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Focus 3: EMS and EIA

Topic 9: Community Consultation: Introduction and Background

Question 44

dot3.gif (180 bytes) What is the range of purposes for consultation?

What can be achieved by Community Consultation

Three broad categories of values associated with participation have been identified by Cahn and Cahn (1971):

  1. a means of mobilising under-utilised resources (untapped labour or productivity);
  2. a source of knowledge (both corrective and creative);
  3. an end in itself (affirmation of democracy and elimination of alienation, hostility and lack of faith).

To these can be added a fourth and perhaps overriding advantage; that is, it provides:

  1. better decision-making.

‘Better decision-making’ is somewhat nebulous, but is frequently considered to be the main value where objectives for community consultation exercises have not been clearly thought out. It would include aspects of the first three points, and particularly dissemination of information, identification of relevant issues (and perhaps values), and avoiding objections and delay at later stages (since the opportunity to participate has already been provided).

Somewhat more specific of the value of public participation are Sadar's (1994) perceptions, in that he identifies the advantages of participation as being:

dot3.gif (180 bytes) the public is informed;

dot3.gif (180 bytes) different viewpoints are identified;

dot3.gif (180 bytes) concerns raised by the proposal are made clearer;

dot3.gif (180 bytes) potential areas of conflict are identified;

dot3.gif (180 bytes) trust and mutual respect are fostered;

dot3.gif (180 bytes) the 'comfort level' of decision-makers is raised.

Perhaps the value of participation is best summed up by Sewell and O'Riordan (1976), as "a consciousness-raising process through which people begin to understand their political roles and the need for legitimate conciliation and contribution" (p. 17).

For another perspective on the role of stakeholder involvement, look at:

dot3.gif (180 bytes) R Bisset, 1996, UNEP EIA Training Resource Manual - EIA: Issues, Trends and Practice: http://www.iaia.org/
Then Training/UNEP Training Manual/Manual Contents and scroll to bottom then go to Chapt 5: Role of Stakeholder Involvement.

What can be achieved by public participation is largely determined by the objectives you have for the participation. There are several possible objectives for what participation can be hoped to achieve, and they are like a spectrum, or a range of levels of participation.

At one end of the spectrum, or at one level, the objective can be that of:

dot3.gif (180 bytes) informing the public of proposals

Towards the middle of the spectrum, or at another (some would say higher) level is:

dot3.gif (180 bytes) soliciting input to aid decision-making

At the other end of the spectrum, or another level, will be the objective of:

dot3.gif (180 bytes) public representation on decision-making bodies.

Subcategories can be identified and there is a strong correlation between the above and the eight categories developed by Arnstein (1971). She also groups her categories into three broader groupings, using terms which are less positive but perhaps more realistic than those used in the three categories above. These groupings and levels are illustrated in the following figure.


Arnstein's ladder

Eight rungs on the ladder of citizen participation

The point of recognising that participation can be directed at different levels is also to recognise that ‘levels’ and objectives are closely linked. Specification of the level of participation will largely determine the objectives that can be expected to be met: an objective of ‘providing useful additional information to decision-makers’ will not be met if the level of participation is restricted to ‘informing the public’.

Stop and Think: Can you think of a policy or project proposed in your neighbourhood  that you took an interest in such as a new shopping centre development, or changes to local parking laws? How were you informed about these proposals and how were you able (if the opportunity was there at all) to participate in the decision making process about the proposed policy or development project?


Arnstein, S.R. (1971) 'Eight Rungs on the Ladder of Citizen Participation', in Cahn, E.S. & Passett, B.A. (eds), Citizen Participation: Effecting Community Change, Praeger, New York.

Cahn, E.S. & Cahn, J.C. (1971) 'Maximum Feasible Participation: A General Overview', in Cahn, E.S. & Passett, B.A. (eds), Citizen Participation: Effecting Community Change, Praeger, New York.

Sadar, M.H. (1994) Environmental Impact Assessment, Carleton University Press, Ottawa.

Sewell, W.R.D. & O’Riordan, T, (1976), 'The Culture of Participation in Environmental Decision-making', Natural Resources Journal, Vol. 16, January: 1-21.


(to Topic 9 Question 45: What are the advantages and disadvantages of consultation?)

RMIT University © Dr Ian Thomas

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