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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making
part of participants—e.g., in being transparent when they feel they must abandon a process for external politics—is discussed below.)
ROLE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Environmental assessment and decision-making processes typically involve a mix of individuals speaking for themselves and representatives of organizations or groups, among them government agencies, private corporations, trade associations, environmental nongovernmental organizations, and grassroots citizen groups. This means that some participants must get the concurrence of individuals who are not participating directly and therefore who have not experienced the mutual learning that can occur in a good participatory process. The values, internal structures, and dynamics of the organizations that participate in public decision making vary widely and must be recognized in designing a process that successfully accommodates different internal decision-making processes, organizational cultures, conversational styles, potentials for leadership or other organizational change, and the degree to which representatives have access to relevant information, can speak for their organizations or constituencies, make proposals, and support proposed decisions (Pruitt and Carnevale, 1993; O’Conner, 1994). A convening agency’s efficacy in creating a good participation process depends on the agency’s understanding the parties and the intraorganizational dynamics of their groups and organizations. This is a challenge because of the complexity of environmental issues and the wide variety of ways in which affected parties organize themselves.
An important concern in this regard is whether the individuals at the table are willing and able to make durable agreements. The Forest Service studies point to the importance of the participants’ committing to the process, particularly if it is extended in time (Selin and Chavez, 1994; Shindler and Neburka, 1997; Yaffee, Wondolleck, and Lippman, 1997; U.S.D.A. Forest Service, 2000). An agency that engages in a lengthy and formal participatory process may ask participants to agree to continue until the process is completed and to signify by their participation that they accept that the process is fair and that the decisions made as a result of the process will be acceptable to them. However, as experienced negotiators know, participants in a negotiation may choose to cease their participation, or they may assert that a conclusion or choice of decision alternative by the group is unacceptable to them.
Participating organizations may have internal disagreements about which forum should be the principal focus of public involvement. Since participation is voluntary, it is important to consider how the parties’ incentives to participate may depend on the forum: What motivates people to give their time and energy to working in a particular forum? These issues