The Historical Development of Public Participation in Environmental Governance

From the 1960s to 1980s

Since the 1960s, environmental governance had invoked a hot discussion in western developed countries. In the process of institutionalization of environmental governance, governments and industries were leading the discussion and dominating in policy-making, whereas civil society and the general public were acting as “outsiders”. From the agenda-setting, policy formulation to policy implementation, all stages of the environmental decision-making process shaped and dominated by the state governments and industries with the information from science became normalised. Although scientists, local campaigns and the media played significant roles in defining environmental issues, they were excluded from policy-making. The participation of those non-state actors in environmental governance was regarded as “deviations”, resulting in criticism and failure of implementation.


From the 1980s to early 2000s

The shifting pattern began at the 1980s. The transition of environmental governance was destined to happen as the public is at the heart of the consequence of environmental policies but have no right to decide on the policies. Generally speaking, marginal groups and indigenous people are at the bottom of the political hierarchy. They have to afford the consequence of what people at higher hierarchy and occupy higher social status decide for them. Thus, their right to speak has drawn more attention.

“… increasingly, non-participatory forms of policymaking are defined as illegitimate, ineffective and undemocratic, both by politicians and by stakeholders themselves.” – Harriet Bulkeley & Arthur P.J. Mol

Public participation in all stages of environmental governance has evolved in the past decades, including the identification of environmental problems, formulation of policies, strategy development and implementation of measures. We have seen the trend of decision-making in the environmental field switching from a closed and exclusive process to a more and more open, inclusive and deliberative process. Public participation has been addressed in political agenda and international conventions since the 1990s. In the early 2000s, public participation has become mandatory both legally and politically in some countries.


Recent times

Today we think that environmental issues as one of the global challenges need to be solved with the cooperation of all actors across all levels, including states, international organisations, private sectors, civil societies and also individuals. However, nowadays, we are facing more crucial challenges in environmental governance. There are more environmental issues coming up. The characteristic of environmental issues makes them have no boundaries and can easily cross over borderlines. Therefore, it is less likely that some problems, like air pollutions and marine conservation, can be solved within the country’s borderlines, especially in regions like Europe, where various countries are aggregated together and require more collaborations in governance. Calling for a more extensive and effective engagement of all stakeholders and individuals to resolve environmental issues becomes urgent. WeSolve is exactly the platform that provides you with effective communication and public participation solutions.



Bingham, L. B., Nabatchi, T., & O’ Leary, R. (2005). The New Governance: Practices and Processes for Stakeholder and Citizen Participation in the Work of Government. Public Administration Review, 65(5), 547-558.

Bulkeley, H., & Mol, A. P. J. (2003). Participation and Environmental Governance: Consensus, Ambivalence and Debate. Environmental Values, 12(2), 143-155.

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

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