Friday, November 07, 2008

Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making

For those interested in public participation, there is a new book:

Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making

by the U.S. National Research Council. 2008.

Editors: Thomas Dietz and Paul C Stern
Washington, D.C.
National Academy Press.

It is well worth a look too; as it is easy to read and full of good ideas for those wanting to know more about this important part of environmental management.

Anyway, have a look (or buy the book).

It is available online at:

Following are the main conclusions and recommendations made:

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.

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 process as a requisite of effective action, not merely a formal procedural requirement.

Recommendation 2:

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

1. clarity of purpose
2. a commitment to use the process to inform their actions
3. adequate funding and staff
4. appropriate timing in relation to decisions
5. a focus on implementaion
6. a commitment to self-assessment and learning from experience.

Recommendation 3:

Agencies undertaking a public participation process should, considering the purpose of the process, design it to address the challenges that arise from particular contexts. Process design should be guided by four principles:

1. inclusive of participation
2. collaborative problem formulation and process design
3. transparency of the process
4. good-faith communication.

Recommendation 4:

Environmental assessments and decisions with substantial scientific content should be supported with collaborative, broadly based, integrated, and iterative analytic-deliberative processes, such as those described in Understanding Risk and subsequent National Research Council reports. In designing such processes, the responsibile agencies can benefit from following five key principles for effectively melding scientific analysis and public participation:

1. ensuring transparency of decision-relevant information and analysis
2. paying explicit attention to both facts and values,
3. promoting explicitness about assumptions and uncertainties
4. including independent review of official analysis and/or engaging in a process of collaborative inquiry with interested and affected parties
5. allowing for iteration to reconsider past conclusions on the basis of new information.

Recommendation 5:

Oublic participation practitioners, working with the responsible agency and the participants, should adopt a best-process regime consisting of four elements:

1. diagnosis of the context
2. collaborative choice of techniques to meet difficulties expected because of the context
3 monitoring of the process to see how well it is working
4. iteration, including chages in tools and techniques if needed to overcome difficulties.

Recommendation 6:

Agencies that involve interested and affected parties in environmental assessments and decision making should invest in social science research to inform their practice and buil broader knowledge about public participation. Routine, well-designed evaluation of agency public participation efforts is one of the most important contributions they can make. Because public participation makes a useful test bed for examining basic social science theory and methods, the National Science Foundation should partner with mission agencies in funding such research, following the model of the successful Partnership for Environmental Research of the National Science Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency.


U.S. National Research Council. 2008. Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decison Making. Thomas Dietz and Paul C Stern (editors). Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

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