Academic journal article Journal of Sustainable Development

Reviewing the Ambiguous: Examining the Typologies of Public Participation towards Its Evaluation

Academic journal article Journal of Sustainable Development

Reviewing the Ambiguous: Examining the Typologies of Public Participation towards Its Evaluation

Article excerpt


Arguments surrounding the epistemology, as well as practical manifestation of various typologies of public participation are enormous. This highlights not only the fluid and complex nature of the concept but also how strongly tied it is to time and place. While the typology of public participation is often viewed from the perspective of engagement levels, this paper uses a dual perspective approach to discuss the various forms of participation from the perspective of both engagement levels and motives, to that of specific contextual applications. The paper also draws from the practical experiences of planners in Malaysia and Nigeria to examine the relationship between evaluation approaches for public participation and the successes of participatory processes in planning projects. The perceived contribution of participatory mechanisms to a project's success is found to be inadequate in explaining the technique's contribution to the overall success of planning projects. Also, the motivation of (ex-ante) evaluation is more a determinant of the project success than the focus of evaluation. There is therefore a need for coherent frameworks to integrate previous evaluation experiences in to subsequent policy guides to improve further evaluation efforts as well as planning projects.

Keywords: public participation, engagement levels, evaluation, participatory mechanisms, planning policies

1. Introduction

Public participation, as it is commonly known, is a famous concept. However, scholarly disagreement still exists on the two key words contained in the term. Neither definition of 'the public' nor that of 'participation' is fortunate enough to be unanimously agreed upon by scholars. The different expressions used to denote public participation in different local contexts point to the fluid nature of the concept. While some advocates of public participation (for example Rowe & Frewer, 2000; Maidin, 2011) have criticized the use of the term consultation as an approach to participation of the public, in some countries such as South Africa and Australia, common terminologies used to denote public participation are consultation and public consultation respectively. What commonly comes to mind however, when public participation is mentioned, is the process of making collective decisions between initiators of programmes and projects and those that may impact or be impacted by the action. Mouratiadou and Moran (2007: 67) define public participation as a process whereby people are allowed to influence the outcomes of plans and working processes. Laurian and Shaw (2008: 294), on the other hand, have defined public participation as a "mode of relationship between the state and civil society that involves the public in decision making" or "mechanisms intentionally instituted by government to involve the lay public, or their representatives, in administrative decision making". Historically, the process is a transition from initiating and executing programmes/projects through executive orders and purely expert judgements, to a situation where the "public" are expected to make inputs in the design and implementation of programmes that will likely affect them or be affected by them. The ubiquitous nature of public participation therefore explains its relevance in many fields of literature.

Be it in the field of local governance, local economic development, urban and regional planning, environmental protection, health and sanitation, or issues related to natural resource utilization, public participation has a strong political affiliation which ties it to decision making. According to Brodie et al. (2009), citizens who volunteer to participate in community issues (regardless of their motivation) must be prepared to face some sort of collective decision making challenges. Participation involves deciding on alternatives and making choices between them. Whether or not the process reflects conventional democratic principles, the decision that is finally taken by a focus group, citizen jury, or a planning cell is supposedly in the interest of the wider community. …

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