Proceedings of Conference. 4th-7th June 2006, Edinburgh, Scotland.

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Proceedings of Conference. 4th-7th June 2006, Edinburgh, Scotland.


Parallel Session 4

Session 4.1. Critical Perspectives

Epistemological and ethical dilemmas of public participation

Antonio Aledo Tur, Hugo García Andreu, Guadalupe Ortiz Noguera

University of Alicante , Spain

There exists a wide consensus among governance theorists about the need of broadening the level of active engagement of the public in the processes of local planning and related decision making. However, the praxis of public participation still arise many doubts and uncertainties that have not been solved by the academia yet. This paper examines the problems and difficulties faced during the design and implementation of a public participation process on the alternatives and future of several local development projects of residential tourism in two municipalities in the South-East of Spain . The objective of this paper is to show the epistemological and ethical dilemmas that this research team challenged during this project: a) how legitimated this process was as it had been fostered from the academic sphere and it was not a public initiative; b) how representative the selected stakeholders were and to which extent this selection was not only methodologically but also politically legitimated; and c) how to transform the knowledge achieved through deliberation into useful knowledge for the different social groups, so that it is not a mere academic benefit. This paper also explains some of the answers given to these questions by this research team.

Full paper

Three burdens of public participation in science and technology

Sujatha Raman

University of Nottingham , UK

This paper elaborates and develops responses to three major sets of criticisms relating to the validity, legitimacy and reflexivity of the participatory turn in science and technology. I seek to examine why such an obviously laudable objective as promoting the capacity of people to have a say in developments that affect their lives, might be cause for concern even for democrats. In response to Collins and Evans’ concern about preserving the special role of expert validity in light of the concrete dangers of populism, I suggest that standards for judging individual, institutional and oppositional claims must necessarily differ. In response to concerns about the legitimacy of state-led participatory initiatives and NGO attempts to promote participation, I highlight the need to consider unintended consequences of both democratic and anti-democratic kinds. In response to concerns about the ambiguous effects of reflexive structures and actions, I detail the significance of different forms of participation. In sum, I aim to pose questions and ideas for further discussion on the nature and justification of participatory agendas.

Session 4.2. Gender and representation

Learning from women’s grassroots activism: gender reflections on environmental policy science and participatory processes

Ms. Mercè Agüera-Cabo

European Commission-Joint Research Centre , Italy

Males predominate as politicians and governmental officers, experts, stakeholders and citizens in the majority of environment-related participatory processes. However, not much attention has been given to gender in environmental governance. This paper argues that gender is significant for participatory processes because differences between female and male environment-related interests in information and concerns exist.

The argument is explored by highlighting the results of two research projects. First, a survey conducted in Spain (2004) by the FECYT will show gender tendencies in the perceptions of science and technology. Second, a gender study of three citizens’ committees that were involved in a number of environmental conflicts in the north-east of Catalonia ( Spain ) will illustrate the discussion regarding women’s specific environmental concerns. Throughout the article, different interpretations of the relevance of gender in environmental concerns are explored, mainly in relation to Ecofeminist theories. The paper concludes by proposing further reflections about the relevance and challenges of recognising gender differences in participatory processes embedded in environmental governance.

Full paper

What difference does being represented make?

Jasber Singh

PEALS, NewcastleUniversity

Participatory processes on genetically modified organisms, biomedicine, nanotechnology and other scientific issues are widespread. Representation is seen as good practice in participation in order to ensure that participants reflect the multicultural-nature of society. A recent Citizens’ Jury on nanotechnology, Nanojury, and other engagement initiatives on scientific issues, embraced this ethos (

Representation frames participatory initiatives to ‘recognise’ difference. The way in which difference is viewed will shape the design of the participatory processes. With participatory processes being designed to be capable of recognising difference, I want to explore how this difference is conceptualised.

But what impact do such efforts at representation have, if any? I will argue that recognising difference is narrowly framed in the design of many participatory processes. This lack of critical reflection on difference or in the words of Iris Young, being ‘blind to the politics of difference’ can lead to a) minority views not being heard or b) the views of minorities being assimilated into the view of the majority. Therefore, some participatory processes ‘unwittingly’ silence the views of minorities.

Greater critical reflection on recognising difference/representation could lead to improved practice. This paper will use concepts of difference formulated by Avtar Brah to widen views on recognising difference. Furthermore, ways to legitimate the voice of minority people – what Gail Lewis has called ‘situated voices’, will also be discussed.

Participatory processes that have attempted to deal with difference, such as the Nanojury and other initiatives (Verran, 2002; Visvanathan, 2005), will also be explored.

Session 4.3. Governance and participation

European public participation as risk governance: enhancing democratic accountability?

Les Levidow

Centre for Technology Strategy, Open University, Milton Keynes

Government decision-making on techno-scientific issues has encountered public suspicion and legitimacy problems. These have arisen from the unaccountability of representative democracy, especially when governments promote specific technologies as if they were objective imperatives. Given such conflicts around innovation and regulation, public participation has recently gained mainstream support in Europe . This support coincides with a shift in problem-diagnoses: public suspicion was previously attributed to deficits in public rationality or knowledge, while more recent diagnoses emphasise deficits in institutional procedures and frameworks. Recognising these difficulties, proposals for ‘risk governance’ aim to make institutions more trustworthy, make decisions more publicly accountable and accommodate conflicting goals. This European strategy for ‘risk governance’ provides a heuristic device for analysing conflicts around public participation. Any participatory design structures or simulates the societal conflicts to be managed; tensions arise over how to construct ‘the public’ that participates. In some cases, participation has evaluated and reinforced regulatory changes which enhance the public accountability of ‘risk’ judgements. Participants have also sought to open up the implicit political basis of technological decisions, especially vis à vis alternative futures, but this effort has proven difficult. If only by default, participatory procedures readily substitute for a greater public accountability of representative democracy for such choices. Pervasive tensions arise between discussing a ‘common’ problem and containing conflicts around the problem-definition.

Full paper

Some institutional aspects of science in support of the Common Fisheries Policy

Wilson, D. and T.J. Hegland

Institute for Fisheries Management and Coastal Community Development, Denmark

This paper reports on the attitudes and experiences of fisheries scientists involved in fisheries management in Europe . The research consisted of the detailed observation of 7 scientific meetings, 29 formal and numerous informal interviews with fisheries scientists and a survey with 465 valid responses. Many fisheries scientists, particularly those responsible for assessing the state of fish stocks, are experiencing deep frustration in respect to their role. They experience the management system as misusing their knowledge, while presenting them with difficult working conditions and even demands to sacrifice career goals. They are under pressure to produce objectivity out of what they know to be deep uncertainty. The survey shows that the experience of being asked to “pretend they know how many fish are in the sea” has an independent, negative impact on job satisfaction. The underlying problem arises from an understanding of scientists as the ‘givers of objectivity’ a mainstream but still naïve understanding of the role of science in political processes. An alternative, made particularly possible by the extensive experienced-based knowledge of fishers, is to think of management as a participatory, interactive process. From this perspective the central goal is no longer objective knowledge. The question shifts to transparent knowledge, because an effective management process requires that participants account to one another about how they know what they say they know. Hence, scientists, who are familiar with what such accounting entails, must still take the lead but must shift their style and approach to creating and using fishery knowledge.

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