Beierle and Cayford (2002) - Democracy in Practice. Public Participation in Environmental Decisions

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Beierle, Thomas C, and Jerry Cayford. 2002. Democracy in Practice. Public Participation in Environmental Decisions. Washington, DC: RFF Press.


  • evaluating whether public participation in environmental decision making (by which the authors refer to processes organized by the institutions responsible for the decisions) is succesful
  • success as defined as achieving one or more of the following 5 social goals (p6)
  1. incorporating public values into decisions
  2. improving the substantive quality of decisions
  3. resolving conflict among competing interests
  4. building trust in institutions
  5. educating and informing the public


  • a review of 239 cases in the US of the past 30 years (i.e. roughly from 1970 to 2000) in which agencies have tried to involve the public in decision-making


  • definition of public participation: „We define public participation as any of several „mechanisms“ intentionally instituted to involve the lay public or their representatives in administrative decisionmaking. […] We focus on organized bureaucratic processes, not individual actions or power politics). […] We make no such distinction here and use public participation as an umbrella term that encompasses diverse definitions of who the public is, how the public is represented, why the public is involved, and what the public is involved in.” p6
  • evaluation framework with distinction between
    • context
      • type of issue
      • preexisting relationsships
      • institutional setting
    • process
      • type of mechanism
      • variable process features
    • results
      • output (goal 1 and 2)
      • relationships (goal 3 and 4)
      • capacity building (goal 5)
  • interestingly, they explicitly omit implementation from their evaluation as this is dependent on too many factors outside the participation process
  • “Finding a definitive answer to the question of what is the “right” way to evaluate public participation is neither likely nor desirable. Each approach to evaluation poses – and hopefully answers – interesting questions that collectively inform our understanding of this complex social process.” p17
  • based on their results the authors make some suggestions for designing public participation processes (p63pp)
  1. determine the need for public participation
  2. identify the goals of the process
  3. answer design questions
  4. select and modify a process
  5. evaluate the process