Environmental Management

, Volume 46, Issue 2, pp 254–267 | Cite as

How Preferences for Public Participation are Linked to Perceptions of the Context, Preferences for Outcomes, and Individual Characteristics

  • Seth Tuler
  • Thomas Webler


Practitioners and stakeholders involved in environmental and risk assessment and decision-making efforts have access to a growing list of policies and guidance for implementing good process. The advice is often general. There is little understanding of how situation specific features are relevant in new circumstances. In a series of ten case studies we investigated how people’s (a) perceptions of the context, (b) preferences for outcomes, and (c) affiliations, experiences and motivations are related to their preferences for process features in a particular situation. The cases are in three policy areas: watershed management, forestry management, and clean-up and public health management of radioactively contaminated sites. We conclude this paper with a discussion of how the results can inform process design. Process design should be based on a diagnostic approach that specifically assesses relevant situational characteristics.


Public participation Decision-making Evaluation 



We thank the people who agreed to participate in our case studies and our collaborators in each case: Victoria Sturtevant (Applegate Partnership), Monica Hunter (Morro Bay NEP), Larry Fisher (Finger Lakes NF), Caron Chess (Raritan Basin), Judith Bradbury (Rocky Flats), Rob Moir (Boston Harbor Islands NPA), Stephen Depoe (Fernald HES), Brian Cottam (Greater Flagstaff Forest Partnership), Gina Margillo (Livermore NL), and Ann Seiter (Dungeness River). We also thank Will Focht of Oklahoma State University for his advice on Q methodology. Finally, the astute comments of the reviewers were also helpful in improving earlier drafts. This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation (Award #0114784) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (Cooperative Agreement #831219-01-3). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Science Foundation or the US Environmental Protection Agency.


  1. Anderson J, Yaffee S (1998) Balancing Public Trust and Private Interest: Public Participation in Habitat Conservation Planning. University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment, Ann ArborGoogle Scholar
  2. Ashford N, Rest K (1999) Public participation in contaminated communities. Center for Technology, Policy, and Industrial Development, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  3. Beierle T, Cayford J (2002) Democracy in practice: public participation in environmental decisions. Resources for the Future, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  4. Blackstock K, Kelly G, Horsey B (2007) Developing and applying a framework to evaluate participatory research for sustainability. Ecological Economics 60:726–742CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bradbury J, Branch K (1999) An evaluation of the effectiveness of local site-specific advisory boards for U.S. Department of Energy Environmental Restoration Programs. Report PNNL-12139. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  6. Bradbury J, Branch K, Malone E (2003) An evaluation of DOE-EM public participation programs. Report prepared for the DOE Environmental Management Program. Report PNNL-14200. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  7. Brown S (1986) Q Technique and method: principles and procedures. In: Berry WD, Lewis-Black MS (eds) New tools for social scientists. Sage Publications, Newbury Park, pp 57–76Google Scholar
  8. Brown S (1996). Q Methodology and qualitative research. Qualitative Health Research 6(4):561–567.
  9. Carnes SA, Schweitzer M, Peelle EB, Wolfe AK, Munro JF (1998) Measuring the success of public participation on environmental restoration and waste management activities in the U.S. Department of Energy. Technology in Society 20(4):385–406CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Charnley S, Englebert B (2005) Evaluating public participation in environmental decision-making: EPA’s superfund community involvement program. Journal of Environmental Management 77(3):165–182CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chess C, Johnson BB (2006) Organizational learning about public participation: “Tiggers” and “Eeyores”. Human Ecology Review 13(2):182–192Google Scholar
  12. Cole HS and Associates (1996) Learning from success: health agency efforts to improve community involvement in communities affected by hazardous waste sites. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, AtlantaGoogle Scholar
  13. Darnall N, Jolly GJ (2004) Involving the public: When are surveys and stakeholder interviews effective. Review of Policy Research 21(4):581–594CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. DOE (Department of Energy) (2003) Public participation and community relations. Policy document DOE-P-141.2, approved 2 May, 2003. Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs, Department of Energy, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  15. Duram LA, Brown KG (1998) Assessing public participation in US watershed planning initiatives. Society and Natural Resources 12(5):455–467Google Scholar
  16. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) (2003) Public involvement policy of the US Environmental Protection Agency. EPA-233-B-03-002.
  17. Gericke KL, Sullivan J (1994) Public participation and appeals of Forest Service plans: an empirical examination. Society and Natural Resources 7:125–135CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Halverson K (2006) Critical next steps in research on public participation in environmental decision-making. Human Ecology Review 13(2):150–159Google Scholar
  19. Hamlett P, Cobb M (2006) Potential solutions to public deliberation problems: Structured deliberations and polarization cascades. Policy Studies Journal 34(4):629–648CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Krause G, Meier K (2005) Politics, policy and organizations: frontiers in the scientific study of bureaucracy. University of Michigan Press, Ann ArborGoogle Scholar
  21. Leach W, Sabatier P (2003) Facilitators, coordinators, and outcomes. In: O’Leary R, Bingham L (eds) The promise and performance of environmental conflict resolution. Resources for the Future, Washington, DC, pp 148–171Google Scholar
  22. Leach W, Pelkey N, Sabatier P (2002) Stakeholder partnerships as collaborative policymaking: evaluation criteria applied to watershed management in California and Washington. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 21(4):645–670CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lee K (1993) Compass and gyroscope: integrating science and politics for the environment. Island, Washington DCGoogle Scholar
  24. Lind EA, Tyler TR (1988) The social psychology of procedural justice. Plenum, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  25. McComas K, Besley J, Trumbo C (2006) Why citizens do and do not attend public meetings about cancer cluster investigations. Policy Studies Journal 34(4):671–698CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. NPS (National Park Service) (2003, 1 October) Directors Order 75A on Civic Engagement and Public Involvement, Draft.
  27. NRC (National Research Council) (1996) Understanding risk: informing decisions in a democratic society. National Academy Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  28. NRC (National Research Council) (2005) Decision-making for the environment: Social and behavioral science research priorities. National Academy Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  29. NRC (National Research Council) (2008) Public participation in environmental assessment and decision-making. National Academy Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  30. Peeples J, Krannich R, Weiss J (2008) Arguments for what no one wants: the narratives of waste storage proponents. Environmental Communication 2(1):40–58Google Scholar
  31. Rayner S (1986) Management of radiation hazards in Hospitals: plural rationalities in a Single Institution. Social Studies of Science 16(4):573–591CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Renn O (2004) The challenge of integrating deliberation and expertise: participation and discourse in risk management. In: McDaniels TL, Small MJ (eds) Risk analysis and society: an interdisciplinary characterization of the field. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 289–366Google Scholar
  33. Renn O (2008) Risk governance: coping with uncertainty in a complex world. Earthscan, SterlingGoogle Scholar
  34. Rockloff S, Moore S (2006) Assessing representation at different scales of decision-making: Rethinking local is better. Policy Studies Journal 34(4):649–670CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Rohrmann B (1992) The evaluation of risk communication effectiveness. ActaPsychologica 81:169–192Google Scholar
  36. Rowe G, Marsh R, Frewer L (2004) Evaluation of a deliberative conference. Science, Technology, and Human Values 29(1):88–121CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Santos S, Chess C (2003) Evaluating citizen advisory boards: the importance of theory and participant based criteria and practical implications. Risk Analysis 23(2):269–279CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Scholz JT, Stiftel B (eds) (2005) Adaptive governance and water conflict: new institutions for collaborative planning. Resources for the Future, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  39. Sommarstrom S, Huntington C (1999) An evaluation of selected watershed councils in the pacific northwest and northern California. Report prepared for Trout Unlimited and Pacific Rivers Council. Pacific Rivers Council, OregonGoogle Scholar
  40. Stone D (1989) Causal stories and the formation of policy agendas. Political Science Quarterly 104(2):281–300CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Tuler S (2000) Forms of talk in policy dialogue: distinguishing between adversarial and collaborative discourse. Journal of Risk Research 3(1):1–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Tuler S, Webler T (2006) Competing perspectives on a process for making remediation and stewardship decisions at the Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site. Research in Social Problems and Public Policy 13:49–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Tuler S, Webler T (2008) Q methodology. In: Kalof L, Dan A, Dietz T (eds) Essentials of social research. Open University Press/McGraw Hill Publishers, Berkshire, pp 137–138Google Scholar
  44. Tuler S, Webler T, Finson R (2005) Competing perspectives on public involvement: planning for risk characterization and risk communication about radiological contamination from a national laboratory. Health, Risk, and Society 7(3):247–266CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Tuler S, Chess C, Santos S, Danielson S, Webler T (2008) Selecting the right tool for evaluations: guidance for Community involvement practitioners, EPA’s Collaboration Network News, Winter 2008.
  46. Vogel J, Lowham E (2007) Building consensus for constructive action: a study of perspectives on natural resource management. Journal of Forestry 105(1):20–26Google Scholar
  47. Webler T, Tuler S (2006) Four perspectives on public participation process in environmental assessment and decision making: combined results from ten case studies. Policy Studies Journal 34(4):699–722CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Webler T, Tuler S (2008) Organizing a deliberative planning process: what does the science say? In: Odugbemi S, Jacobson T (eds) Governance reform under real-world conditions: citizens, stakeholders, and voice. World Bank, Washington, DC, pp 125–160Google Scholar
  49. Webler T, Tuler S, Krueger R (2001) What is a good public participation process? Five perspectives from the public. Environmental Management 27(3):435–450CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Webler T, Tuler S, Tanguay J (2004) Competing perspectives on public participation in National Park Service Planning: The Boston Harbor Islands National Park Area. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration 22(3).
  51. Webler T, Danielson S, Tuler S (2009) Using Q method to reveal social perspectives in environmental research. Greenfield MA: Social and Environmental Research Institute.
  52. Zuber JA (1992) Choice shift and group polarization: an analysis of the status of arguments and social decision schemes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 62:50–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Social and Environmental Research Institute, IncGreenfieldUSA

Personalised recommendations