Public Participation (PP) and the Role of Stakeholders are central to global and therefore human survival – it could be said to be part of an age old need and, at the same time the theme for “New Civics” (Davidson, 2003, Moro, G. 2010).
Public Participation and the Role of Stakeholders are multi-faceted and context-specific. A wide range of different ways of typologies of Public Participation have been already categorized (see e.g. Reed 2008), from Arnstein’s (1969) famous ladder of Citizen Engagement as an example for a typology of different degrees of citizen participation on a continuum to typologies focusing on the nature of communication, objectives and the theoretical bases(see e.g. Reed 2008). Public participation can be also for example distinguished by the types of stakeholders involved and the type of process applied wherein in the latter informal and formal procedures constitutes a major differentiation.
Surowiecki has inspired us with the Wisdom of Crowds (Surowiecki, 2005) whilst Robert Chambers has provided reams of evidence that human participation is not only productive and useful but enjoyable and satisfying (Chambers, 1997, 2002). We know that the world is a strange place and that survival is not a matter merely of finding the percentage answers. ‘Black Swans’ of discontinuity and systemic discord are constant and unpredictable companions (Taleb, 2008). And you do not have to go far to see just how precarious the global situation is (Brown, 2011) in order to see how quickly a flock of Black Swans could throw the entire project into chaos, or Seneca effects occur (Bardi, 2017).
We know that participation and advocacy are means whereby issues are addressed and apathy is countered (Arnold, 2011; Boneacute & Pueyo, 2007; Cuthill, 2002; Mohan, 2003; Reina, 2003). We also understand that real change is only possible if populations are attuned to the change and to some extent are its authors (Goodwin, 2000; Kindon, Pain, & Kesby, 2007; Newson & Chalk, 2004).
But nothing is clear.
With all this ‘knowing’ and wisdom the task remains unsure and the process unclear. There is something compelling and yet off-putting about participation. We see the value of it and yet are often reluctant to engage with it. Something of the zeitgeist maybe of individualism and atomic relations requires us to constantly seek isolation and alienation in favour of participation.
On the other hand the great force of our networked society (Castells, 1996) is leading to greater and greater integrative force and the emergence of virtual crowds, invisible pressure groups and strident advocacy on the internet – enough to topple government and alter the course of regional geo-politics (Hare et al., 2001; Hsieh, Keil, & Holmström, 2012; Spirakis, Spiraki, & Nikolopoulos, 2010).
Some sort of formalized public participation happens for example in environmental matters through norms all over the world, distinguishable in public participation regarding access to information, to access to administrative procedure and access to justice. ,,). Thus, globally, public participation gets increasingly institutionalized on all continents while considerable differences regionally remain (Mauerhofer, 2016; Arnold and Barth 2012, Bruch and Czerbiniak, 2002). Starting from Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration concluded 1992 by more than 190 national states and the1998 UNECE Aarhus Convention (Wates, 2005; Pallemaerts, 2006) the three types of Public Participation - rights differentiated above make their way into legislations of different regions and countries while implementation widely remains a challenge (Pitea, 2009; Mauerhofer, 2016; Mauerhofer and Larsson, 2016, Gera 2016, Odumosu 2016, Okubo 2016).
And it still remains to be proved whether this currently increased institutionalization of public participation effectively improves the state of the environment (Newig, 2007). Considerable discussion is also ongoing regarding the formal addressee of these environmental rights, in particular whether they should be institutionalized as human rights or directly held by the environment through specialized representatives (Francioni, 2010). Furthermore, the extent of inclusion of future human/non-human generations is still under discussion (Brown-Weiss, 1989; Agius, 1998; Hubacek and Mauerhofer, 2008). Nevertheless, the Rio+20 outcome document “The Future We Want” recently reconfirmed in paragraphs 43 and 44 the importance of Public Participation and its close connection with sustainable development (UN, 2012).
Issues abound and fractal relationships constantly scope in new territories to the theme of public participation and the role of stakeholders: but here are some of the key grounds of dispute from our point of view:
- Participation for what? Questions of impact, value and rights
- Participation by whom? Questions of involvement and competence
- Participation via what? Questions of channel, media and forum
- Participation for what? Questions of theme and legitimacy
- Participation and so? Questions of development and consequence
- Participation reflected? Questions of sustainability for the advocates and the planet
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