the environmental issue exist among the parties that imply different needs for scientific in- formation. If they do, it is important to look for ways to allow science to address the concerns of all the interested and affected parties and to ensure that scientific information on the full range of these concerns is gathered and presented, so that one issue definition does not dominate because rel- evant information supporting another definition is missing. Confidence by participants that they have the best available informa- tion, that they have information on issues that matter to them, and that scientists will interpret the available data correctly appears to be important for the integration of incomplete information into a public participation process. Limitations in the available information, including a lack of some information that is seen as desirable by participants, does not by itself preclude effective public participation any more than it precludes effective decision making by government agencies. Rather, what seems crucial is that public participation processes address the inadequacies in the science so as to build mutual trust and understanding between the scientists and the public. Processes for effectively linking scientific analysis and public participation are discussed in Chapter 6. It is worth noting that disputes about the adequacy or relevance of science can mask other issues. In one example, allocation of Clean Water Act funds was held up by disagreements about whether eutrophication in a bay was being caused by nitrogen or phosphorus. Scientific studies were cited to support both conclusions, leading to the sense that the informa- tion was not adequate. In that case, a participatory process was preceded by a workshop of the scientists whose work was being referenced. They issued a report outlining large areas of convergence in the science as well as specific questions that remained unresolved. The scientific uncertain- ties were relevant, but they were also being used in ways that obscured underlying conflicts of interests. In this case, if phosphorus was the more relevant nutrient, the urbanized counties would get funding for additional sewage treatment capacity; if the culprit was nitrogen, rural counties would get funding for nonpoint source reduction programs. Clarifying what was and was not known, and the decision relevance of what was not known, allowed the disputes to be addressed more directly.
174 PUBLIC PARTICIPATION Characterization of Uncertainty Uncertainty is a form of information inadequacy, but it is so central to environmental assessment and decision making that it deserves separate consideration. We use the term âuncertaintyâ broadly, to cover various kinds of gaps in knowledge, including those caused by ârandomâ processes for which a statistical distribution is known, those for which the causal factors are known but the probabilities of outcomes are not, and those for which even the causal factors are partly or largely unknown. These latter kinds of unknowns can create more fundamental difficulties than those caused by statistical variation. The many forms and varieties of scientific uncertainty are themselves a matter of debate (e.g., Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1991, 1993; Wynne, 1992; Rosa, 1998; Yearley, 2000). The issue of uncertainty has not been suf- ficiently explored in research on public participation. Major international assessments, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Millennium Assessment, have offered their authors explicit guidance on how to describe different degrees of scientific uncertainty (Moss and Schneider, 2000). The environmental science community is directing consid- erable attention to clarifying how scientific uncertainty can be assessed and characterized in support of decision making (e.g., Morgan and Henrion, 1990; Van Asselt, 2000; Kinzig et al., 2003; National Research Council, 2007b). A growing body of research suggests that the frame used to express uncertainty has a substantial influence on how well members of the public process such information (Gigerenzer and Hoffrage, 1995; Gigerenzer, 1998), a result that suggests that some framings, such as in terms of fre- quencies, lead to more effective handling of information about uncertainty than others. There have been only a small number of efforts to explore systematically the various formal techniques for characterizing complex and uncertain information about risks in messages for the various par- ticipants in environmental deliberative processes (e.g., Johnson and Slovic, 1995; Kuhn, 2000; Florig et al., 2001; Johnson, 2003; Willis et al., 2004; Gregory, Fischhoff, and McDaniels, 2005). Thus, more needs to be learned about how to provide useful information about scientific uncertainty to participants in environmental assessment and decision-making processes, particularly about the potentials of formal techniques and process-based, analytic-deliberative ones. Ignoring major sources of scientific uncertainty is considered unaccept- able practice in most scientific communities because it carries the danger of producing a sense of security and overconfidence that is not justified by the quality or extent of the database (Einhorn and Hogarth, 1978). However, it is often claimed that presenting scientific uncertainty and complexity
CONTEXT: THE ISSUE 175 to nonscientists creates difficulties for participatory processes because the public is not well equipped to understand the science or to deal with un- certainty (see, e.g., Fischhoff, 1995, on the reluctance to acknowledge and communicate uncertainty). Uncertainty about facts and their relationship to values has been highlighted as a possible cause of environmental conflict (e.g., Fischhoff, 1989; Dietz, 2001). In the early 1980s, many risk profes- sionals attributed environmental conflict largely to public ignorance (Dietz, Stern, and Rycroft, 1989), and this view remains widespread (e.g., Frewer et al., 2003; Sweeney, 2004). Contrary to these views, the evidence from some public participation processes suggests that nonscientists can be quite comfortable with uncer- tain scientific information. For instance, in the U.S. National Assessment of Climate Change, it was reported that in interactions between scientists and nonscientist stakeholders, the nonscientists were more comfortable in treating uncertainties than the scientists (Moser, 2005). This may be because nonscientists live with uncertainties every day (e.g., deciding what to build, what to buy, what to plant) so that the engaged public does not expect that uncertainties disappear but rather that they be clearly described: for example, what is possible and what is not? What is likely and what is not? What is a 1 in 10 bet versus a 1 in 100 bet (Mahlman, 1998; Frewer et al., 2003)?2 Indeed, some have suggested that carefully structured public participation processes can help in reducing uncertainty in decision-mak- ing processes (LourenÃ§o and Costa, 2007). Much of the analysis we have already reviewed demonstrates that linked analysis and deliberation reveal uncertainties that might otherwise have been missed. Johnson and Slovic (1995) argued that disclosing uncertainty can be a signal of honesty on the part of the agency presenting the information, but also found that it is a challenge to avoid confusion and outrage (Johnson and Slovic, 1998). It appears that responses to information about uncer- tainty, like responses to other kinds of risk information, are affected by preexisting views, including views about the credibility of the information source (e.g., Johnson and Slovic, 1995, 1998; Kuhn, 2000; Frewer et al., 2003; Johnson, 2003; Miles and Frewer, 2003). There is some evidence that uncertainty in scientific information increases the salience of concerns with trust and procedural fairness (Van den Bos, 2001; Van den Bos and Lind, 2002), issues we discuss in Chapter 6 and below. Comfort in assimilating uncertain science may be greater if sources of expertise that stakeholders trust assist in communications between them and representatives of the scientific knowledge base (Association of American Geographers, 2003). In some instances, formal analytic methods to quantify important uncertainties may be helpful (National Research Council, 1983, 1994, 1996). Formal methods for dealing with uncertainty are central to agency traditions in some domains, such as risk analysis of exposures to
176 PUBLIC PARTICIPATION toxic chemicals (National Research Council, 1983, 1994; Presidential/ Congressional Commission on Risk Assessment and Risk Management, 1997a,b), but not in others, such as natural resource management. Thus, the readiness of scientists to characterize uncertainty for interested and af- fected parties may be different across environmental issues. Courts have emphasized process in responding to challenges based on claims of uncertainty. For example, Judge C.L. Dwyer (1994, Seattle Audubon Society et al. v. James Lyons, Assistant Secretary of Agriculture et al.), in ruling that the Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP) was a legal exer- cise of administrative authority, did so based on the clear and transparent discussion of uncertainty both of knowledge and of the likely success of the decision itself. Because the agencies had clearly identified how they would continue to address the uncertainty issue, the court ruled that as long as the agencies met their own process requirements, the plan would continue to be upheld, but if they did not, the essential element of the planâprojecting management options into the future through an adaptive management frameworkâwould be violated. The NWFP envisioned a continuous pro- cess of open analytic deliberation among scientists, managers, tribes, gov- ernments, other stakeholders, and the public as a mechanism for continuous learningâan expectation only partially met in practice. Like the difficulties associated with adequacy of information, character- izing uncertainty is a perennial challenge in environmental assessment and decision making. From the research and practitioner experience available, it appears that when uncertainty is at issue, the character of the relationships among the interested and affected parties, the convening agency, and the scientists becomes particularly important and that the way in which infor- mation is provided can also have a significant effect on results. As discussed in Chapter 6, there are ways of structuring the participation process that can enhance effective public engagement even in the face of uncertainty. Accessibility and Comprehensibility of Information A fundamental requisite of public participantsâ making effective use of scientific information is that the information is available to them. This requires that participants have access to and are able to critically interpret scientific information. Both of these requirements can be difficult to meet in public participation processes. Participants may have trouble simply obtaining access to analyses. Sci- entific research is usually published in the peer-reviewed literature and in the âgrayâ literature of technical reports. Journals are available online but often only through expensive subscription services. Technical reports are in- creasingly available online as well and thus potentially accessible to a broad audience. But even if members of the public can view a copy of a scientific
CONTEXT: THE ISSUE 177 analysis, it may be difficult to interpret. Scientific reports are usually writ- ten in the dense language of the fields of science that underpin the analysis, so most nonspecialists, and even specialists from different disciplines, find them very time-consuming to interpret or completely opaque. Some assessment activities have made special effort to make their reports publicly accessible. For example, data collected for the First U.S. National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change were made available on a website. Moser (2005:49) reported that âAccording to the CCSP staff, the National Assessment constitutes âthe most popular product because it offers information at a scale that people care about.â Between two major access sites . . . it is safe to assume that Na- tional Assessment material now sees 400-800 visits every day.â In a succes- sor project to the National Assessment, a group of researchers collaborated with private-sector decisions makers (farmers, operators of recreation busi- nesses) to develop a website that provides climate projections (http://www. pileus.msu.edu). The content of the website and the parameters projected were developed through a multiyear collaboration between researchers and the decision makers. Other techniques used in public participation processes to increase accessibility include summarizing technical materials in plain language, providing technical assistance grants to citizen groups, public education workshops or âopen houses,â and including someone with technical expertise and broad credibility on the staff of the participation process to serve as a translator. In several advisory committees convened by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and charged with making recommendations for drinking water regulations, the processes have included a technical work group open to staff or volunteers from all participating organizations to enable broad access to information and broad participation in its analysis. Funding was sometimes made available for groups that did not have their own technical staff. In addition, EPA sometimes hired technical advisors to work for the advisory committee as a whole, playing a leadership role in the technical work group and serving as a translator of the results of the joint technical analyses to the advisory committees. Other experiments with making scientific information more accessible via the web are under way (e.g., Haklay, 2002, 2003; Harrison and Haklay, 2002; Kellogg and Mathur, 2003). These efforts are likely to yield methods that will greatly increase access to analyses and models. However, making them interpretable by those not trained in environmental science will re- main a challenge. When understanding scientific or technical information is important to meaningful participation, it will be important for public participation efforts to invest in meeting the challenge. More generally, research into how to accomplish this will benefit a broad range of environ- mental public participation efforts.
178 PUBLIC PARTICIPATION Trustworthiness of Information We have alluded to the importance of trust in ensuring effective public participation around issues with a substantial scientific content. Here we elucidate how to anticipate issues of trust that may arise from the applica- tion of science in the context of environmental public participation. Chap- ter 6 discusses processes that have been used to address these issues. Scientific information can contribute to mistrust in many ways. For example, models and methodologies have often become targets for public wrath when they have been perceived as vehicles for justifying policy deci- sions with numbers that appear to be scientific but that cannot be verified by critics or that embody assumptions that seem patently incorrect to some of the parties (e.g., Jenni, Merkhofer, and Williams, 1995; Wynne, 1995; Yearley, 2000). They can generate mistrust when it is discovered that an analysis that is presented as comprehensive in fact glosses over important is- sues by making simplifying assumptions. For example, benefit-cost analyses are often presented without reminding the audience that the estimates are aggregate and do not address who pays the costs and who gets the benefits (e.g., Bentkover, Covello, and Mumpower, 1985; Smith and Desvouges, 1986; Fischhoff, 1989). On one hand, there are well-recognized difficulties with complex mod- els when applied to public policy (e.g., Hoos, 1973; Van Asselt, 2000; Jaeger et al., 2001). Numerical outputs reflect input data, as well as judg- ments and assumptions put into the model, all of which can be subject to question and many of which may be hidden from public view. For example, models may focus on what can be quantified easily, which can result in a perhaps unintended but still less than transparent prioritization of certain variables. Possible results include incomplete or inaccurate analyses (and a poorly informed decision), if the variables that are included are not the only factors driving public concern (e.g., Cramer, Dietz, and Johnston, 1980; Dietz, 1987), and the perception of a less open or transparent process and, thus, poor acceptance of a potentially good decision. And the public may want levels of detail and certainty from models that are beyond the scope of the current state of the science. Dietz et al. (2004) found that estuary modelers and local planning officials had incompatible views about what to expect from models intended to guide land use decisions that would af- fect local estuaries. On the other hand, there are intriguing experiments with using com- puter models as tools to aid the deliberative process (e.g., Van den Belt, 2004). In an attempt to resolve water allocation issues on the Truckee and Carson Rivers in western Nevada, experts from the private sector, agricul- tural interests, environmental groups, and federal, tribal, and state agencies shared water supply forecast models with one another and made multiple
CONTEXT: THE ISSUE 179 runs of these models to enhance transparency and provide their constitu- encies a shared perspective on similarities and differences in the results produced by the different models. More recently, the Institute for Water Resources at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has pioneered a âShared Vision Planningâ process that integrates participation and modeling (see http://www.svp.iwr.usace.army.mil/). Available evidence indicates that the complexity of scientific issues does not by itself present a significant barrier to effective public participation. Nonscientists can make meaningful use of science when managing complex environmental systems. For example, local communities of fishers can man- age the complex ecosystems that produce their fish and can even link ef- fectively to government agencies operating at a larger scale (Berkes, 2002). Complexity can require, however, that special effort be made to organize scientific analyses around questions that are salient to the decision and to participants (e.g., Wilson, 2002) and to ensure that the range of participants understands the science, including its limitations. Although some of the parties may desire a predictive understanding of a complex environmental system, it is important for scientists to be open about the limitations of the available science for producing such an understanding. When the situation is too complex to allow good prediction, assessments and decisions may be better informed by a set of plausible scenarios consistent with scientific knowledge than by poorly grounded predictive models (Brewer, 2007). Complexity can also provide fodder for disputes about what kinds of scientific analyses are needed and about the practical import of available knowledge (see below). EPAâs Total Coliform Rule and Distribution System Advisory Commit- tee, formed in 2007, is a recent example of an effort to make information trustworthy. The advisory committeeâs task was to make recommendations on revising an existing drinking water regulation to monitor water quality in distribution systems and on data collection and research needs for the future. The advisory committee requested information and analysis from a technical work group at its initial meetings to help define issues, developed options at later meetings and then, prior to evaluating those options, con- sulted with the technical work group about what information was and was not possible to generate to compare the impacts of those options. This itera- tive approach included explicit discussions of what information participants said would be relevant to their deliberations and what decision-relevant information would be possible to obtain. These discussions brought dis- agreements about the practical application of existing information to light and allowed those involved to address them to the extent possible. It is worth mentioning the possibility of claims of scientific bias or conflict of interest. Such claims can arise when scientists are employed by parties with vested interests or are retained by certain parties to provide
180 PUBLIC PARTICIPATION them with information but are not trusted by other parties to be fully forth- coming if the information is not advantageous to their clients. A particu- larly troublesome situation arises when scientific information comes from an agency with a track record of deceit. For example, it was claimed in the 1980s that the Department of Energyâs civilian radioactive waste program was still suffering from the reputation of the Atomic Energy Commission, which in the 1950s had attributed radioactive âfallout in St. Louis to Russian sources when it was known to have come from tests in Nevadaâ (National Research Council, 1989:120). Difficulties also arise when scientists have personal stakes in the issue, for example, when a scientistâs research may be affected by the decision to be made or, when a decision is about a resource or issue that has become the focus of the scientistâs professional life. In such cases, a scientist may engage in intentional or unintentional advocacy in the choice of objectives or methods when designing a study. Agency scientists are also sometimes accused of bias toward policies currently in force or that form part of the political agenda of the party in power. Such claims are obvious sources of mistrust in information and are worth looking for. They are best addressed by acknowledging the possibility and opening the scientific discussions to intellectual criticism from any of the parties. If the parties have sufficient resources to participate meaningfully in such discussions, openness is the best way to address bias claims. Various practices have been used to promote openness. In some situ- ations, agencies have opened the process of nomination to formal peer review panels by consulting interested and affected parties. In other cases, public workshops have included interactive discussions about the science among panels composed of experts nominated by the parties, held in a âfishbowl,â a public setting. Technical work groups composed of experts that represent diverse parties can vet analyses prior to their presentation as part of a public participation process, sharing points of agreement and disagreement about methods, analyses, and interpretation along with the analyses. In addition, studies can begin with broad consultations to arrive at a collaboratively designed inquiry or joint fact-finding process. CONCLUSIONS Certain issue-related aspects of the context pose difficulties in achieving the goals of effective public participation; others are less consequential. The evidence supports several conclusions. â¢ The determinants of success are largely the same for participatory environmental assessments and decision-making processes. â¢ The environmental subject matter has little direct effect on partici-
CONTEXT: THE ISSUE 181 pation outcomes. What is learned from experiences with public participa- tion in one problem area can generally be transferred to other areas. â¢ Environmental subject matter can create particular difficulties for participation. For example, long-lived hazards require long-term monitor- ing and therefore continuing participation over time. Decisions regarding large-scale environmental systems create costs for participation associated with bringing people together over long distances. â¢ Scientific complexity and uncertainty do not preclude effective public participation. How the available knowledge is introduced and used in the process matters more than the characteristics of the knowledge itself. What matters is how the scientific information is integrated into the pro- cess. Concerns about procedural fairness and trust are more salient with scientific uncertainty, and it is therefore important to ensure that public participation processes provide for open and balanced consideration of the scientific issues, including gaps in knowledge, and to provide information in ways that facilitate understanding by nonscientists. â¢ Some contextual factors can create the potential for serious con- flict among the parties. When issues may be framed in competing ways or when there may be credible claims of scientific bias, there is significant potential for conflict over the science. When the parties are polarized at the outset in terms of policy preferences and when some parties expect that other parties, or the responsible agency, may be proceeding in bad faith, there is significant potential for conflict over both science and policy. Such conditions make certain aspects of participatory processes especially important because it is possible to build trust in a process even among par- ties in fairly strong conflict. Several of the principles of good participation are likely to be especially important when the potential exists for serious conflict. These include transparency of process, inclusiveness, availability of Â decision-Ârelevant information, explicitness about assumptions and un- certainties, independent review, and iteration. In sum, although certain characteristics of the issue context can create particular difficulties in public participation and in implementing particu- lar principles of good practice discussed in Chapters 4-6, the difficulties can be addressed and often overcome through the use of various specific practices, tools, and techniques. It may be necessary to collect more infor- mation, make special efforts to characterize or discuss areas of incomplete knowledge and scientific uncertainty, or provide some of the parties with resources to allow them to understand the issues and the scientific informa- tion well enough to participate meaningfully. The possibility of different framings of the issues and of potentially credible claims of scientific bias call for practices of analytic deliberation that open scientific information to intellectual criticism and thus encourage scientists and others to question
182 PUBLIC PARTICIPATION their assumptions about what is important to analyze; how physical, bio- logical, and social processes unfold; how to handle uncertainty; and related issues (Renn, 2004, 2008). Opening scientistsâ judgments to comment by nonspecialists can be unsettling for the scientists. However, deciding which questions are important to ask involves judgments in which scientists and nonscientists alike have a legitimate voice. Transparency in the methods used to gather data and in the assumptions made in the analyses builds trust. Scientists still conduct the science. Involving the public in appropriate ways is consistent with the logic of the scientific process in that all aspects of an analysis are subject to constructive scrutiny and the analysis can be improved as a result. Table 7-1 provides a diagnostic guide to many of the difficulties associ- ated with aspects of the issue context and to some ways that have been used to try to address them. It identifies particular contextual factors that can make it difficult to implement particular principles of good participation, notes the nature of the likely difficulties, and identifies some practices or techniques that have been used to address the difficulties. It is not meant as an endorsement of any of these practices: evidence is too weak and contexts are too varied for any such endorsement. However, we believe the guide can help agencies, practitioners, and the public anticipate difficulties and begin to think about possible responses. In Chapter 9, we recommend a process for selecting among those responses and addressing context-related difficulties in public participation. Notes 1It does not follow that it is wise to exclude participants whose scien- tific knowledge is limited. Limiting the breadth of participation can have se- rious negative consequences for the overall process, as discussed in Chapter 5. Chapter 6 details practices that can aid in making scientific information useful in a linked process of analysis and deliberation and thus provides guidance on how to make scientific information accessible to those with limited scientific backgrounds. 2A difficulty is that while daily life may make people familiar with situ- ations that involve âbetsâ in which the choice is between odds on the order of 1 in 100 and those on the order of 1 in 10, many environmental health risks require making choices in which the contrasting odds are 1 in 10,000 and 1 in 100,000. The latter numbers are far from the realm of experience of most citizens; however, their comprehension of them may be aided by the use of formal analytical tools.
TABLE 7-1â Diagnostic Guide to Difficulties Related to the Issue in Public Participation Contextual Principles That Become More Illustrative Practices for Addressing Factor Difficult to Achieve Difficulties Difficultiesa Issue Factors Long temporal scale Inclusiveness Number of interested and Create new, longer-lasting affected parties institutions Ability to participate (e.g., future generations) Large spatial scale Inclusiveness Number and range of interested Workshops in multiple locations and affected parties Internet participation Study circles Deliberative polling Blue Ribbon commissions Large spatial scale Clarity of purpose Multiple agencies with Interagency work groups Commitment to use the process jurisdiction over parts of the to inform decisions issue Complexity Clarity of purpose Diversity of perspectives can Frame issues in terms of Collaborative problem increase with the complexity reconciling interests formulation of the issue Include multiple issue framings Collective action and common- Inclusiveness Motivation to participate is pool resources lower among those who stand to benefit or lose only a little Science Factors Inadequate information Collaborative problem Missing information may make Joint fact finding formulation it difficult either to define the Iterative processes, with steps problem clearly or to solve it to solicit information from stakeholders Expert panels or âfishbowlâ techniques at workshops Continued 183
TABLE 7-1â Continued 184 Contextual Principles That Become More Illustrative Practices for Addressing Factor Difficult to Achieve Difficulties Difficultiesa Inadequate information Clarity of purpose Different problem definitions Involve participants during may cause disagreement diagnosis and design phase in about what information is creating an agreement on the needed. Left unresolved, it scope and objectives also can reduce motivation Draft a written scope and invite to participate if parties do public comment on it not see the possibility of their Hold workshops during the concerns being addressed organizational phase and review the information available and discuss adequacy of the information in terms of the scope Organize a process steering committee to consider problem definition throughout the process Inadequate information Availability of decision-relevant Disputes about adequacy of Joint reports from all scientists information science can mask other about what is known, where issues (e.g., when parties areas of disagreement or select conclusions only from uncertainty remain, and the those studies that support an decision relevance of what is not outcome that satisfies their known interests) Scientific uncertainty Explicitness about analytic When uncertainty is poorly Formal characterization of assumptions and uncertainties characterized, it is hard to uncertainty estimate the consequences of Adaptive management choices
Accessibility of information Availability of decision-relevant Participants may be Summarize information in plain information unfamiliar with where to language find information in peer- Provide technical assistance to reviewed journals or it may participants who need it be too costly to obtain the Organize public education information workshops or âopen housesâ Information may be written in Include a technical expert on the highly technical language and facilitation team to serve as a may be difficult for the public âtranslatorâ or individuals from other Put information on the web disciplines to interpret Information may not be trusted Explicitness about analytic Models and other scientific Invite scientists to explain assumptions and uncertainties methods are or are perceived limitations of available science Good-faith communication as manipulated to justify Develop scenarios as an alternative a decision made for other to models when predictive reasons models are inadequate Analyses make simplifying Form a technical work group of assumptions that obscure experts trusted by all sides and issues of importance to develop or vet information and participants analyses through that group Models focus only on what Invite stakeholder nominations for can be quantified easily, peer review groups unintentionally prioritizing Invite stakeholder comments on certain variables, leading selection of members of expert to incomplete or inaccurate panels to ensure confidence that analyses, or contributing to a all scientific views are included perception of bias Engage in joint fact finding aEvidence is inadequate to recommend any of these practices as effective, or as preferable to practices that are not listed. They are listed to suggest some of the practices that might be considered for addressing particular difficulties. 185