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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making
in environmental public participation that are credible to most, if not all, participants. Doing this would seem to require efforts at the start to seek agreement among all parties on how to identify, share, evaluate, and apply decision-relevant information of various kinds (scientific, cultural, technical, etc.). To integrate the science well, it is important for relevant information to be accessible to all participants and to make special efforts to ensure that the participants can understand this information. It is also important to agree on processes for joint fact-finding or other strategies for shared learning that respect that any participant may have special expertise, that acknowledge the different scopes and domains of such expertise, and that provide ways of checking knowledge claims that are credible to participants who lack expertise in the specific area.
Integrating science and public participation through processes that iterate between analysis and broadly based deliberation promotes the quality, accountability, and legitimacy of environmental assessments and decisions. Such processes are more likely to produce satisfactory results if they are transparent regarding decision-relevant information and analysis, are attentive to both facts and values, are explicit about assumptions and uncertainties, and provide for independent review and iteration to allow for reconsideration of past conclusions.
Understanding Risk (National Research Council, 1996:3) concluded:
[S]uccess depends critically on systematic analysis that is appropriate to the problem, responds to the needs of the interested and affected parties, and treats uncertainties of importance to the decision problem in a comprehensible way. Success also depends on deliberations that formulate the decision problem, guide analysis to improve decision participants’ understanding, seek the meaning of analytic findings and uncertainties, and improve the ability of interested and affected parties to participate effectively in the risk decision process. The process must have an appropriately diverse representation of the spectrum of interested and affected parties, and of specialists in risk analysis, at each step.
This set of conclusions is generally supported by evidence available since that report’s publication and applies to environmental assessments and decisions more generally. The Presidential/Congressional Commission on Risk Assessment and Risk Management (1997a,b) reached similar conclusions and recommended an analytic-deliberative process to improve federal decision making in the management of environmental risks (see Box 6-2). The evidence presented in this chapter allows for some further specification of the advice offered in these earlier reports.