Elite and Participatory Policymaking: Finding Balance in a Case of National Forest Planning
Steelman, Toddi A., Policy Studies Journal
In recent years many theorists and practitioners have called for more public involvement in policymaking and for greater citizen input in decisions. The move toward participatory and community-based approaches in policymaking can be seen as a backlash against more elitist technocratic, top-down models of decisionmaking. Using a case study of a successful National Forest planning exercise, this research investigated whether a participatory or elite model characterized the decisionmaking process. The findings indicated that neither an elite nor participatory model of decisionmaking dominated in the planning process; rather, both forms of decisionmaking contributed to important elements in formulating this successful National Forest plan.
One of the hallmarks of natural resource management in the late 1980s and 1990s has been the refocusing of management decisions to more decentralized levels of governance and public involvement in these management decisions (John, 1996; John & Mlay, 1998; Kenney, 1997; Selin & Chavez, 1995; Yaffee, Phillips, Frentz, & Thorpe, 1996; Wondolleck & Yaffee, 2000). The move toward these participatory and community-based approaches can be seen as a backlash against more elitist technocratic, top-down models of policymaking that historically have been prevalent in natural resource management institutions (Brunson & Kennedy, 1995; Kessler & Salwasser, 1995; Meidinger, 1996; Randolf & Bauer, 1999).
In the decades prior to the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, agency managers, bureaucrats, and professionals were trusted for the most part by the public in their management of natural resources. As the social context surrounding natural resource management began to change in the 1960s, various environmental advocacy groups questioned the conventional wisdom that drove management, and the methods, values, and philosophies that were reflected in natural resource decisions (MacDonnell & Bates, 1993). Arguing for broader representation of "public" and "community" values in natural resource decisionmaking, citizen groups and environmentalists were successful in securing avenues of access to the halls where such decisions were made and in decentralizing the locus of decisionmaking (Rupert, 1995; Vawter, 1995).
The new processes that have broadened the scope of involvement raise questions about how the previous "elite" or expertise-driven model of decisionmaking should be balanced with the newer "participatory" model (National Research Council, 1996; Webler & Tuler, 1999). Clearly there are benefits and limitations to both. For instance, a more participatory approach means that the public can contribute to the management of resources by providing pragmatic support and substantive information to professional managers (Fiorino, 1990) as well as enhance social goals (Beierle, 1999; McAvoy, 1999). However, more participatory efforts can have their drawbacks (Cupps, 1977; Glass, 1979; Rosener, 1978; Sewell & Phillips, 1979). They can be time- and resource-intensive. They can be unrepresentative. They can cause controversy and incite conflict. And they might not work.
These more participatory approaches also can overlook, and perhaps underplay, the role of scientific and bureaucratic expertise. The role for the technical or bureaucratic professional often has been emphasized in natural resource decisionmaking due to the scientific complexities associated with these issues (Hardin, 1968; Heilbronner, 1974; Ophuls & Boyan, 1992). The justifications for choosing an elite approach revolve around a belief in the competency of the bureaucracy, faith in the expert's ability to choose, and possession of informational and technical expertise (Schumpeter, 1962; Weber, 1946). Implied in this model is skepticism of the public's ability to express and articulate their preferences, contribute useful knowledge to the process, and influence the policy …
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Publication information: Article title: Elite and Participatory Policymaking: Finding Balance in a Case of National Forest Planning. Contributors: Steelman, Toddi A. - Author. Journal title: Policy Studies Journal. Volume: 29. Issue: 1 Publication date: Spring 2001. Page number: 71. © 1999 Policy Studies Organization. COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group.