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Public Participation

My research into societal risk management and into emergency response and managment has led to an interest in public participation in societal decision making. Over the past quarter century, paternalistic approaches of governments and their agencies to societal issues have been, at least in part, replaced by more participatory methods [1]. Twenty five years ago, most democracies were purely representative democracies. Citizens elected politicians who, with their administrations, made societal decisions. Once made, decisions were announced and defended against any public criticism. Public disillusion with politics along with greater adherence to deliberative democratic ideals have led to growing use of stakeholder involvement and public participation. In turn, this has led to a demand for wider access to information on risks. My interests in decision and risk analysis along with risk communication meshed naturally with these developments and I have been involved with several projects, e.g. the RELU-Risk [2, 3] and TED Projects [4, 5], in which we explored how to involve citizens in major decisions relating to, e.g., food safety, technological risks and facility siting.

One of the key issues that has become apparent is that while there is a lot of experience in various means of public participation, there is little comparative work that identifies good practice nor any strong guidance on how to design appropriate interventions [6].

[1] D. Rios Insua and S.French (eds) (2010) e‑Participation. A Group Decision and Negotiation Perspective. Springer, Dordrecht. Details

[2] R. Shepherd, G Barker, S. French, A. Hart, J. Maule and A. Cassidy (2006) ‘Managing Food Chain Risks: Integrating Technical and Stakeholder Perspectives on Uncertainty’ Journal of Agricultural Economics, 57 (2) 313-327. Link

[3] G.C. Barker, C. Bayley, A. Cassidy, S. French, A. Hart, P.K. Malakar, J. Maule, M. Petkov, R. Shepherd (2010) ‘Can stakeholder perspectives be used effectively in managing food chain risks?’ Risk Analysis 30(5), 766-781, Link

[4] S. French, Ed, (2003). Special Issue: The Challenges in Extending the MCDA Paradigm to e-Democracy. Journal of Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis. 12 61-233. Link

[5] S. French, Ed, (2007) Special Issue: Interface Issues in e-Democracy, International Journal of Technology, Policy and Management. 7(2) 105-208. Link

[6] C. Bayley and S. French (2010) ‘Public Participation: Comparing Approaches’ Journal of Risk Research. 14(2), 241-257. Link