Rowe and Frewer (2004) - Evaluating Public-Participation Exercises: A Research Agenda

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Rowe, Gene, and Lynn J Frewer. (2004): Evaluating Public-Participation Exercises: A Research Agenda. Science, Technology & Human Values 29 (4): 512–56


Searching for a theoretical blueprint of “what works best when” in evaluation of public participation the authors suggest an agenda that consists of three steps:

  1. Define Effectiveness,
  2. Operationalize the Definition,
  3. Conduct the Evaluation and Interpret Results.


For each step the authors give detailed insights where theoretical, methodical and practical problems may occur. Possible solutions for the occurring problems are discussed. A structured literature review that is presented in table 1 (p523 - 538) can be regarded as the core of the analysis. 30 Evaluation Studies of public participation are reviewed according to their definition type (of effectiveness), to the deployed evaluation criteria (against which effectiveness is measured), and to their measurement instruments. Examples and further comments are also presented.


"Public participation may be defined at a general level as the practice of consulting and involving members of the public in the agenda-setting, decision-making, and policy-forming activities of organizations or institutions responsible for policy development." (p512)

As displayed in table 1 (p523-538) approximately half of the studies measures effectiveness of a public participation procedure solely against outcome criteria whereas the other half takes both, process and outcome into consideration. Two studies measure solely against process criteria. Furthermore, the authors note that “outcome criteria have generally related to the exercise having some impact on the sponsors […], or else on the knowledge of the public.” (p. 540) Process criteria on the other hand are mostly related to group-interaction processes and fair involvement of participants.