Focus 3: EMS and EIA
Topic 9: Community Consultation: Introduction and Background
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):
To these can be added a fourth and perhaps overriding advantage; that is, it provides:
‘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:
the public is informed;
different viewpoints are identified;
concerns raised by the proposal are made clearer;
potential areas of conflict are identified;
trust and mutual respect are fostered;
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:
R Bisset, 1996, UNEP EIA Training Resource Manual - EIA: Issues, Trends and Practice: http://www.iaia.org/
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:
informing the public of proposals
Towards the middle of the spectrum, or at another (some would say higher) level is:
soliciting input to aid decision-making
At the other end of the spectrum, or another level, will be the objective of:
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.
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’.
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.
RMIT University © Dr Ian Thomas