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 “best practice.” 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 achieving 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. Addressing 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 accommodations for them.

Our review of available knowledge and experience enables us to describe 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 factors may affect the process. Such diagnosis can form the basis for tailoring participation processes for more successful results.


The evidence indicates that the determinants of successful public participation 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 assessment and decision-making objectives. However, it is possible to consider whether success is easier to achieve or whether different factors are conducive 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. Experience is accumulating as the conveners of assessments respond to calls for public involvement in risk assessment (National Research Council, 1989,

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