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For better green governance

Updated: 2013-12-12 08:16
By Patrick Schroeder and Li Wanxin ( China Daily)

For instance, participatory techniques such as "Citizens' Juries" can be used to broker a conflict or to provide a transparent and non-aligned viewpoint on various issues, including environmental planning. "Future Search" is a technique meant to shed light on a common problem to generate visions about the possible "future" and to jointly discuss how these visions can be realized.

Similarly, but by taking a long-term approach, the method of "Scenario Analysis" anticipates future developments of society and evaluates strategies for responding to these developments. The "Consensus Conference" developed in Denmark has been used to assess emerging technologies (such as nuclear energy or genetic modification) and their impacts. It is, therefore, relevant for environmental planning and assessment.

And "Deliberative Opinion Polling" is especially suitable for situations where the public may have little knowledge or information about a certain issue.

Nevertheless, decision-makers in many countries, including Europe and China, still hold the outdated opinion that public participation is either an obstacle to implementation of large projects or simply a matter of effective communication and information dissemination. This attitude is based on the belief that "authorities" already know what the best solution is and the public needs only to be convinced. In this case, it is not a matter of participation but one of persuasion.

Regardless of the participation method applied, a number of generally accepted principles for effective participation include an early involvement of stakeholders, integration of all stakeholders, setting process and goals, and monitoring of expectations and stakeholder satisfaction. It is particularly important that public participation starts early in the process, when decisions have not yet been made. Only then, delays in the implementation and even cancellation of projects can be avoided. Very importantly, through the constructive input of the public, "blind spots" in project planning overlooked by experts can be identified and addressed in time.

The EU-China Environmental Governance Program identified specific steps that could be taken to meet the needs of the plenum document and to close the gap with international standards and practices of public participation. They include adopting cutting-edge methods and instruments for public participation and using them in the Chinese context.

Capacity building is also necessary for local planning in China and for environmental authorities to improve their understanding of the conditions and procedures of practicing the chosen participation methods. Training of expert facilitators, who understand the importance of maintaining neutrality in public involvement sessions and are skilled in implementing the participatory methods and techniques, is another important element.

Finally, participatory stakeholder workshops should be held at the national and provincial levels on emerging issues related to controversial technologies to address long-term environmental challenges, such as nuclear waste management, shale gas fracking or carbon capture and storage.

Patrick Schroeder works for EU SWITCH-Asia Network Facility, and Li Wanxin is a professor at the City University of Hong Kong and Tsinghua University.


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