A Three-Dimensional View of Public Participation

11th Dec 2009

16:30 - 18:00

Chisholm House, Surgeon's Square


It is increasingly common for science related policies to contain commitments to public participation. It is typically presumed that greater public participation in decision-making processes will lead to more socially acceptable ? and hence sustainable ? decisions or projects. However, it is important to pay critical attention to what participation entails, how it is facilitated and how it is experienced by both participants and facilitators. In this presentation I will draw on the findings of a case study of a planning application for a controversial renewable energy development. The case study examines the opportunities for public participation in the planning process and how these opportunities were responded to by members of the local community. I will refer to Lukes? three-dimensional view of power to demonstrate the various forms of power present within the planning system. Subtle forms of power are shown to act to restrict the extent to which public participants meaningfully influence decisions. This is considered to be particularly true where public participation leads to the expression of public opposition towards developments which are explicitly supported by Government policies. However, whilst power remains predominantly in the hands of decision-makers, and within the structures of the planning system, public participants are not entirely powerless. For example, public participants play active roles in constructing and shaping their contributions. Yet, greater power exists within and beyond the planning system influencing participants? perceptions of what constitutes legitimate participation. The presentation will question to what extent members of the public are empowered through participatory processes and how their participation is controlled.

Mhairi is an ESRC Post-Doctoral Fellow based at the SSU. Her research examines community experiences with the planning and development of renewable energy projects. In particular, she is interested in the ways in which ?non-experts? contribute to debates around contentious technological projects.