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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).
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