(5) incorporate new information, methods, and concerns that arise over time.

  • Legitimacy refers to a process that is seen by the interested and affected parties as fair and competent and that follows the governing laws and regulations.

  • Capacity refers to participants, including agency officials and scientists, (1) becoming better informed and more skilled at effective participation; (2) becoming better able to engage the best available scientific knowledge and information about diverse values, interests, and concerns; and (3) developing a more widely shared understanding of the issues and decision challenges and a reservoir of communication and mediation skills and mutual trust.

Conclusion 1: When done well, public participation improves the quality and legitimacy of a decision and builds the capacity of all involved to engage in the policy process. It can lead to better results in terms of environmental quality and other social objectives. It also can enhance trust and understanding among parties. Achieving these results depends on using practices that address difficulties that specific aspects of the context can present.

The panel found that participatory processes have sometimes made matters worse. However, it also found that across a wide variety of environmental assessment and decision contexts, there are practices that can simultaneously promote quality, legitimacy, and capacity.

Recommendation 1: Public participation should be fully incorporated into environmental assessment and decision-making processes, and it should be recognized by government agencies and other organizers of the processes as a requisite of effective action, not merely a formal procedural requirement.


The panel offers four recommendations for carrying out public participation processes that embody six principles of program management, four principles for the conduct of participation, and five principles for integrating science and participation.

Recommendation 2: When government agencies engage in public participation, they should do so with

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