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ECPR Virtual General Conference 2020

Does Participatory Governance Benefit Environmental Outcomes?

Civil Society
Environmental Policy
Nicolas Jager
Carl Von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg
Jens Newig
Leuphana Universität Lüneburg
Nicolas Jager
Carl Von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg
Edward Challies
Leuphana Universität Lüneburg
Elisa Kochskämper
Leuphana Universität Lüneburg

More than ever, academics and policymakers call on the participation of citizens and organized stakeholders groups when it comes to implementing environmental sustainability. However, little robust evidence exists on whether the participation of citizens and organized stakeholders groups in public environmental governance actually benefits the environment. Previous research has analysed single cases, or provided more aggregated comparisons of very different existing cases. This paper reports on a meta-analysis (case survey method) of 307 published qualitative case studies of public environmental decision-making from 23 different western democracies. As independent variables, we distinguish three dimensions of participation: Who participates? How do participants communicate and collaborate? What influence on decision-making is delegated to participants? As dependent variables, we consider the environmental standard of the governance output.

Using linear regression, we found high correlations of several participation-related factors with environmental outcomes. However, these largely disappear when controlling for the environmental goals and rationales of the public authority in charge as a main predictor of environmental outcomes. This suggests that public authorities who favour strong environmental outcomes also tend to run more intensively participatory processes (and vice versa). Still, we find significant effects of ‘delegation of influence to participants’ for explaining the environmental standard of governance outcomes. Of all communication and interaction forms among participants, we found only sophisticated ones such as deliberation to be a significant predictor. The composition of participants showed a mixed effect: Whereas the representation of exploitation-oriented stakeholders showed a significant negative effect, the representation of citizens, civil society or private-sector participants had no significant effects on conservation-related outcomes. However, we did find positive effects of citizen representation with respect to health-related outcomes. Importantly, we found significant positive effects of citizen representation for certain subsets of cases (e.g. ‘NIMBY’ or facility siting settings), and significant positive effects of communication intensity in cases with a history of previous unsuccessful attempts at decision-making. This demonstrates clearly how much the context of decision-making matters for whether or not participation improves environmental outcomes.

Our findings have implications for theorists and practitioners of environmental governance who are concerned with the design of participatory processes.
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