als believe that decision processes have not adequately taken into account important values, the results can include a loss of trust, exacerbated conflict, and prolonged negative affective reactions (e.g., Fisher, 1991; Rich et al., 1995; Shah, Domke, and Wackman, 1996; Susskind and Field, 1996; Baron and Spranca, 1997; Thompson and Gonzalez, 1997). As we discuss in Chapter 7, discordant framing is also a source of conflict. When agencies have sufficient flexibility to allow problems to be reframed through deliberation so as to incorporate participants’ definitions, and they allow this to happen, these results may be avoided (National Research Council, 1996; Renn, 2004; Lemos and Morehouse, 2005). Clarity may include explicit recognition that the goals of the process may evolve as it is codesigned with citizens who may have somewhat different goals and expectations from the agency’s initial ones. A convergence of purposes has the potential to reduce conflict and enable cooperation. However, agency constraints sometimes limit flexibility in this regard. In our judgment, clarity about such real constraints is preferable in the long run to a lack of clarity that allows participants to become engaged in a process they may later conclude was organized under false pretenses.
Public participation processes are more likely to be successful when the agency responsible for the relevant environmental decisions is committed to supporting the process and taking seriously the results. This is in part because the more committed a decision-making agency is to act on the results of a public participation process the more likely the parties are to engage seriously. Commitment involves support of both agency leadership and staff at all levels for the objectives of the process, stated at the outset and updated periodically as the participation process and the context evolve. It implies clarifying how and by whom the outputs will be used and a commitment to open-minded consideration of those outputs.
Basic understanding of group processes and decision making suggests the importance of clear agency commitment. Ambiguity about how information will be used increases uncertainty, which, as already noted, makes high-quality thinking less likely. The research literature suggests, however, that if the convening agency is committed to a high-quality process, rather than to a particular kind of decision outcome, participants are more likely to engage in evenhanded and effortful consideration of the available options, rather than defensive justification of their preferred alternative (Simonson and Staw, 1992) and arrive at higher quality judgments (Siegel-Jacobs and Yates, 1996; for more detailed reviews, see Lerner and Tetlock, 1999, 2003). This implies that a public participation process is likely to go better if the responsible agency can honestly signal to the participants that it