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Citizen Participation and Sustainable Development

Citizen Participation and Sustainable Development. Graham Smith School of Social Sciences University of Southampton. The attitude-behaviour ‘gap’ A barrier to environmental citizenship. How to bridge the ‘gap’ between citizens’ environmental attitudes and their actual behaviour?

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Citizen Participation and Sustainable Development

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  1. Citizen Participation and Sustainable Development Graham Smith School of Social Sciences University of Southampton

  2. The attitude-behaviour ‘gap’A barrier to environmental citizenship • How to bridge the ‘gap’ between citizens’ environmental attitudes and their actual behaviour? • significant level of environmental awareness and concern amongst citizens. • rarely converts into the type of behaviour necessary for sustainable development – e.g. cutting back on car usage, changing consumption patterns, etc. • Important role for public authorities? • regulatory and fiscal incentives necessary to shape environmentally-sensitive behaviour.

  3. The problem of government intervention? • To achieve sustainable outcomes, public authorities will need to employ a greater range of policy instruments • Legal regulation • Green taxation, etc. • But, strong public resistance to imposition of measures to achieve radical changes in consumption patterns. • Citizens are suspicious of the motives of public authorities. • Increased state intervention is likely to increase sense of political alienation.

  4. Responding to the conundrum:citizen participation • Citizen participation and deliberation in the decision making process offers an ingenious solution… • Citizens are ‘dissatisfied democrats’ • Lack of trust in political institutions • But strong commitment to democratic norms • Increases legitimacy of potentially controversial policies. • Citizen participation in the formulation of environmental policy offers a mechanism for building trust in public authorities and acceptance / support of decisions. • Improves knowledge-base for decision making. • Information flows between citizens and decision makers.

  5. Responding to the conundrum:citizen participation • Enhances environmental citizenship • Orientates citizens towards the public good and promotes reflection on environmental values. • Exposes the narrowly self-interested grounds of many environmentally-degrading and unsustainable practices. • Citizens confront the implications of policy choices, such as the environmental costs of consumption and production patterns. • Part of the process of ‘internalising’ environmental values and developing an ‘environmental ethos’. • Opportunity to develop skills, capacities and dispositions necessary for environmental citizenship.

  6. Sustainable policy? • There is no guarantee that citizen participation will lead to sustainable development. • However, good reasons to expect more environmentally-informed decisions that are accepted as legitimate by citizens. • Arguing for participation and deliberation is the easy part… • Evidence from practice?

  7. Experiments in participationDeliberative innovations • If participation is to be embedded in the political process, we need to think carefully about institutional design. • Many participation exercises have been poorly designed and executed, often increasing the alienation of citizens. • Growing interest in democratic experiments such as citizens’ juries, consensus conferences and deliberative opinion polls • Independent organisation and facilitation to ensure fairness • Careful selection of cross-section of the population • Presentations and opportunity to question ‘experts’ • Citizens given time to deliberate over policy options

  8. Experiments in participationDeliberative innovations • Evidence indicates that citizens are willing and able to deliberate on controversial and complex policy issues and provide reasoned decisions. • A small number of deliberative innovations have been run on environmental issues, e.g. • Consensus conferences – Danish Board of Technology. • Deliberative opinion polls – Texas public utilities. • Evidence indicates that environmental considerations are given significant weight in citizens’ deliberations and decisions (but evidence is based on only a few cases).

  9. Experiments in participationDeliberative innovations • At present such innovations remain marginal. • The challenge is to embed meaningful citizen participation into the decision making process. • An example – Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform (British Columbia) • 160-strong randomly-selected assembly of citizens who met regularly for a year. • Recommendations put directly to a popular referendum. • Not an ‘environmental’ example, but shows how deliberative innovations can play a significant role.

  10. Experiments in participation • Deliberative innovations are not the only option for democratic renewal • Lessons to be drawn from, for example, participatory budgeting, citizens initiative, etc. • Beyond the traditional ‘political’ realm – democratic participation in the social economy • Co-operatives, mutuals and voluntary organisations, associations and foundations that engage in productive activity with a social remit. • Ethos and democratic structure offer a promising context for the promotion of environmental citizenship.

  11. Enhancing citizen participation • There is a potentially significant relationship between citizen participation and sustainable development. • Increases the legitimacy of decisions. • Improves the knowledge base for decision making. • Enhances environmental citizenship. • Without widespread experimentation and support for democratic innovations (in the political and economic realm), the evidence will remain only suggestive. • BUT, how to overcome the reluctance of public authorities to increase opportunities for meaningful citizen participation?

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