Expert engagement in participatory processes: translating stakeholder discourses into policy options


This paper demonstrates an innovative role for experts in supporting participatory policy processes with an application to landslide risk management in the Italian town of Nocera Inferiore. Experts co-produce risk mitigation options based on their specialized knowledge taking account of local knowledge and values by directly coupling stakeholder discourses with option design. Drawing on the theory of plural rationality and based on a literature review, interviews and a public questionnaire, stakeholder discourses are elicited on the landslide risk problem and its solution. Armed with the discourses and in close interaction with stakeholders, experts provide a range of technical mitigation options, each within a given budget constraint. These options are subsequently deliberated in the participatory process with the intent of reaching compromise recommendations for landslide risk mitigation. As we show in an accompanying paper, “Compromise not consensus. Designing a participatory process for landslide risk mitigation” (this issue), the provision of multiple co-produced policy options enhances stakeholder deliberation by respecting legitimate differences in values and worldviews.

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  1. 1.

    Metal barriers can be constructed with pressed steel palings which are fixed to cross-rails with security bolts.

  2. 2.

    Slope reshaping consists in changing the slope geometry, by adding or subtracting material from the slope.

  3. 3.

    A gabion wall is a retaining wall made of stacked stone-filled steel mesh containers.

  4. 4.

    Shallow waterways along an open slope (often a sign of erosion).

  5. 5.

    Hydroseeding is a planting process that uses a sprayed slurry of seed and mulch.

  6. 6.

    Bioengineering systems are usually established by conventional seeding or live planting (Morgan and Rickson 1995).

  7. 7.

    As stated by Vaciago et al. (2012) “fascines are made of up bundles of thin live cuttings of willow or red-osier dogwood”.

  8. 8.

    Any synthetic material used in geotechnical engineering, such as geotextiles and geocomposites.

  9. 9.

    Originally developed by Douglas (1978) as a “heuristic device” or “analytical scheme,” it is a cultural theory—a theory of cultural bias, to be precise—but it all too easily gives the mistaken impression that it is culture that is doing the explaining. “Plural rationality” avoids that; it also helps position this theory in relation to those—rational choice and post-structuralism—that it challenges.

  10. 10.

    More properly, it is the narrative (or storyline) that underlies the discourse. It can be seen as imparting shape and coherence: keeping the discourse itself “on track” through all the contingencies (and shifts in the other discourses that it is defining itself in opposition to) that it inevitably runs into. For simplicity, however, we will stick to “discourse” in this paper (but see Ney 2009).


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The work described in this publication was supported by the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme through the grant to the budget of the SafeLand Project (, Grant Agreement: 226479. The paper reflects the authors’ views and not those of the European Community. Neither the European Community nor any member of the SafeLand Consortium is liable for any use of the information in this paper. We thank the 43 local stakeholders and the 18 participants to the participatory process in Nocera Inferiore who devoted their precious time to our interviews and meetings. Without them, our research work would not have been possible. The same gratitude goes to the numerous volunteers of the 7 local associations providing help to collect the questionnaires, as well as for the 373 survey respondents. This paper is dedicated to the memory of Professor Giuseppe Sorbino and of Paolo Fabbricatore, leader of the local NGO “Montagna Amica” (Mountains’ friends). There are no words to describe their precious contribution to the research in Nocera Inferiore as well as to describe the deep sadness for their loss.

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Correspondence to Anna Scolobig.

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Original data (including interviews’ protocol and transcripts, questionnaire protocol, statistical data analysis, etc.) are freely available.

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Linnerooth-Bayer, J., Scolobig, A., Ferlisi, S. et al. Expert engagement in participatory processes: translating stakeholder discourses into policy options. Nat Hazards 81, 69–88 (2016).

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  • Science–policy interface
  • Landslide risk
  • Usable knowledge
  • Plural rationality
  • Public participation
  • Knowledge co-production