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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making 1 Introduction Many tensions exist between the democratic aspiration of government of the people, by the people, and for the people and modern representative government with its mass electorate and elaborate bureaucracy for carrying out government functions (Finer, 1941; Schlozman and Tierney, 1986; Dahl, 1989, 1998; Morone, 1990; Held, 1996). Nowhere are these tensions more acute than in the domain of environmental policy. On one hand, the issues are complex, laden with scientific and technical detail, and subject to change (Williams and Matheny, 1995; Fischer, 2000; Jasanoff, 2005), so that informed choices require technical expertise few of “the people” have. Advances in scientific understanding of the environment, including discoveries of new environmental phenomena; the unfolding of a variety of local, regional, and global environmental changes; and the application of new technologies ensure that environmental choices are continually evolving. Moreover, decisions that affect the environment thus present special challenges because of the need for scientific understanding of the dynamics of coupled human and natural systems. Processes of environmental change operate at large spatial and temporal scales, with linkages between processes operating at different scales; they may involve intrinsic uncertainties; they are often rapid or nonlinear; and they are sometimes irreversible (Dietz and Stern, 1998; Liu et al., 2007a,b). These characteristics of environmental decisions suggest the need for significant influence to be in the hands of experts. But on the other hand, environmental decisions present very complex choices among interests and values, so that the choices are political, social,
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making cultural, and economic, at least as much as they are scientific and technical. Environmental decisions have varied and uncertain effects on the values and interests of people in diverse societies, so there are rarely only two sides to a question. Furthermore, progress on environmental problems often requires changes in the behavior of a multitude of diverse groups of actors, not just corporations and governments. Citizens are now targets of policy and thus often are stakeholders in the same way that organizations are. There typically are multiple perspectives regarding the relative importance of issues, the best courses of action, and even the right questions to ask, with strong demands from those who may be affected by policy choices to have their voices heard (Forester, 1989; Dryzek, 1990; Fischer and Forester, 1993; Ingram and Smith, 1993; Schneider and Ingram, 1997; Stone, 2002; Feldman et al., 2006; Healey, 2006). The variety of questions that must be addressed to inform a single decision is often staggering, and conflict is almost inevitable (Crowfoot and Wondolleck, 1990; Stern, 1991; Vaughan and Nordenstam, 1991; Aronoff and Gunter, 1992; National Research Council, 1996, 2005a; Dietz and Stern, 1998; Proctor, 1998; Beierle and Konisky, 2000; Lubell, 2000; Dietz, 2001; Brown et al., 2002; Campbell, 2003; Lewicki, Gray, and Eliot, 2003). Some parties may lack the power and resources to participate effectively in the policy system via traditional mechanisms: some are highly organized, and others are a more diffuse array of individual citizens (Forester, 1989; Williams and Matheny, 1995). The high public and political visibility of many environmental issues also can add complex dynamics to the process, and the more attention is given to an issue, the more likely it will be that simultaneous opportunities to influence public decisions will exist in legislative, executive, and judicial forums, at multiple levels of government, and in the media. It is in this highly complex arena—in which those who believe that industry and development are being unnecessarily stifled contend with those who believe that the environment is being irreparably damaged and those who believe that the costs of environmental change are being unfairly distributed—that public decisions are made about making and implementing environmental policy. The conflicts that arise in environmental policy result not only from differences in values and interests. When parties have different objectives and concerns, they need different information from science in order to consider themselves adequately informed. When they experience different parts of an environmental system, they gain different kinds of knowledge and sometimes apply different “ways of knowing” (Fischer, 2000; Feldman et al., 2006). These characteristics of environmental decisions suggest significant pitfalls in delegating too much influence to experts, because they
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making may overlook important information or fail to analyze issues that are critical to some parties. The degree to which nonexperts should be involved in analytic tasks typically assigned to scientists is contested among both participation theorists and practioners. In a recent review article, Chilvers (2008) identified three different camps. One camp believes that a strict functional separation in analytic and deliberative forms of decision making is essential to avoid a muddling of facts and values. Another camp proposes that the limit of public involvement in the scientific analysis should be determined by the extent to which nonscientists possess “contributory expertise” that can complement or enhance certified scientific expertise. The third camp believes that the scientific and political dimensions cannot be separated and emphasizes the need to negotiate public meanings embedded in science as an integral part of decision making. All these camps do agree that regulatory decisions cannot be based on technical expertise alone, but need refinement by stakeholder or public involvement. However, some critics of public participation practice have suggested that participation is too expensive and slow for what they contend are the minimal benefits it provides and that participation can degrade rather than improve decisions (e.g., Graham, 1996; Rossi, 1997; Sanders, 1997; Sunstein, 2001, 2006; Collins and Evans, 2002; Campbell and Currie, 2006). We detail these concerns in Chapter 2. Given these tensions, it is not surprising that since the 1960s, U.S. environmental policy has come under fire from different quarters and for several reasons. Environmentalists, advocates for disadvantaged communities, resource user groups, Native American tribes, and others have criticized policy makers as being out of touch with public desires and as having made too many bad environmental decisions (e.g., Bullard, 1990; Pellow, 1999; Durant, Fiorino, and O’Leary, 2004). Others, expressing concerns with efficient decision making, have criticized existing policies as having produced “environmental gridlock” (e.g., Van Horn, 1988; Kraft, 2000)—excessive delay due to continuing conflict and litigation over decisions and proposed decisions. The criticisms concern both the legitimacy and the quality of decisions. Administrative decisions by bureaucratic agencies have been criticized for failing to follow basic principles of good policy making, for example, by failing to pay attention to legitimate interests and to take their concerns into account and sometimes short-circuiting standard administrative process. The result has been a loss of legitimacy in the eyes of some parties. Agencies have also been criticized for failing to follow basic principles of good decision making, for example, by artificially narrowing the set of choices to consider, failing to take important values into account in analyses, and making unrealistic assumptions in the face of scientific
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making uncertainty (Shannon 1991; Office of Technology Assessment, 1992). Criticisms on grounds of inefficiency are rooted in part in these other criticisms, when conflict and litigation result because parties are seriously critical of the quality and legitimacy of agency decisions. Broader and more direct participation of the public and interested or affected groups in official environmental policy processes has been widely advocated as a way to increase both the legitimacy and the substantive quality of policy decisions (e.g., Dietz, 1987; Shannon, 1987; Fiorino, 1989, 1990; Renn, Webler, and Wiedermann, 1995; Williams and Matheny, 1995; National Environmental Justice Advisory Committee, 1996; National Research Council, 1996; Liberatore and Funtowicz, 2003; Renn, 2004; Stirling, 2004, 2008). Such arguments have had political success in some situations. As Creighton (2005:1) pointed out, “Public participation requirements have been embedded in virtually every important piece of environmental legislation in the United States and Canada since the 1970s,” and “more than thirty-five European countries are signatories to the 1998 Aarhus Convention,” which commits their governments “to ensure public participation and access to information in all environmental decision making.” Proponents claim that increased public participation will inform the decision-making process in ways that lead both to more informed and reasoned discussion of these complex issues and to better and more widely acceptable decisions. Others, however, raise concerns about hazards of public participation, such as the accountability and representativeness of self-appointed public participants, the inability of nonexpert communities to understand and process complex scientific relationships, the unlikelihood of reaching a meaningful consensus among conflicting interests, the effects of misdirected pressure to achieve consensus at the expense of achieving other important societal goals, and manipulation of outcomes either by those who frame the questions to be addressed or by those who get a “seat at the table” (Cupps, 1977; Abel, 1982; Graham, 1996; McCloskey, 1996; Coglianese, 1997; Rossi, 1997; Pellizoni, 2001; Sunstein, 2001, 2006; Ventriss and Keuntzel, 2005; Bora and Hausendorf, 2006; Abels, 2007). Assessing these claims is central to the aims of this study. The Panel on Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making was established in response to a request from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Energy, and the Food and Drug Administration to make such an assessment, and it also received support from the U.S. Forest Service. Its task was to “undertake a study of public participation processes in environmental assessment and policy making” that would focus on “indicators of success and variables that may influence these indicators; lessons from experience concerning which approaches work well under which conditions; testable hypotheses that would allow verification or refinement of such lessons; and ways that gov-
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making ernment agencies can learn systematically from their own experience and the experience of others.” The panel was charged with writing “a consensus statement about the implications of current knowledge for public participation, practice and research.” The panel includes researchers and practitioners with expertise in environmental assessment, public participation, risk analysis, adaptive management, group process, decision making, environmental policy, evaluation research, and related fields. We were selected to provide the study with a range of knowledge and expertise across these fields and over a wide variety of environmental and biomedical policy issues. We sought additional input from other researchers and practitioners as we conducted the study, as described later in this chapter. DEFINING PUBLIC PARTICIPATION It is necessary to be clear at the outset about what we mean by public participation and to describe how we assess the evidence about it. In one sense of the term, all decisions in a democracy involve public participation. People participate through voting, expressing opinions on public issues and governmental actions, forming interest groups or holding public demonstrations to influence government decisions, lobbying, filing lawsuits to contest government actions, physically interfering with the execution of objectionable policy decisions, acting in partnership with government agencies, and even producing films, songs, and artistic events to mobilize public attention to issues. Defined broadly, public participation includes all of these forms. For example, Creighton (2005:7) defines it as “the process by which public concerns, needs and values are incorporated into governmental and corporate decision making.” Indeed, public participation may be defined even more broadly to include citizens making and implementing decisions on matters of public concern directly and in ways that are largely or even entirely independent of government (Fung and Wright, 2001; Boyte, 2004). In the United States, citizens engage directly in environmental stewardship through a host of watershed councils and “stream teams,” through “bucket brigades” that monitor air quality, through land trusts and forest councils, and in dozens of other ways (Knopman, Susman, and Landef, 1999; Sabel, Fung, and Karkkainen, 2000; O’Rourke and Macey, 2003; Weber, 2003; www.bucketbrigade.net). Our focus is narrower. We are concerned with organized processes adopted by elected officials, government agencies, or other public- or private-sector organizations to engage the public in environmental assessment, planning, decision making, management, monitoring, and evaluation. These processes supplement the traditional forms of public participation noted above by adding direct involvement in executive functions that, when they
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making are conducted by government, are traditionally delegated to administrative agencies. Often the role of the public is advisory, but increasingly there are experiments with shared governance and ongoing collaboration (e.g., Sabatier, 2005).1 These processes may engage people at the earliest stages of environmental assessments, but they are most common as an immediate precursor to decision making. In some cases, public participation is focused on providing input to ongoing decisions about implementation. The focus in this study, then, is on participation that takes place in institutionalized decision processes. We recognize that when such processes fail to incorporate public concerns adequately, people can and do participate by going outside these organized venues. Indeed, the evolution of official mechanisms of participation is at least in part a response to participation outside the system. The term “public participation,” as used in this study, includes any of a variety of mechanisms and processes used to involve and draw on members of the public or their representatives in the activities of public-or private-sector organizations that are engaged in informing or making environmental assessments or decisions. Our interest is in mechanisms and processes other than the traditional modes of public participation in electoral, legislative, and judicial processes. These processes are mainly used in bureaucratic agencies charged with administering policies, although they may also be used in policy development.2 “The public” may consist of organized interests, sometimes referred to as stakeholders; people selected by a systematic process to create a representative sample, as is done in survey research; people selected purposively to represent particular perspectives, knowledge bases, or interests; or individuals who themselves choose to engage in processes that are open to all. Which of these versions of “the public” are the actual participants can make a difference to participatory processes, because different selections are likely to represent different sets of interests or concerns in the process.3 A concrete example of how public participation is defined in agency regulations is the definition used by the EPA in its regulations related to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Clean Water Act: 40 CFR§25.2(b) Public participation is that part of the decision-making process through which responsible officials become aware of public attitudes by providing ample opportunity for interested and affected parties to communicate their views. Public participation includes providing access to the decision-making process, seeking input from and conducting dialogue with the public, assimilating public viewpoints and preferences, and demonstrating that those viewpoints and preferences have been considered by the decision-making official. Disagreement on significant issues is to be expected among government agencies and the diverse groups interested in
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making and affected by public policy decisions. Public agencies should encourage full presentation of issues at an early stage so that they can be resolved and timely decisions can be made. In the course of this process, responsible officials should make special efforts to encourage and assist participation by citizens representing themselves and by others whose resources and access to decision-making may be relatively limited. 40 CFR§25.2(c) The following are the objectives of EPA, State, interstate, and substate agencies in carrying out activities covered by this part: To assure that the public has the opportunity to understand official programs and proposed actions, and that the government fully considers the public’s concerns; To assure that the government does not make any significant decision on any activity covered by this part without consulting interested and affected segments of the public; To assure that government action is as responsive as possible to public concerns; To encourage public involvement in implementing environmental laws; To keep the public informed about significant issues and proposed project or program changes as they arise; To foster a spirit of openness and mutual trust among EPA, States, substate agencies and the public; and To use all feasible means to create opportunities for public participation, and to stimulate and support participation. It is interesting to compare the EPA language with the regulations of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service regarding its land and resource management planning processes: 36 CFR§219.9 Public participation, collaboration and notification. The Responsible Official must use a collaborative and participatory approach to land management planning, in accordance with this subpart and consistent with applicable laws, regulations, and policies, by engaging the skills of appropriate combinations of Forest Service staff, consultants, contractors, other Federal agencies, federally recognized Indian Tribes, State or local governments, or other interested or affected communities, groups, or persons. Providing opportunities for participation. The Responsible Official must provide opportunities for the public to collaborate and participate openly and meaningfully in the planning process, taking into account the discrete and diverse roles, jurisdictions, and responsibilities of interested and affected parties. Specifically, as part of plan development, plan amendment, and plan revision, the Responsible Official shall involve the public in developing and updating the comprehensive evaluation report, establishing
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making the components of the plan, and designing the monitoring program. The Responsible Official has the discretion to determine the methods and timing of public involvement activities. As these regulatory definitions illuminate, the language of public involvement varies with the history, purpose, and culture of an agency. In the case of EPA, public involvement is within the framework of carrying out specific statutes regulating use and protection of the environment. In contrast, the Forest Service has a broad multiple-use mandate and must seek to satisfy a broad range of perspectives and uses of natural resources and environmental qualities. DIMENSIONS OF PARTICIPATION For the purpose of assessing public participation processes across a large range of types of agency activities, it is important to distinguish several dimensions along which assessments and decisions can be participatory. In a classic paper, Arnstein (1969) defined a ladder of participation with eight “steps” that ranged from manipulation of the public through consultation, placation, and partnership to citizen control. Similarly, the International Association for Public Participation offers a matrix that describes a “spectrum” of processes commonly labeled public participation (http://www.iap2.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=5). It emphasizes “increasing level of public impact” as the key dimension and identifies five levels: inform, consult, involve, collaborate, and empower. Fung (2006) articulates three dimensions of participation: who participates, how participants communicate with one another and make decisions together, and how discussions are linked to policy or action. In our work we elaborated on Fung’s approach, identifying five dimensions: who is involved; when—at what points—they are involved; the intensity of involvement, that is, the degree of effort made by the participants to be involved and by the government agency or other convener to keep them involved; the extent of power or influence the participants have; and the goals for the process. We also considered how these five dimensions relate to the design of public participation processes.
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making Who Is Involved “The public” in public participation normally refers to individuals acting both in their roles as citizens and as formal representatives of collective “interested and affected parties”—people, groups, or organizations that may experience benefit or harm or that otherwise choose to become informed or involved in an environmental decision (National Research Council, 1996).4 These may include particular ethnic groups, children, affected neighborhoods, occupational categories, or other categories of individuals, groups, or organizations, some of which are inadequately represented in traditional policy forums. Although the label “public” often refers to individual citizens or relatively unorganized groups of individuals, our definition of public participation includes the full range of interested and affected parties, including corporations, nonprofit educational or advocacy organizations, and associations, and it also considers the roles of public officials, agencies, and scientists, the last acting as individuals or on behalf of organizations. The “who” dimension includes the variety of kinds of participants as well as their number, which may range from a handful to thousands in any single process. Dewey (1923) defined the public as all those who would be interested in or affected by a decision. In the context of environmental decision making it is useful to make distinctions among these publics (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board, 2001; Renn and Walker, 2008): stakeholders—organized groups that are or will be affected by or that have a strong interest in the outcome of a decision; directly affected public—individuals and nonorganized groups that will experience positive or negative effects from the outcome; observing public—the media, cultural elites, and opinion leaders who may comment on the issue or influence public opinion; and general public—all individuals who are not directly affected by the by the issue but may be part of public opinion on it. As discussed in Chapters 4-8, how much attention should be paid to involving each of these publics depends on the context. Often it is sufficient to include only stakeholders, but for some issues it is crucial to use involvement processes that integrate stakeholders and other segments of the public to ensure that the process is not, and does not appear to be, captured by organized interests that may not raise the full range of public concerns. As we note in later chapters, the breadth of involvement must be matched to the issue. Indeed, diagnosing who should be involved often requires more content-specific characterizations of the public than these four heuristic categories provide. It would be inefficient and a waste of time and money
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making to include the full scope of public actors in all environmental controversies. But substantial financial, organizational, and institutional resources can also be wasted if the involvement process falls short of the expectations of the general public or of organized groups. Later in the report we discuss approaches that help diagnose what is appropriate in a particular context. Points in the Policy Process The public can be involved to different degrees in different aspects of a policy process. The schema developed in Understanding Risk: Informing Decisions in a Democratic Society (National Research Council, 1996) provides a heuristic that is useful in structuring our discussion, although it will not apply exactly to all processes; see Figure 1-1. The schema identifies nine points in the policy process: five stages or elements that precede and inform decisions, the decisions themselves, two activities that follow decisions, and a learning process that uses the consequences of past decisions as input to future ones. It is much more common for government agencies to invite public involvement at some points in the process than at others. It is normal, and sometimes required by law, for federal agencies to invite public involvement in gathering information for making environmental decisions and in commenting on draft documents that synthesize that information (e.g., the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, http://www.nepa.gov/nepa/regs/nepa/nepaeqia.htm) or in commenting on proposed decisions (e.g., the Administrative Procedure Act, http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/laws/administrative-procedure/). FIGURE 1-1 A schematic representation of environmental decision processes. SOURCE: National Research Council (1996:28).
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making It appears to be less common for them to invite broad public involvement in formulating the problem about which information will be gathered. Processes may be considered more participatory along the “when” dimension if they involve the public earlier in the policy process or at more points in the process. Intensity of Involvement Public participation activities can vary greatly with respect to levels of involvement. They can range from minimal opportunities to express an opinion verbally or in writing in open meetings, focus groups, or surveys that act as inputs to a process that lacks subsequent public involvement, to the highly intensive interaction, dialogue, contribution of information, and participation in shared analyses characteristic of regulatory negotiations or advisory committees. Similarly, convening organizations may exert greatly varying amounts of effort to solicit and maintain public input over time, with some processes consisting of a single meeting and others continuing over many months or years and including contributions to or ongoing learning during implementation. Influence of Participants The degree of public influence may vary from negligible, when public hearings are conducted only to fulfill a legal public comment requirement; to moderate, such as information exchanges or option development in a workshop setting; to an explicit requirement for consensus on recommendations, as for the decision phase under regulatory negotiation procedures (Arnstein, 1969; Fung, 2006). Goals for Participation Public participation processes vary in their goals. Some seek consensus on a policy choice, for example, in a regulatory negotiation process. Others have much more modest goals, such as identifying public values and concerns, gathering information for assessing environmental conditions, or shaping environmental analyses that will inform an administrative decision that is not likely to please all the interested groups. Participation processes may be convened as a way to educate or empower the public, or only to elicit information and concerns. As discussed further in Chapter 2, there is considerable dispute about what the goals of public participation should be, both among observers of the processes generally and among participants in particular processes.
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making Sarat, 1980-1981). Related lines of research have had significant influence on how public participation practices, including research on bargaining and negotiation and from game theory (e.g., Bartos, 1974; Gulliver, 1979; Fisher and Ury, 1981; Lewicki and Litterer, 1985; Lax and Sebenius, 1986; Bazerman et al., 2000; Raiffa, 2007), on the ways that human beings create meaning and misunderstandings in conflict and conflict-handling processes (Mather and Yngvesson, 1980-1981; Cobb and Rifkin, 1991; Ross, 1993), on issues of procedural justice and the dimensions of satisfaction sought (Thibaut and Walker, 1975; Lind and Tyler, 1988), on participation as a political process (Wondolleck, 1988; Cortner and Shannon, 1993; Cortner, 1996), and on the effects of interventions by third parties (Walton and McKersie, 1965; Deutsch, 1973; Bercovitch, 1984; Pruitt and Rubin, 1986; Donohue, 1991; Dingwall and Greatbatch, 1993; Kolb, 1994). A third stream flows from the practice of environmental public participation and the need to draw lessons from that practice. Government agencies have increasingly implemented procedures to broaden public input to environmental decisions. During the 1970s and 1980s, federal, state, local, and tribal government agencies organized many hundreds of public participation processes (Bingham, 1986, 2003). Since the 1990s, the number of participation efforts has increased into the thousands. In many of these efforts, agencies experimented with methods to improve participation, often engaging scholars interested in evaluation, natural resources management, or risk management. The research literature that has developed around these efforts is a major source of evidence for this study. The earliest and most common type of analysis involves case studies examining one or a few specific applications, and the literature has grown to include studies of multiple related cases. Private corporations and nongovernmental organizations have also attempted to engage the public in environmental decision making, for example, in relicensing hydroelectric power plants, corporate social responsibility efforts, forest certification and forest management planning (Brun and Buttoud, 2003; Shannon, 2003), and efforts convened by nongovernmental organizations on climate change and control of invasive species, although some of these efforts are not well documented. These developments have made it possible to test theoretical arguments and proposals against experience. These sources of insight and experience, combined with the judgment of experts or panels of experts, have provided the basis for numerous handbooks, guidelines, and other prescriptive documents (e.g., Pritzker and Dalton, 1990; Society of Professionals in Dispute Resolution, 1992; Canadian Round Tables, 1993; National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, 1996; World Bank, 1996; Presidential/Congressional Commission on Risk Assessment and Risk Management, 1997a,b; Western Center for Environmental Decision Making, 1997; U.S. Environmental Protection
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making Agency, 1998, 2000a,b, 2001; Creighton, 1999, 2005; Policy Consensus Initiative, 1999; Susskind, Thomas-Larmer, and Levy, 1999; Susskind et al., 1999; Institute for Environmental Negotiation, 2001; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2001; International Association for Public Participation, 2006; International Finance Corporation, 2006). A set of principles recently issued by a federal interagency task force (Office of Management and Budget and President’s Council on Environmental Quality, 2005) reflects current understanding drawn from theory, practice, and case studies; see Box 1-1. This excellent summary of current advice can be thought of as a series of hypotheses or research questions. They are among the hypotheses from previous syntheses that we have tested against evidence from a variety of sources in developing our conclusions. The emerging data have not yet been organized within a common conceptual framework that allows for the consistent measurement of variables and formal testing of hypotheses that are desirable for scientific analysis. Enough progress in that direction has been made in recent years, however, to make it possible in this study to take a significant step toward conceptualizing public participation and its intended results and in developing evidence-based guidance that can improve practice over time through systematic empirical investigation. This study draws on six sources of evidence regarding public participation: theories of participatory democracy, public discourse, and conflict resolution; basic social science knowledge on phenomena directly related to public participation (e.g., small-group interaction, public understanding of science); experience of public participation practitioners; case studies of individual instances of environmental public participation; research comparing multiple public participation processes focused on similar environmental issues, similar mechanisms, or a single convening organization (“families” of cases); and studies of multiple cases that cut across families. The majority of environmental public participation efforts in federal agencies and most existing handbooks for practitioners have drawn mainly on the third and fourth forms of knowledge, with some reliance on the first. This is appropriate as, until recently, those were the best sources of knowledge available about public participation. Now, however, analyses based on the last two approaches have also become available (some conducted specifically in support of this study). In addition, we have looked further
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making BOX 1-1 Basic Principles for Agency Engagement in Environmental Conflict Resolution and Collaborative Problem Solving Informed Commitment Confirm willingness and availability of appropriate agency leadership and staff at all levels to commit to principles of engagement; ensure commitment to participate in good faith with open mindset to new perspectives. Balanced Representation Ensure balanced inclusion of affected/concerned interests; all parties should be willing and able to participate and select their own representatives. Group Autonomy Engage with all participants in the developing and governing process, including choice of consensus-based decision rules; seek assistance as needed from impartial facilitator/mediator selected by and accountable to all parties. Informed Process Seek agreement on how to share, test, and apply relevant information (scientific, cultural, technical, etc.) among participants; ensure relevant information is accessible and understandable by all participants. Accountability Participate in the process directly, fully, and in good faith; be accountable to the process, all participants, and the public. Openness Ensure all participants and public are fully informed in a timely manner of the purpose and objectives of process; communicate agency authorities, requirements, and constraints; uphold confidentiality rules and agreements as required for particular proceedings. Timeliness Ensure timely decisions and outcomes. Implementation Ensure decisions are implementable consistent with federal law and policy; parties should commit to identify roles and responsibilities necessary to implement agreement; parties should agree in advance on the consequences of a party being unable to provide necessary resources or implement agreement; ensure parties will take steps to implement and obtain resources necessary to agreement. NOTE: These principles were derived from discussions held in 2004 among senior staff from 16 federal departments and agencies at the request of James L. Connaughton, chair of the President’s Office of Environmental Quality. These principles are consistent with collective professional experience and research in interest-based negotiation, consensus building, collaborative management, environmental mediation, and conflict resolution. SOURCE: Office of Management and Budget and President’s Council on Environmental Quality (2005).
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making into certain areas of behavioral and social science research than has typically been done in studies of public participation. Thus, it is now possible to deploy the wider range of methods, using contrasts and comparisons to expand and make more robust the understanding of environmental public participation. Since we use all six forms of knowledge, it is useful here to review the merits and limits of each. Practical experience, case studies, and theory all are well suited for proposing factors that matter in public participation. The first two of these are also valuable for understanding the nuances of public participation processes and the ways that such processes develop over time. But these forms of knowledge are not readily codified, which makes it difficult to assess general hypotheses that are thought to hold across a variety of cases or to evaluate systematically the plausibility of explanations that differ from those offered by experience or case studies. Case studies, usually of one or a few instances of public participation, are of great value for demonstrating that certain phenomena can occur, for understanding particular instances of participation, and for drawing comparative conclusions across a small range of contexts (Ragin, 1987; Ragin and Becker, 1992; McKeown, 2004; George and Bennett, 2005). Although case studies of public participation can provide “existence proofs” of relevant phenomena, they have not yet been well connected to common theoretical concerns, research questions, concepts, or methods of measurement. As a result, they generally provide less guidance for future research or for the practice of public participation than would be ideal. Moreover, studies based on single cases or a small number of cases are of necessity limited in the variation they exhibit across key variables. Strong conclusions from case studies require the analysis of many cases (or many repeated observations through time) that exhibit substantial variability in key factors. Theory is useful for conceptualizing the contexts, processes, and outcomes of public participation, for identifying factors that should be considered as explanations of the outcomes, and for developing explicit hypotheses about relationships among contexts, processes, and outcomes. It is not useful for drawing conclusions until the theories are examined in light of empirical data. In recent years, other sources of knowledge and insight about public participation have become available. These sources, in addition to a continued expansion of case reports, make it possible to check past lessons learned against information from new studies, new bodies of knowledge, and more sophisticated multivariate research methods. One can now “triangulate” in looking for robust findings verified by more than one method. The new and emerging knowledge complements existing knowledge and provides a more solid basis for advice to public participation practitioners. Basic social science knowledge has been advancing on a number of topics
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making of obvious relevance to environmental public participation, including individual judgment and decision making, group process, conflict management, and civic participation. Much of this knowledge has not yet been brought to bear on the design of environmental public participation processes. The panel examined several of these lines of research for their implications for environmental public participation. Panel members and staff prepared papers summarizing these implications, which were discussed at a public workshop held on February 3-5, 2005. Workshop materials are available at http://www7.nationalacademies.org/hdgc/Workshop%20Materials.html. Comparative studies of families of cases—that is, cases with similar content or purpose—are a relatively recent development in environmental public participation research. They now include studies of watershed partnerships (Duram and Brown, 1998; Sommarstrom and Huntington, 1999; Leach, Pelkey, and Sabatier, 2002), forest management (Gericke and Sullivan, 1994; Williams and Ellefson, 1996), land use conflicts (Lampe and Kaplan, 1999; Rauschmayer and Wittmer, 2006), and cleanup of toxic sites (Aronoff and Gunter, 1994; Henry S. Cole Associates, 1996; Carnes et al., 1998; Ashford and Rest, 1999; Bradbury, Branch, and Malone, 2003). At least one study considers a family of cases defined by a similar participation format—regulatory negotiation (Langbein, 2005). Multiple cases provide for replication and for comparison of cases that vary on some dimensions while others remain constant. In addition, the use of common concepts across cases reduces the potential for ambiguity in findings. Finally, we can draw on multicase, multifamily databases. By the end of the 1990s, a sufficient body of data on single cases was available to allow Beierle and Cayford (2002) to identify 276 documents describing environmental public participation in sufficient detail to be included in a database.5 Beierle and Cayford coded these case reports on a large set of variables presumed to be important for assessing and explaining the outcomes of public participation, using common definitions for variables and a transparent coding system. Although ambiguity certainly exists in the case reports, databases such as that of Beierle and Cayford provide an invaluable resource for seeking generalities about public participation that cut across particular decision contexts. It is worth noting that the evidence base for the present study does not include experimental field research involving case-control studies in which environmental assessment or decision processes are randomly assigned to two or more conditions (e.g., an experimental participatory process and a less participatory standard practice) and the results are compared. Such research is often considered the “gold standard” in policy evaluation because it can provide the strongest possible evidence of the causal efficacy of an intervention. Such field experiments could, in principle, be conducted, but the panel has not identified any in environmental public participation
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making (although a few exist in the broader literature on public participation, e.g., Fishkin and Luskin, 2005). However, experimental studies have their own limitations. The experiment, and especially the laboratory setting, may create a context for decision making different from that of participation processes in practical settings. This altered context may in turn alter the ways in which participants interact and make decisions (Lopes, 1983; Fischhoff, 1996a,b). Experiments in field settings reduce such concerns about what researchers call external validity, but they have other limitations. It is difficult in the field to hold constant all factors extraneous to the public participation process being implemented, and it is also difficult to conduct a large enough number of field trials to give confidence that these factors are randomly distributed across experimental conditions. Thus, there is almost always room for legitimate dispute about the import of results from field experiments in complex social settings. It is also worth emphasizing that given the state of knowledge in this field, it is not yet clear which variables are most important to investigate with rigorous research designs. Because of the limitations of all methods of evaluation, social scientists draw inferences about complex social phenomena by triangulation across multiple methods of data collection, which can together provide robust evidence not vulnerable to the flaws of any single method. We have followed this strategy by seeking a convergence of evidence from multiple sources, some of which have not to our knowledge been included in previous assessments of environmental public participation. This study examines all six of the sources of knowledge and insight identified, reconsiders the conclusions stated in past guidance documents for public participation, and presents a set of conclusions and recommendations based on our assessment of currently accumulated knowledge. HOW WE CONDUCTED THE STUDY The basic strategy of this study has been to consider possible conclusions and guidance for environmental public participation in light of all the available sources of knowledge and insight. Our presumption is that conclusions that are robust across various methods and sources of knowledge provide a stronger basis than previously available for offering the science-based guidance that government agencies and others need in order to improve the practice of public participation. A multimethod approach can also move knowledge forward by testing current beliefs against the best available evidence, a point on which we expand below. The National Academies began by soliciting knowledge and insights based on practical experience. Two workshops conducted before the panel was formed invited practitioners from various levels of government, pro-
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making fessionals in environmental dispute resolution and public participation, citizens with substantial experience in public participation, and researchers. Their ideas were solicited about the most important issues for the study to address. Some of the participants in the early workshops were appointed as members of the study panel when it was formed. Input was also sought from the original participants and other outside parties throughout the study via an electronic mailing list, a website, and open invitations to the panel’s meetings and to the major workshop held in February 2005. In order to seek broad public input, the panel was provided with internal funds and approval from the National Research Council (NRC) for efforts to elicit input beyond what is typical for the NRC. We think the quality of our work was greatly improved by the input we received; nevertheless, we wish we had been more successful in eliciting input from citizens with experience with environmental public participation. Understandably, most such individuals are not familiar with NRC studies and are unlikely to attend open meetings in Washington; our resources for supporting any travel to our meetings were limited. Despite reasonable efforts to make the study widely known and a public commitment that the panel would discuss all materials submitted via our interactive website, we received relatively little input. So, ironically, the question of how to effectively engage the public at appropriate stages in an NRC study remains an open one. We commissioned a series of papers to synthesize the many sources of available data and discussed them within the panel and at the 2005 workshop. One set of papers included a draft conceptual framework for consideration by the panel (Stern, 2003), a review of practitioner handbooks (Zarger, 2003), and a summary of the findings of several existing case-family papers (Tuler, 2003). A second set of papers sought insights for environmental public participation from basic social science knowledge on such topics as civic engagement and political participation (Markus, Chess, and Shannon, 2005), conflict resolution (Birkhoff and Bingham, 2004), interpersonal processes in decision-making groups (Stern, 2005b), decision analysis (North and Renn, 2005), and individual judgment and decision processes (DeKay and Vaughan, 2005). This social science knowledge is seriously underrepresented in past writing on environmental public participation. A third set of papers examined selected families of cases. We invited researchers who had already synthesized knowledge about particular families of public participation cases to reexamine those cases in relation to a common set of issues and concepts, so as to make it possible to draw comparisons both within and across case families. These papers examined public participation in watershed management (Lubell and Leach, 2005), regulatory negotiation (Langbein, 2005), remediation of Superfund sites associated with nuclear weapons production (Bradbury, 2005), and regional
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making and sectoral assessments under the U.S. National Assessment of Climate Change (Moser, 2005). In addition, we conducted a partial reanalysis of the Beierle and Cayford (2002) dataset (Dietz and Stern, 2005) to address important questions for this study. Finally, we drew on other independently produced case-family analyses (e.g., Ashford and Rest, 1999; Leach, 2005; Mitchell et al., 2006; National Research Council, 2007a) that were similar in scope and purpose to the ones we commissioned, using these as additional sources when evaluating hypotheses. The case families selected were the subset of all possible case families that the panel thought would best clarify key issues, given our resources and time constraints. More work comparing case families is certainly possible and is likely to be fruitful. This report is the synthesis of all these sources of knowledge and insight. Comparing and synthesizing knowledge from these diverse sources and methods increases confidence in results, allows for testing of tentative conclusions from one approach for consistency with evidence of other types, and creates a stronger basis for developing practical guidance. It can also improve the basis for future research, moving toward a science of public participation that is increasingly cumulative and that contributes both to theoretical understanding of democratic governance and to future public participation practice. GUIDE TO THE REPORT Following this introduction, Chapter 2 considers the history of public participation in U.S. environmental policy and discusses the major justifications that have been offered for broad public participation in environmental policy decisions as well as the major arguments that have been proposed against it. These justifications and arguments provide hypotheses about the effects of participation that are examined in the remainder of the report. The chapter also considers when in a process evaluation is appropriate and identifies the three types of results that are used in this study as criteria of success: the quality of assessments or decisions, the legitimacy of those assessments or decisions, and improvements in the capacity of those involved to make good, legitimate assessments and decisions in the future. Chapters 3 through 8 examine and summarize evidence relevant to hypotheses about the consequences of environmental public participation, focusing especially on the factors inside and outside the process that determine those consequences. Chapter 3 considers the most basic evaluative questions about environmental public participation: the overall degree to which public participation efforts succeed, and whether tradeoffs among the desired consequences are necessary, so that some can only be achieved at the expense of others. Chapters 4, 5, and 6 consider how the practice of public participation
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making affects the outcomes. Chapter 4 examines the effects of aspects of program management (e.g., setting goals, providing resources and organizational commitment, developing a realistic timeline). Chapter 5 considers alternative ways of organizing participation. It reviews the effects of such factors as breadth of participation, openness of design, intensity of participation, and influence of participants on the results of the process. Chapter 6 discusses the effects of the ways scientific analysis is integrated with public participation, which is always a special challenge in environmental assessment and decision making. It identifies the key challenges in achieving this integration and identifies a number of mechanisms and tools that have been used for meeting the challenges. These chapters identify evidence-based basic principles of good practice for participation. Chapters 7 and 8 examine aspects of the context of participation. They show how particular contextual factors may make effective participation difficult and identify specific practices that have been used to help overcome these difficulties. Chapter 7 reviews the characteristics of the issue under consideration, including the nature of the environmental problem and the state of the science available to understand the problem. Chapter 8 considers the constraints faced by agencies in conducting participation and the characteristics of those who might participate. In Chapters 3 through 8, we examine all the available sources of evidence, compare and weigh the evidence of various types, consider the limitations of each type of evidence, and identify conclusions supported by a convergence of evidence. Chapter 9 summarizes our conclusions and presents our recommendations. It offers a “best process” for diagnosing participation contexts, choosing practices to address the difficulties they present, and improving the process over time. The chapter also presents our recommendations for further research. NOTES 1In such cases, public participation begins to blend with commons management (National Research Council, 2002a; Dietz, Ostrom, and Stern, 2003) and with “citizen science” (Irwin, 1995). However, the literature from these two fields of research have not been integrated into the literature on public participation, and their implications for public participation are not clear. We discuss the implications of work on the commons further in Chapter 5. 2Environmental public participation processes may also be convened outside of government, for example, by a business or nonprofit nongovernmental organization or even by a previously unorganized group of affected individuals. We sometimes use the term agency to refer broadly to any
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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making entity or group of entities that may convene a public participation process, provide the resources for it to proceed, or take action based on its results. 3We recognize that public participation is sometimes organized merely for appearance or to comply with external requirements and without the intent to make use of public input, but the use or nonuse of public input is separate from the definition of participation. 4Some researchers make a sharp distinction between “stakeholder involvement” and “public participation” (English et al., 1993; Yosie and Herbst, 1998; Ashford and Rest, 1999). When this distinction is made, public participation generally connotes processes that do not “differentiate among different members of the public” (Ashford and Rest, 1999:1-3), and stakeholder involvement refers to processes that define participants in terms of the interests or organized groups they represent (English et al., 1993; Ashford and Rest, 1999); we do not follow this distinction. 5An additional 255 such documents lacked sufficient detail to be used in the analysis.
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