Public participation in environmental decision-making is an area that will always raise questions on the relevance and of the advantages that can be gained by allowing public participation.
Decision making by experts, which is often characterized as technocracy', is an area where experts sometimes make key decisions themselves, but more commonly advise policy makers and interest groups including governments and corporations. The advantages of using experts in the field are their specialist knowledge is fully deployed. By contrast the disadvantages are also well known, including the lack of attention to the wider social impacts of technology, their over reliance of specialist knowledge, compliance with those in power and restrictions on public participation.
Carson and Martin (2002) said "The fundamental problem with reliance on experts is that decisions about technology are not just about technical matters: they also involve social values".
In today's society it is obvious that public participation in environmental decision-making is an important aspect of the decision making process and one which we must adhere to.
In 2000 in New South Wales, the State Minister for the Environment commissioned an independent review into container deposit legislation (CDL). The social research of this project included several components, including public submissions, stakeholder interviews a tele-vote and a citizen's jury.
Container deposit legislation is a means of recovering container materials, such as soft drink bottles, for recycling and reuse. Such legislation typically requires consumers pay a small fee, usually five cents per bottle, on purchase of a
container, with the fee redeemable when the container is returned. This is a complex issue for government with polarizing views among industry, environmental and government organizations. CDL is not the only way of recovering recyclables, the current method used is curbside collection on a voluntary basis, CDL's supporters believe it to be an effective means for dramatically increasing the recovery rates. The local government and therefore the ratepayers fund curbside collection in NSW, whereas CDL places more responsibility on the industry.
Powerful industry groups have been lobbying in opposition to CDL, supposedly on behalf of its consumers. Environmental groups have been equally vocal in praising CDL's virtues and claiming it has citizen support. As with most policy formulation until now citizens had been excluded from the debate despite its impact on their daily lives, with the interest groups claiming to speak on their behalf. The independent review conducted wanted to include typical citizens in the CDL debate. Random selection was used to select a small cross section of citizens. The review wanted participants to bring a wide range of views to the discussion in order to see whether any consensus could emerge from this diversity.
Recruitment for the jury of 11 was carried out by randomly mailing 2000 households. Specific information was not given in the mail-out, simply an invitation to participate in an innovative consultation method that had the potential to influence government policy. The citizens' jury process was described and an offer was made to cover the basic expenses should the recipient be randomly selected from a pool of willing citizens. There were 142 responses, 7%, of randomly selected citizens who were willing to devote a weekend to discuss an unknown policy issue. Respondents provided sufficient detail to allow a socio-demographic profile to be matched. The
requirement was to match key demographic and other social characteristics of the general population.
Organizers found a suitably diverse range of participants drawn from single person households as well as large families, from rural areas as well as suburbs of Sydney. Participants came without a known stake in the debate except as it...
References: Albers, R. (1998) From clientelism to cooperation: local government, participatory policy, and civic organizing in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Lynne Rienner Publishers, Colorado.
O 'Neil Claire
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