Research Handbooks on Impact Assessment series
Edited by Angus Morrison-Saunders, Jenny Pope and Alan Bond
Chapter 15: Public participation in sustainability assessment: essential elements, practical challenges and emerging directions
The literature on public participation in sustainability assessment is in its formative stages, and yet still reveals important patterns, lessons and overarching themes. In this chapter we offer an integrative review (Torraco, 2005), inquiring into essential elements, practical challenges and emerging directions for participation in sustainability assessment. Our starting point is the related and larger literature on participation in environmental assessment. We have conceived of sustainability assessment as an extension of environmental assessment, and therefore view environmental assessment experiences as an excellent entry point. Throughout the chapter we use the word public to refer to people and groups who are directly affected by an assessment, along with others who have an interest in the common good and who have important knowledge and concerns. By participation we mean active involvement of the public. Reference is also made to meaningful public participation. This term describes processes that incorporate a wide range of what we view as the essential elements of participation. These elements are described in section 15.3, and include basic components of participation in environmental assessment and special features we think are required for sustainability assessment. Section 15.4 outlines challenges to achieving meaningful participation in sustainability assessment, and section 15.5 describes emerging directions, including promising research topics and questions. Before turning to these matters, however, the following section summarizes practical and theoretical arguments for the importance of participation in sustainability assessment.
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