1st Edition

Democracy in Practice Public Participation in Environmental Decisions

By Thomas C. Beierle Copyright 2002

    In spite of the expanding role of public participation in environmental decisionmaking, there has been little systematic examination of whether it has, to date, contributed toward better environmental management. Neither have there been extensive empirical studies to examine how participation processes can be made more effective. Democracy in Practice brings together, for the first time, the collected experience of 30 years of public involvement in environmental decisionmaking. Using data from 239 cases, the authors evaluate the success of public participation and the contextual and procedural factors that lead to it. Thomas Beierle and Jerry Cayford demonstrate that public participation has not only improved environmental policy, but it has also played an important educational role and has helped resolve the conflict and mistrust that often plague environmental issues. Among the authors' findings are that intensive 'problem-solving' processes are most effective for achieving a broad set of social goals, and participant motivation and agency responsiveness are key factors for success. Democracy in Practice will be useful for a broad range of interests. For researchers, it assembles the most comprehensive data set on the practice of public participation, and presents a systematic typology and evaluation framework. For policymakers, political leaders, and citizens, it provides concrete advice about what to expect from public participation, and how it can be made more effective. Democracy in Practice concludes with a systematic guide for use by government agencies in their efforts to design successful public participation efforts.

    Executive Summary 1. Introduction 2. Conceptual Framework and Methodology 3. The Social Goals of Public Participation 4. The Context of Public Participation 5. The Process of Public Participation 6. Public Participation and Implementation 7. Designing Public Participation Processes 8. Conclusions and Areas for Further Research Appendix A: Case Survey Methodology Appendix B: Details on Data and Aggregation Appendix C: Technical Analysis Appendix D: Examination of Potential Bias Appendix E: Citations for Cases in the Final Data Set References Index


    Thomas C. Beierle is a fellow at Resources for the Future. His research on public involvement in environmental decisionmaking has appeared in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Policy Studies Review, Environment and Planning, Society and Natural Resources, and Environmental Law Reporter. Jerry Cayford is a research associate at Resources for the Future. A philosopher by training, he studies public participation and risk perception, and the issues raised by patents on biotechnology.

    'This is an important book because the authors demonstrate both that scholars can measure social goals and that the methodology of metaanalysis case studies can provide significant insights into how public participation influences environmental decisions . . . the analysis is transparent, nuanced and sophisticated. The writing is clear and accessible to nonspecialists. This seminal work will interest both scholars and practitioners.' Choice 'Good social science about an important topic, presented in a highly readable manner. Scholars, whether young or not so, should take a look at this book to see how it can be done.' Perspectives on Politics