An evaluation of the effectiveness of stakeholder dialogue in environmental decision-making
Stakeholder participation is recognised as an important component of sustainable environmental decision-making. This understanding is supported by an 'idealised narrative' of benefits and predictions that describes stakeholder participation as delivering both transformative and substantive products. However, the relationship between the participatory process and products is poorly understood and has rarely been examined. As a result, the momentum behind the current rise in use of stakeholder participation methods is fuelled by a number of insufficiently tested normative statements. This thesis addresses this situation by exploring the effectiveness of stakeholder participation. The academic context to this evaluation reviews the arguments for participation in public policy found within the political science, natural resource management, and planning literatures. In particular, it draws on the theory of collaborative planning and the recent emergence of a parallel critical debate that identifies the challenges to effective stakeholder participation. Framed by this context, the empirical focus of this study is based on a particular participatory process called Stakeholder Dialogue. In order to establish a measure of effectiveness that goes beyond describing results and identifies potential explanations for the products of Stakeholder Dialogue the thesis develops an original evaluation strategy based around a retrospective case study methodology. The evaluation uncovers a complex picture of relationships which challenges the notion that alongside the successful production of a substantive product, an inclusive, transparent and deliberative process will also deliver a broad set of transformative benefits. At the heart of this complexity lies the interface between the multifaceted and pervasive influence of context, in particular its influence on the expectations and interests of stakeholders, and the notions of deliberation and inclusion that define participatory practice. Failure to address this complexity is compounded by the instrumental purpose behind environmental policy together these themes frustrate the delivery of comparable benefits to all participants.