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From Participation to Policy-Making: How Participatory Environmental Governance Actually Changes Policy (or Not)

Democracy
Environmental Policy
Political Participation
Policy-Making
Edward Challies
Leuphana Universität Lüneburg
Jens Newig
Leuphana Universität Lüneburg
Jens Newig
Leuphana Universität Lüneburg
Nicolas Jager
Carl Von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg
Edward Challies
Leuphana Universität Lüneburg
Elisa Kochskämper
Leuphana Universität Lüneburg

Abstract

Citizen and stakeholder participation is often expected to contribute to the democratic quality of political decisions and to improve the environmental standards of outputs and outcomes of public governance. Little attention has been paid so far in the literature to whether participatory decision outputs actually inform policy decisions and get implemented. This study reports on findings from a case survey meta-analysis of 307 cases of public environmental decision-making mostly across North America and Europe, which has been conducted as part of the European Research Council funded project ‘EDGE’. The paper addresses the following questions: (1) What kind of outputs do participatory decision-making processes (as opposed to less participatory ones) produce? (2) What are the key contextual conditions under which binding policy outputs are produced – and implemented? (3) What are the key process features (e.g. open dialogue and deliberation, power delegation; participation of citizens versus organized stakeholders) that foster binding policy outputs and their implementation? Our initial results indicate that politically binding decisions tend to be slightly less environmentally favorable than the participatory process outputs on which they are based. The degree of knowledge elicitation appears to be a clear predictor for whether or not a process leads to a politically binding decision that closely matches that produced through the participatory process. This indicates that those processes where participants are taken seriously as co-creators of knowledge will also more likely feed into a political program than those where participants do not have this active role. Yet, other hypothesized factors pertaining to the process itself, its output characteristics, and the context did not prove significant in our sample. Furthermore, we observe a significant effect in situations where ‘NIMBY’ problems are apparent, i.e. where particular interests have to be weighed against wider benefits. In NIMBY contexts, political decision-makers were less likely to adopt the recommendations developed during a participatory process to address these situations. These insights also highlight that NIMBY situations pose very particular problems for environmental and participatory decision-making, where decision-makers are faced with strong tensions between individual and wider, societal interests and the need to balance these. Insights into the fate of the outputs of these processes are, thus, relevant, first, from an instrumental perspective, to understand how the ‘instrumental claim of participation’, i.e. that participation enhances the environmental quality of political decisions, translates on the ground; and, second, from a democratic perspective, tracking the embedding of participatory processes in the wider political process and its implications for the democratic legitimacy of decisions. With these (albeit preliminary) findings, this study paves the way for further conceptual and empirical research on the consequences of participatory decision-making.