Irvin_et_al-2004-Public_Administration_Review - Rene A...

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Citizen Participation in Decision Making: Is It Worth the Effort? 55 Ren é e A. Irvin University of Oregon John Stansbury University of Nebraska Citizen Participation in Decision Making: Is It Worth the Effort? It is widely argued that increased community participation in government decision making pro- duces many important benefits. Dissent is rare: It is difficult to envision anything but positive outcomes from citizens joining the policy process, collaborating with others and reaching consen- sus to bring about positive social and environmental change. This article, motivated by contextual problems encountered in a participatory watershed management initiative, reviews the citizen- participation literature and analyzes key considerations in determining whether community par- ticipation is an effective policy-making tool. We list conditions under which community participa- tion may be costly and ineffective and when it can thrive and produce the greatest gains in effec- tive citizen governance. From the detritus of an unsuccessful citizen-participation effort, we arrive at a more informed approach to guide policy makers in choosing a decision-making process that is appropriate for a community s particular needs. Introduction CBEP (Community-Based Environmental Protec- tion) is designed to maximize the use of scarce re- sources, encourage local support, and consider the economic well-being of communities. Environmental Protection Agency (1996) Notwithstanding the ambiguous mention of using scarce resources, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should be commended for its efforts to incorporate more citizen involvement into environmental protection pro- grams (Fiorino 2000). With improved community relations as a motivating goal, the EPA pushed for national and re- gional enhancements in environmental decision making throughout the latter half of the 1990s. This ambitious ef- fort has not been limited to the EPA, nor to environmental management. At all levels of government, citizen-partici- pation programs have been launched since the 1950s (Day 1997), with the underlying assumption that if citizens be- come actively involved as participants in their democracy, the governance that emerges from this process will be more democratic and more effective. Arguments for enhanced citizen participation often rest on the merits of the process and the belief that an engaged citizenry is better than a passive citizenry (King, Feltey, and Susel 1998; Putnam 1995; Arnstein 1969). With citi- zen participation, formulated policies might be more real- istically grounded in citizen preferences, the public might become more sympathetic evaluators of the tough deci- sions that government administrators have to make, and the improved support from the public might create a less divisive, combative populace to govern and regulate. How- ever, incorporating citizen input into agency decision mak- Ren é e A. Irvin is an assistant professor in the Department of Planning, Public Policy, and Management at the University of Oregon. An applied
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