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Journal of R isk R esearch 2 (1), 55–71 (1999

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The craft and the o ry o f public participatio n: a diale ctical pro ce ss
TH O MA S WE BLE R 1
Faculty of the D epartm ent of E nvironm ental Studies, A ntioch N ew E ngland G raduate School, 40 A von Street, K eene, NH 03431, USA Project Director at the Social and E nvironm ental R esearch Institute, P.O . B ox 253 L everett, M A 01054, USA

A bstract This article proposes the craft–theory dialectic as a novel way to conceptualize advance ment in the eld of public participation. In this perspective, the eld is characterized by a rich base of experiential knowledge and a scattered, but growing literature on theory. The chief challenge is to coordinate these two ways of knowing in an iterative, integrative fashion that enables practice to learn from theory and theory to learn from practice. Promoting the development of the craft–theory dialectic should be a central focus for the eld. Toward this end this article identi es several key research topics that need attention, explicates these with vignettes from the literature, and discusses the challenges associated with addressing them.

1. Introductio n
In recent years, interest in public participation in risk decision making has grown tremendously among the community of practitioners and academics in the risk sciences. This waxing publicity is nothing new. Public participation has known many ups and downs in its fty-o r-so-ye ar lifetime. What makes the present upsur ge captivating is the potential it offers for taking the eld beyond its current shortcomings. A t present the eld of public participation is characterized by an interesting juxtaposition of a rich experiential knowledge and a growing, but scattered theoretical literature. Whether it is the written literature, the verbal discourse,1 or the actual practice of getting publics to participate in risk policy making, the focus is almost exclusively on ‘what works’ and not ‘why it works’ or how it could work better (Creighton, 1983). A nd while the craft of public participation has bene ted greatly from its re ective practitioners, the eld is haunted by a need for integrated conceptual thinking, as a recent report by the U S National R esearch Council points out (1996). This article is an attempt to spell out the promise that is within reach of the eld of public participation. That promise is a chance to capitalize on the strong experiential knowledge base and to coordinate further research in order to build a sound theory of public participation that is better able to inform practice. E stablishing an effective
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confer ences such as the International A ssociation of Public Participat ion Practitioners.

1366-9877 © 1999 E & FN Spon

. 1987). Farhar and Babiuch. U S E nvironmental Protection A gency. 2. Mansbridge’s descriptions of a cooperative workp lace have been echoed by other studies (G astil. CA SE STU D IE S Most individuals’ rst encounter with the eld takes place amidst the montage of individual case studies that make up a vast portion of the public participation literature. of cials. and the gu idebooks that instruct planners how to craft citizen participation programmes. 1991. 1995. E nvironmental R esources Management. manuals. Conno r. 1984). 1989) . E delstein has produced a theory of environmental stigma. case studies of a Vermont town meeting and a crisis intervention centre called ‘H elpline’. Creighton. and often not as readily available as many other publications. 1997) . Case studies such as these are extremely important to the development of theory. 1988). but were 2Many fewer in number are the handbooks that attempt to instr uct citizens on how to participate effectively (Maynes and the O ntario Environment al Network. O ther researchers have made systematic comparisons of several case studies to extract important theoretical concepts as well as pragmatic lessons for public participation. H owell. 1987: Thomas. O lsen and O lsen. O ne application of this approach is the work of A ronoff and G unter (1994) They drew on the secondary literature from seven case studies. 2.. among others.2.1. 1994. 1993. and succeeded in identifying situational factors that in uenced the performance of public participation. Many of these have not been peer-reviewed. and scientists embroiled in participatory decision making to participate meaningfully in shaping public policies. 1995. A deline Levine’s (1982) case study of the Love Canal con ict. 1993). E nglish et al. Levine’s analysis of the Love Canal con ict led to a theory of how activist organizations form (Stone and Levine. it would also improve the policies themselves. the events Levine described in the Love Canal con ict have been repeated in virtual identity in Superfund con icts across the country (E delstein. and Manbridge’s work has been used to develop a theory of participatory democracy (Barber.2 Few in number. These cases. Some of the classics in the eld are Philip Selznick’s study T V A and the G rass R oots (1966). For example. 1995. 1985). A brief overvie w of the literature 2. For example. Successfully doing so would enhance and improve not only opportunities for publics. 1993. H A ND BO O KS FO R O R G A NIZING CITIZ E N PA R TICIPA TIO N O ne of the most important segments of the literature on public participation are the handbooks. 1983. remain recommended readings because they succeed at building explanations that have validity beyond the immediate contexts of which they write. 1993.56 W ebler dialectical process between the practice and the theory of public participation should be a central aim. based in part on case studies (E delstein. these handbooks offer a wealth of knowledge to the eld (Bleiker and Bleiker. for a review of handbooks see Webler. and Jane Mansbridge’s B eyond A dversary D em ocracy (1980). 1985.

who explored the signi cance of the facility siting credo principles on siting outcomes (1993). They approach this task with logic and consistency. With criteria in hand. H andbo oks are. the authors next turn to a repertoire of techniques – sometimes called models. they are on the front line of generating knowledge and theory about public participation. But. Theory in the eld of pu blic participation has also bene ted and been intertwined with theoretical work from other elds. A s such. H andbooks attempt to give advice to would-be practitioners. 2. O ther strands await further development and synthesis. The formula is straightforward. A recent example is the study by Lehman et al. These lessons may also be phrased in the form of critical questions that planners should ask (‘Is the proposed process compatible with legal obligations?’). they ranked the importance of credo principles. for example. D rawing on data from a survey of parties customarily involved in siting disputes. They describe the techniques and may sort them into categories. much recent theoretical work focuses on discrete phenomena. objectives or criteria of ‘good’ citizen participation (‘A void confrontations between high-level of cials of opposing interests until the staff has worked out a compromise’). 1992).. SU R VE Y R E SE A R CH Surveys are a popular research tool to use for the purpose of gathering data from participants of public decision making processes in order to test a hypothesis. environ mentalists. they also give a special insight into the state of development of the eld. A nother intriguing study is that by Kunreuther et al. A nal example of survey research in public participation is Joanne Vining’s and A ngela E breo’s comparison of three groups’ (public. 2. and Shindler and Nebruka (1997). In addition.Craft and theory of public participation 57 written as reports or manuals. E arly theoretical work in public participation came from scholars of . (1995) on gender differences in public participation in political campaigns. It is typical to begin with observations about the practice of public participation (‘If the public feels that a decision was made in an inappropriate way. and ‘public participation’ to be the most important principles. they will not accept it’). there are articles that attempt to summarize experiential knowledge into basic principles. because they try to capitalize on experiential knowledge. TH E O R Y Theories give meaning to what might be perceived as unrelated phenomena. and forest managers) emotional responses to a hyp othetical forest policy dispute (1992) and their attitudes toward different management goals associated with the same hypothetical case (Vining. principles. Langton (1978). but for the moment they remain somewhat scattered. A few go on to guide the planner through the process of putting together a citizen participation process that is right for the job. They then recite fundamental lessons. ‘demonstrated need’. These works may be useful in a limited context.3. Kasperson (1986).4. They asked whether the widespread claim that women use a ‘different voice’ from men when they participate in political discourse was supported. producing a kind of Consum er R eports style summary. Within the public participation literature. of course. nding ‘establishing trust’. techniques. A s a grand nale some handbooks evaluate each technique on the criteria or objectives. valuable for providing practical ‘how-to’ advice to new practitioners. or approaches.

both of whom derived criteria from democratic theory and used these to evaluate generic techniques of participation. 1973. 1987). practical issues associated with the role of planners (Syme et al. The work of O rtwin R enn (1992). Jürgen H abermas’s theory of universal pragmatics (1979) and his theory of communicative action (1984. which originated in managerial theory and is based on observations of how managers make effective decisions (Vroom and Yetton. Forester. 1991). the Vroom–Yetton model has been applied to public participation in natural resource decision making (D aniels et al. 1987) . 1985). 1992.. Based on the responses to these seven questions. Mazmanian and Morell. 1989). 1982. the decision problem is examined for the presence of certain attributes. Kemp. while Laird added a parallel analysis based on liberal democratic theory. 1996). R enn and Levine. and trust in regulatory government (Kasperson and Stallen. the ‘Not In My Backyard Syndrom e’ (Morell and Magorian. 1983). access. 1993. Thomas D ietz (1987). could choose among a variety of participatory strategies (Thomas. and process. Frank Fisher (1985. 1974). To summarize brie y.g. 1982. William Freudenberg has re ected on some of the metatheoretical issues in this area (1983. D eSario and Langton. By this I mean efforts to integrate a number of key conceptual themes. John Forester (1985. Vroom and Jago. 1993). In the eld of social impact assessment. In addition. John Clayton Thomas has suggested that this model could be applied to prescribe how an of cial charged with organizing a public participation programme. A nother important contribution to theory in the eld of public participation begins with a theory of communication.58 W ebler Marxism. A different approach with a similar goal draws upon political theories of democracy to identify fundamental principles for public participation. segmented public consultation (C1) – which means that the agency consults different segments of the public separately. such as power. Judith Innes (1998). 1995).. 1972) and also to de ne a revisionary perspective on the role of public participation in government (Kasperson and Breitbart. se e also Freudenberg and O lsen. 1978). the participatory democrats Carole Pateman (1970) and Benjamin Barber (1984). this can be accomplished by asking a sequence of seven questions (e. 1986). then makes a decision). Fiorino based his principles on a conception of participatory democracy.. 1984. Burdge. 1990. 1969. numerous people have worked to understand how public involvement could be realized within the NE PA process (D aneke et al. In addition there are attempts to outline more holistic theories of public participation. 1994. 1991. O ne branch aims to match methods with purposes through the application of the Vroom–Yetton model.g. 1990. R ay Kemp (1985). in this instance. Finsterbusch. for example. They sought to elaborate on Marx’s views on public involvement (E vans. a nd to equip planning theory with a normative principle for participation (Forester. G regor y et al.. Jasanoff. Planners have attempted to grapple with the theoretical issues of power and participation (A rnstein. discourse. 1990). one is led to one of ve possible diagnoses (e. information. Work by political theorists on the theme of participatory democracy is also tightly linked to the eld of public participation. 1990). a large literature on siting and risk communication addresses issues of fair process (R enn. H eiman. ‘D oes the relevant public share agency goals?’). Thomas D ietz published an intriguing interpretation of how Jürgen H abermas’s theory of universal pragmatics could form the basis for structuring . For Thomas. 1986. R ecently. 1983. and Thomas Webler (1995) would fall into this category. This is represented by an earlier conceptual piece by Nelson R osenbaum (1978) as well as the more recent work of Frank Laird (1993) and D aniel Fiorino (1990). 1985). 1991.

these examples do illustrate how the theoretical public participation literature is scattered.] We encourage organizations responsible for [risk decision making] to explore the possibilities for improving deliberation and to make a commitment to learn from experience. 1995a ). Webler et al. Broadly based deliberatio n can also incr ease acceptance of the substantive decisions . Understanding R isk: Inform ing D ecisions in a D em ocratic Society . Webler has proposed a normative theory of public participation based on two central criteria – fairness and competence. Understanding R isk is cautious about making claims or recommendations that cannot be backed up with evidence. A t the same time. Jack D eSario and Stuar t Langton (1987). [. 5 Consider the following examples (pp. 76–77) . Thomas D ietz (1995a). . which seems of a like approach. 4 O ther scholars who have re ected on metatheoretical issues have been James Creighton (1983). While they did not explicitly summarize the literature. O ne need not be committed to the goal of a single theory of public participation to appreciate the need for better synthesis between theory and practice. deliberation. R ecently..4 2.. p.5. A llan Schnaiberg and A dam Weinstein called L ocal E nvironm ental Struggles. (1996. the committee did discuss the literature and its recommendations carry an interesting message about the state of the eld. but promising. Judy R osener (1978b). it recognizes that there are many unresolved questions. D eliberation also has the potential to yield more widely accepted choices. and the coordination of deliberation and analysis. . 1996). R ecently the U nited States’ National R esearch Council produced its rst report that dealt in depth with the issue of public participation in risk decision making processes (U S National R esearch Council. 80–82 emphasis added): Broadly based deliberatio n can help determine appropriate uses for potentially controver sial analytical techniques. .5 A s the following quot ation indicates. twenty practitioners and theorists within the eld took part in a project to evaluate eight generic models for public participation using criteria derived from H abermas’s concept of an ideal speech situation (R enn et al.3 O ne of the newest additions to theory of public participation is the book by Kenneth G ould.Craft and theory of public participation 59 participation processes (1987) . TH E ‘U ND E R STA ND ING R ISK’ R E PO R T A lthough not a thorough synop sis of the theoretical literature associated with the eld. The report. clearly makes the case for more effective and meaningful public participation. D eliberation can also prom ote mutual exchange of information and increase understan ding among intereste d and affected par ties. U sing a metaphor they call the ‘treadmill of production’ (which might be equated with the concept of late capitalism) they present a theory of international capitalist development and use this to interpret three cases studies of public participation in local environmental con icts (1996). (1995b). . D eliberation can clarify the nature and extent of agreements and disagreemen ts among participant s. D aniels and Walker (1996) recently reported on their ‘Collaborat ive Learning’ model. The theory provides the conceptual basis to interpret events in public decision making processes. 3Very recently a learning-base d approach to understa nding public participation seems to be emerging. and R enn et al. however. . which are derived from H abermas’s concepts of the ideal speech situation and communicative competence. Much of the language concerning the promise of participation is undeniably conditional.. (1995) built upon the work of Frank Laird (1993) to develop a model of social learning. the committee made a powerful case for the need to better develop a theory and craft of public participation: [T]here is little systematic knowledge about what works in public participation. Barry Checkoway and Jon Van Til ( 1978).

R ecently.. without the concept of a model. But where lie the boundaries that distinguish one from another? That is. regulatory negotiation) or an operational characteristic (survey-type models. 1978a) . If the eld of public participation is to develop. publics were not empowered. R enn et al. 3.60 W ebler 3. The result will be better theory and better prescriptions for practice. Their roles are so vastly different. In the interest of promoting healthy interplay between the craft and theory of participation. advisory committee models. it needs to nd a way to build on its tremendous strength in practice and craft and to feed this experiential knowledge and re ection into a dialectical process with theoretical re ection. and. but grouping them supposes they have common features that are somehow relevant. MA TCH ME TH O D TO PU R PO SE The idea that there are participation ‘methods’ that need to be matched to ‘purposes’ appeared early in the literature (R osener. but were merely manipulated by the . where relevant.1.. Promoting the craft–theory diale ctic of public participatio n The US National R esearch Council committee did not nd the evidence they were looking for to make more pointed recommendations about how public participation ought to be carried out. Part of the reason may be that the panel was searching for evidence that met positivist or post-positivist research criteria. discuss the challenges associated with addressing them. differentiating them according to purpose. What is the basis for establishing relevance? O ften techniques are groupe d according to their structural characteristics (i. do all the processes that rely on some form of advisory committee have enough characteristics in common to warrant treating them as a class (Lynn and Kartez. that one wonders what is gained from grouping them together as forms of advisory committees. 1993. There is an important lesson to be gleaned from this. H owever. while the study of participation does not lend itself readily to such analyses. how are we to convey messages to practitioners about what to do? O ne of the best known articles in the eld is Sherry A rnstein’s ‘Ladder of participation’ article from the Journal of the A m erican Planning A ssociation in 1969. 1995c) . relate the U S National R esearch Council committee’s insights on these themes.1. D evising a taxonom y of m odels for doing participation Is it meaningful to typify speci c participation techniques? Clearly there are different techniques. others. including the committee from the U S National R esearch Council have questioned the feasibility of succeeding at this (E nglish et al. Two speci c challenges have been raised: (1) devising a taxonomy of models.1. explicate these with vignettes from the literature. 1996). A rnstein’s point was that it was important to distinguish between different formats of citizen participation according to the degree to which the publics were empowered in the process. 3.e. A t the low end. (2) the question of context and generalizibility. Compare just two of them: the Blue-R ibbon Panel-type advisory committee and the advisory committee designed to serve as Watch D ogs over their advisees. I next outline some major research themes that the eld must address if it is to advance. A nd yet. National R esearch Council. the citizen jury. this endeavou r has been revisited (Bleiker and Bleiker. 1995)? Bleiker and Bleiker (1995) identi ed ten different typ es of advisory committees. the citizen panel. mediation models). 1995.

‘solicit advice from publics’. ‘listening to the public’. 96) 3. but still play a purely advisory role. This point was echoed in the Understanding R isk report. p. developed a detailed theory of power that would allow a precise characterization of participatory techniques. Second. 1996. the publics are being taken seriously. and others. all techniques are not equally 6 This same manual grouped techniques into the following categories: printed materials. T he question of context and generaliz ibility Next there is the question of whether we are ever going to be able to identify the important contextual variables which will signify which model is most appropriate for that context. the public is fully empowered because they have now become the decision makers. (U S National R esearch Council. . reasonable people still disagree about the appropr iateness of empowering a group of citizens that are not legal representatives to make public choices. A rnstein included. typologies based on some principle of empowerment typology crop up repeatedly. it is not possible to predict which deliberative method will work most effectively in any given situation. Creighton (1985. Third. Some critics (Nothdurft. A lthough popu lar.] The history of an issue. None of the above sources. Chapter 2) distinguished between goals such as ‘informing the public’ and ‘developing a consensus’ (see Table III). and ‘involving the public in decision making’. [.1. . it is senseless to make generic statements about which model is more likely to work well in any given instance. D eliberative methods are merely tools. The National A cademy report summed it up: Practitioners have developed a great variety of techniques that can be used in the deliberations that contribute to informing risk decisions. there is no rigorous or generally accepted classi cation scheme . using existing media. 1993) argue that. scienti c data. level of con ict. advisory gr oups. 1995. A manual published by E nvironmental Management R esources (1995. H owever. . problem solving techniques.6 E ach of these handbooks then attempted to associate techniques with the achievement of these goals. 3) also distinguishes between ‘informing the public’. it is not resolved that the empowering ability of different participation techniques can be reliably estimated. because the speci cs of the application determine performance more than does the characteristics of the technique itself. A t the top of the ladder. p. First of all. (U S National R esearch Council. R esults will depend less on the tool and more on its users and the setting in which it is used. H alfway up the ladder. surveys. p. (1993. These are described in an extensive literature.. . the concept of power in this application has not been adequately worked-out. . formal public information sessions. and ‘let publics make the nal decision’.2. . O n the basis of this principle. even this typology is not universally accepted. and existing power dyna mics may also in uence outcome as much as the method. A nd yet. 96) O ne cannot argue that there is a great deal of judgment and exibility involved in implementing a public participation programme. 1996. 17) identify purposes such as ‘obtain data about publics’ values’. . . informal public information sessions. E nglish et al.Craft and theory of public participation 61 decision making body.. . A rnstein placed different forms of participation into a taxo nomy. large meetings. small meetings. consensus building techniques. E nglish et al. . p. Since A rnstein.

O n the one hand. This is both a blessing and a curse. is to offer incentives that tip the risk–bene t ratio in the opposite direction. Final evaluations need to be made by the participatio n organizer who has become familiar with the nuances of the speci c context and history as well as the natur e of the techniques. 241) . these people may end up talking past each other. but not suppor ted with evidence or argument: M ost lay citizens will not participate unless: there are tangible issues.7 More systematic research into these factors is needed. 7 Simply acknowledging that we need to better understa nd how contextual factors in uence the per formance of participation techniques does not imply an allegiance to a cookbook approach . 9This may be what the Bleiker s mean by ‘tangible issues’. E MBR A CE INTE R D ISCIPLINA R INE SS Many scholars who work in the eld of public participation have their intellectual home in some other discipline. O lson surmised that a rational individual would choose not to participate if his or her participation was not essential to success of the process and if the costs of participating outweighed the bene ts (see also O berschall. this literature is rarely cited in the context of citizen participation. but to call these evaluations ‘preliminary’. and other factors (A ronoff and G unter. Mitchell (1979) suggested that dangers such as threats of radioactive release and other forms of pollution could motivate people to participate. social status) or negative (such as sanctions). H e speci cally mentioned that incentives could be positive (such as free food. G amson and Fireman (1979) proposed that grou p solidarity – a sense of belonging and cooperation – could overcome the tendency for people to free ride. the eld enjoys the attention and insights of people of vastly different perspectives and expertise.9 D rawing upon other segments of the scholarly literature to suppo rt statements about what in uences decisions by publics to participate not only adds credibility to those principles. . for example. In other words. 1965) . they consider the issues signi cant. O n the other hand. Building on this.62 W ebler suited to any given task. For example.2. Some of the initial work on this can be fou nd in Shannon (1990. 8 Bleiker and Bleiker (1995) . since their approaches (and the literature they draw on) are so vastly different. 1973) . not the elimination of uncertainty and exibility. p. 1994. although a great deal is known about why people participate in social movements (and that is comparable in many senses to taking part in citizen participation). this ‘principle’ for public participation. Paying attention to the interdisciplinary communication and knowledge transfer problems is key to the further development of the eld. The only way organizers could convince people to participate. Linking our work in public participation to existing academic literature can also provide interesting new insights. historical. Consider. To continue with the social movement example. R ather. said O lson. 3. which is asserted in a handbook . A n alternat ive approach taken by Bleiker and Bleiker (1995) is to make generic evaluations of techniques. it also links the eld of public participation to an established theoretical and empirical literature. it is a question of the degree to which uncertainty can be reduced. or they feel their participation will m ak e a difference. It remains a very reasonable possibility that our inability to predict performance would be enhanced by further study of contextual. pp.8 This is reminiscent of some of the kinds of factors that may in uence an individual’s decision to participate in social movements. 234–235) and A ronoff and G unter (1994) . In social movement theory this discussion revo lves around the free rider problem (O lson.

Craft and theory of public participation 63 they asserted that it was not merely incentives such as status or free food. 1993. 11E specially . or the threat of public bads that shaped an individual’s decision to participate in a social movement.) are often advanced without adequate analysis of the likely impacts of these new technologies. A t other times factual claims rely on casual observations – which are better than unsuppo rted assertions. etc. appeals to civic duty. Finally. the better the chance that the outcomes will be accepted.. Sometimes people participated because they liked the feeling of belonging to a group. this idea opens some very interesting questions. applicable to the English et al. of being accepted by others. be the origin of such claims. H is second argument was substantive. p. 227). To take a second example. he used a norm ative argument based on the tradition of participatory democratic theory to assert that the popu lace ought to control policy in democracy. JU STIFY PR E SCR IPTIO NS Prescriptions about how to best engage in the craft of public participation are common. what strategies are effective at capitalizing on solidarity incentives? 10 What implications do the different forms of incentives have for the legitimacy of the process and the acceptance of the decision outcome? A re some motivations stronger. (1995). the more people involved. Ideological beliefs may. H e claimed that lay people have valid judgments that can supplement understandings of exp erts. in fact. 1990). E ssentially. Both unsupported assertions and casual observations have been made by well known authorities in the eld.3. 12 The robust enthusiasm for the potentially empowering roles of the new informatio n technologies to revitalize democracy (electronic town meeting. A pplied to the issue of public participation. 1990. Some assertions have been repeated for so long.11 3. able to maintain individual participation over a much more demanding process? Questions such as these add sophistication to overly simplistic assertions about public participation needing to make limited demands on participants. but not as good as systematically collected evidence. but Fiorino ground ed his claim in participatory democratic theory and evidence from case studies (Fiorino. Laird pointed out that the criterion of broad participatio n adapted to the participation of interest groups (rather than individuals) was also suppor ted by pluralist theories of democracy (Laird. 1990:e ndnote 1). This was supported with a citation of a case where members of the public identi ed a problem that experts missed (Fiorino. no one recalls the original source of data. 10For a discussion of solidarity in par ticipation see Webler et al. they posit the claim that. D o different participation techniques rely more or less on different kinds of incentives? If so. i. manual on stakeholde r participation is the argument that Frank Laird built upon D aniel Fiorino’s work. The authors could have strengthened this assertion by pointing to the recent work of D aniel Fiorino who drew upon participatory theory of democracy to arrive at a set of basic criteria for evaluating citizen participation models (Fiorino. (1993) asserts the importance of the criterion of inclusiveness. 12 Frequently factual claims are unsupported.. In this excellent paper D aniel Fiorino has shown how to build a solid case for asserting criteria of good citizen participation. U nfortunately.e. but built his case on three arguments. but they may also emerge out of careless re ection. 346– 47). p. H is instrumental argument mimics that made by E nglish et al. the manual by E nglish et al. Fiorino also asserted the ‘more people is better’ criterion. it is also common to nd these prescriptions based on questionable statements of fact or shoddy reasoning.

. They mailed the questionnaire to 281 individuals identi ed as being active in 29 different siting cases. 1996) . 1995. O ne of the key results of this study supports the conclusion that trust between the public and the developer is an important factor in successful siting. We need to collect and assess the data that is available to support and qualify prescriptions such as these. why should participants have more say than people who chose not to participate. Kunreuther’s team used a questionnaire to measure how well a siting process adhered to the Credo’s principles. this common prescription: ‘E arly public participation [in new facility siting processes] decreases the overall planning time’ (E nvironmental R esources Management. Prescriptions for the craft of public participation can never be only driven by factual evidence. A s long as remarks such as these remain outside of the scrutiny of a peer community. But answering this question requires that we de ne what an ‘improved’ decision is. A n excellent example of how one can use positive science to build a case for a prescription – that public trust is valuable to a facility siting authority – is the work by H oward Kunreuther. Carnes et al. political. repeatable observations? Is it based on an extremely well respected ethnogra phic study? What data or observations exist to support this assertion? U nder what nuances is it true to a greater or lesser extent? D oes it matter which kind of facility is being sited? In which community? In what social. . The dependent variable was whether or not the facility was sited. Q uestions asked the respondent to quantify independent variables associated with the siting process such as ‘the trust the surrounding neighbourhood had in the siting process’. O thers have criticized this for narrowly adopting a conservative (or sociological functionalist) perspective (Webler et al. p. Consider. The trouble is that this credibility may be unfounded. but who may be affected by the decision? O nce we begin to engage these kinds of issues. we would expect that all these factors would matter a great deal in whether or not early involvement decreased overall planning time. We need to ask the question: What level of scrutiny has this statement received? Is it based on careful.. The Credo was developed during a national workshop on facility siting as an attempt to advise agencies how to do a better job of siting noxious facilities. for example. 1992). the claim that ‘public participation should give participants a meaningful opportunity to in uence the decision’ begs justi cation and elaboration. they will remain suspect. p.. historical. they also take moral stances.. this assertion could go a long way towards convincing responsible organizations to embrace a commitment to public participation. 303–306). What are the possible reasons for asserting that participants should have in uence over the outcome? Is it to ensure the legitimacy of the process? Is it to ensure cooperation with the policy outcome? Is it to empower a local population to shape their own communities? Notice that such a claim may be inconsistent with other democratic norms. economic context? To be sure. 1993. Much of the siting literature equated ‘good’ decisions with successful sitings (Kunreuther et al.64 W ebler whose reputation extends credibility to the statements. Kevin Fitzgerald and Thomas A arts (1993). we enter into moral discourse. O ne of the most commonly cited reasons for why there should be citizen participation is that it improves decisions. They investigated the importance of the prescriptions of the Facility Siting Credo (Kunreuther et al. 79). I suggest that such discourse would be productive and helpful for the eld of public participation. 1993. If suppor ted with evidence. For instance. for instance.

1983). The tasks are daunting and the resources are slim. 1990. especially the works of Bahktin. R esearchers and practitioners should collaborate to investigate whether dialogue has a positive effect on either the participants (making them more able to work together better in the long run). 1989). D ietz. Facts can assist moral discussion in several ways. paradoxically. and deliberation in public participation (U S National R esearch Council. and integrated in more systematic manners than has typically been done. there is a need to orchestrate future research into public participation. What is needed is a concise research agenda for the eld. Case studies. no professional society to explicitly draw scholars and practitioners of public participation together. Themes of environmental policy making and risk decision making offer public participation something to sink its teeth into. from ineffective discourse.b. craft and theory need to come together in a dialectical way such that they build upon each other. . if done well. E xperiential knowledge that emerges from practice or craft needs to be re ectively considered (Schön. and no single journal in which to communicate our results. While the above illustration exempli es positive research. for example. Non-positivist research paradigms have a great deal to contribute to promoting the craft–theory dialectic of public participation. Public participation presents a number of limitations to positive research. Scholars. Tuler drew on the eld of semiotics. D ryzek. 1995a . practitioners. can help identify concepts and construct theories and hypotheses to be tested in correlation studies or exp eriments. Pulling together the multitude of strands that presently make up the eld and weaving them into patterns or fabrics of understandings will demand cooperation and collaboration by both scholars and practitioners.4. 3. is valuable to people discussing the appropriateness of a policy choice. we will have to rely on a wide variety of methods and study designs. or on the implementibility of the decision. where possible. Just knowing the likely consequences of a decision path. With no obvious funding sources. or the organizers – need to be justi ed with the highest standards of fact and reasoning. 1996). Many scholars in the eld now advocate for more dialogue.13 Prescriptions for how to practise public participation – whether intended for the publics. H ere again. O ne way this can begin to happen is when our discussions about the eld clearly address the issues of moral argumentation and factual validity together. the scientists. the academic eld of public participation suffers. Vygotski and Wertsch to analyse how individuals in a discourse seize upon cues and adjust their demeanour in the conversation from an adversar ial to a collaborative stances (Tuler. as the eld waxes in popularity once again. discourse.Craft and theory of public participation 65 Moral argumentation on public participation must be transparent and. supported with statements of fact. and organizers all bene t from a clear and open discussion of the moral issues associated with the craft and theory of public participation. activists. we need also to recognize the importance of being open to methodological pluralism and innovation. This thematic unity could provide a basis for better communication within the eld. on the decision (making it more competent). this could potentially change. A more recent and sophisticated effort is Seth Tuler’s doctoral dissertation . D E VE LO P A R E SE A R CH A G END A FO R TH E FIE LD Finally. O n a positive note. M ajone. Participatory research can help inform studies with the insights of those taking part in 13Bruce Stiftle did publish a preliminary study on this topic (1983) . 1996. In this effor t.

H ans Kastenholz. but also have positive effects via the policies and decisions that emerge. and evaluate public participation processes. A lesia Maltz. while also identifying priority research questions. U niting theory and practice is key to the success of this eld. directly or indirectly. A research agenda should focus on coordinating all different kinds of work.66 W ebler these processes. how should public participation be organized and situated in the decision making process? These two questions – the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ questions of public participation – grossly summarize the challenges facing those interested in advancing the eld. R esearch into public participation is in the vanguard as one of the places our democracy constantly reinvents itself. from public participation processes. for it is through participation that autonomous agents act on their beliefs and understandings of what citizenship in a democratic society means. A scertaining competence may require setting some guidelines or sugge stions for methodological approaches. Perhaps the most pressing problems are that case studies are often not composed with consideration of the important theoretical questions and theory often does not translate to concrete recommendations that will improve the craft of public participation. Jimmy Karlan. and integrative thinking. which would identify the key literature in the eld. is so important because it rmly establishes the need to develop a more rigorous understanding of how to design. In answering both these questions. Those writing and practising public participation should consider building tighter links between case study descriptions and theoretical reasoning. Conclusion Should stakeholders and lay people be involved in risk decision making? A nd. 4. Society faces incredibly serious challenges in the 21st century and our ability to cope will depend not only on our technical prowess. E ven a serious review article. In doing so. it spells out not only the numerous challenges. but also the tremendous opportunity for intriguing interdisciplinary research. would go a long way towards helping to avoid reinventing the wheel or repeating past mistakes. A cknowledgements In writing this article I bene ted from conversations with and comments from Caron Chess. For this to happen well there needs to be much richer communication between those who practice and do research in the eld. re ection. Ty Minton. Towards this end. the U S National R esearch Council’s report. By any measure this is important work. Understanding R isk . Invoking a dialectical reasoning process that brings together knowledge and experience about the craft and the theory of public participation also promotes learning. implement. theorists might help specify guidelines for doing case study research in a manner that enables cross case comparisons to be made. Thomas D ietz. if so. Such dialogue and interchange will produce results that not only improve the experiences of participants in these processes. but also on our ability to nd new and effective ways to resolve the age-old problem of how to make social choices. we need to draw upon the experiential knowledge as well as existing theories in order to construct more meaningful understandings and explanations. For example. In this article I have laid out a preliminary agenda for those discussions and touched upon some of the more prevalent obstacles. O rtwin .

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