Selecting and evaluating tools and methods for public participation
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The proposition that greater levels of public participation would improve public decisions derives from two antecedent assumptions. The first is that the process would be improved by including persons with perspectives and knowledge that would otherwise be missing. The second is that support for adopted policies would be stronger, if the public had better information and more access to the process. How should the effectiveness of available public participation techniques be evaluated and what principles should guide prospective choices from among them? Extending Habermass critical theory, Renn, Webler, and Wiedemann  have proposed evaluating public participation methods according to whether they are fair and competent. Rohrbaugh and Quinns  Competing Values theory defines four perspectives - rational, empirical, consensual, and political - for evaluating effectiveness. Thomas , the International Association for Public Participation, and Resources for the Future, among others, have also proposed potential evaluative frameworks. Important potential constraints on public participation include cost, time, political support, and feasibility. Additional thorny issues include deciding whether to include public participation as part of the policy making process; balancing a priori versus a posteriori standards of fairness; giving weight to existing versus future preferences; managing the tension between democratic and representative processes, and resolving issues of standing in disputes. The selection and evaluation of public participation techniques need to take into account their virtues and potential drawbacks, circumstantial constraints, and the relative importance of the various competing objectives of public participation processes. 2001 Inderscience Enterprises Ltd.