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20 Questions to Achieve Effective Public Participation

Here we have chosen six key elements and questions for good governance and effective public participation (adapted from Lockwood 2010 and The Nature Conservancy 2017). This checklist is highly adaptable and can be used widely in a more general context.

 

A. Transparency

Citizens should be allowed to know how decisions are made and the cause-effect of decisions. The decision-making process should be open and visible to stakeholders or the public. Clarifying the reason behind decisions is important to guarantee transparency. Moreover, governance authorities should provide relevant information that is appropriate in terms of the way it is presented.

1. Is the decision-making process open to scrutiny by the public?

2. Is the reason behind decisions open to the public?

3. Is the cause and effect of decisions open?

4. Is information accessible and presented in appropriate forms?

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 B. Accountability

The effective participation process constitutes of different partners that have clearly identified their roles and responsibilities. Also, each of them should accept its responsibility. It is mandatory for the governing bodies to be answerable to both the higher level of authorities (upward accountability), and their constituencies (downward accountability), such as citizens, to characterize accountability for effective participation. Governing bodies have an obligation to report to a higher-level authority regarding their performance. Their constituencies are eligible to question and express opinions on the decisions and actions.

5. Are roles and responsibilities clearly defined by each partner?

6. Do they accept their responsibilities?

7. Is upward and downward accountability fulfilled?

Communication

C. Inclusiveness

Good governance entitles an equal right for every individual to voice and participate in the matters that are related to his or her life. In other words, the effective participation process ensures equal opportunities for all stakeholders to participate in decision-making and influence decisions. Engaging marginalized and disadvantaged stakeholders in decision-making is a focal point for inclusiveness. The governance authorities should actively make efforts to involve those marginalized people, although they are not required to take up the opportunities.

8. Do all stakeholders have appropriate opportunities to participate in decision-making processes and actions?

9. Do governing bodies take active steps to involve marginalized and disadvantaged groups of people?

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D. Fairness

Fairness is an important principle to characterize the effective participation process from a moral perspective that everyone should be treated fairly with respect and decisions should be made in the absence of bias. It is also a rational choice to gain wide acceptance and support from them. The recognition of human rights and the intrinsic value of nature is a premise to reciprocal respect. Good governance entails a relatively fair sharing of costs and benefits resulting from decisions and actions. It is not necessary to pursue equal outcomes but distributional fairness (both intra- and intergenerational distribution) needs to be taken into account. Any inequalities emerging from decision-making processes should be justified or compensated by the authorities.

10. Are all stakeholders treated with respect?

11. Is there reciprocal respect between the higher and lower level of authorities?

12. Are decisions made without personal bias?

13. Are human rights and the intrinsic value of nature recognised and respected?

14. Is the distribution of benefits and costs of decisions and actions identified and considered?

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E. Connectivity

Connectivity strengthens the collective work processes and promotes healthy relationships among all partners. In a well-connected governance system, governing bodies, various stakeholders and citizens work collaboratively to resolve conflicts and misunderstandings. Trust, shared values and mutual understanding are built up in the network, leading to a more effective participation process. The strategic direction of governing bodies should associate with long-term visions at other governance levels to enhance the connectivity and consistency in governance.

15. Are governing bodies effectively coordinated and connected with partners and other stakeholders?

16. Are all stakeholders connected effectively and appropriately?

17. Are the direction of governing bodies consistent with other levels of governance authorities?

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F. Resilience

Resilience is a term that describes the capacity of a system to withstand changes and recover from disturbance. A resilient governance system requires a continuous learning process for decision-makers to cope with dynamics and new understandings. When changes and perturbations occur, the flexibility to redesign and rearrange the processes helps to maintain its original state. The long-term uncertainties also affect the resilience of a governance system. Identifying uncertainties by creating different scenarios and developing adaptation strategies help reduce risks and negative outcomes. Thus, risk identification and management are necessary to enhance the resilience and adapt to changes.

18. Do governing bodies have a learning process to absorb new knowledge from experience?

19. Do governing bodies have the flexibility to rearrange the processes in response to the changing conditions?

20. Do governing bodies identify, assess, and manage risk?

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References

1 Lockwood, M. (2010). Good governance for terrestrial protected areas: A framework, principles and performance outcomes. Journal of Environmental Management, 91(3), 754-766.

2 The Nature Conservancy. (2017). Strong Voices, Active Choices: TNC’s Practitioner Framework to Strengthen Outcomes for People and Nature. Arlington, VA. URL: https://www.nature.org/en-us/what-we-do/our-insights/perspectives/strong-voices-active-choices/

 

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About The Author

Yunyue Peng

Master student in Nature Management at the University of Copenhagen, focusing on public participation and citizen action in nature conservation and sustainable development.