Desktop version

Home arrow Political science arrow The tools of policy formulation

ORIGINS AND RATIONALES OF PARTICIPATORY ASSESSMENT TOOLS

The emergence and popularity of participatory assessment tools and methods can be related to the rise of social movements since the 1960s, which aimed at democratizing decision making at all levels of society. Participation has been intrinsically linked to the idea of empowering groups who are less able to make themselves heard, enabling them to effectively defend their interests against the powerful. Criticizing mainstream political theories that legitimized distance between the governors and the governed, social scientists increasingly abandoned Schumpeter's (1942, 1976) radical notion that citizens are incapable of rational involvement in the political process. Focusing instead on structural disempowerment of the poor, non-white and women, critics took exception to the normativity of the 'pluralist' conception of the policy arena as a market place that, as Berelson et al. put it, 'makes for enough consensus to hold the system together and enough cleavage to make it move' (Berelson et al. 1954, p. 318). Political science witnessed a revival of 'classical' political ideas, of which Carole Pateman's (1979) discussion of Rousseau's social contract remains an eloquent example to this day.

The classical democratic ideal, expressed by the likes of Rousseau and J.S. Mill, sketches a polity where people open-mindedly engage in an enriching process of learning (see Held 1987). Learning is central to Habermas' (1984) famous notion of the ideal speech situation, where persons with different views interact without obstruction by differences in power and influence. Policy scientists inspired by Habermas criticized mainstream 'technocratic' practices in policymaking and policy analysis (see for example, Fischer 1990). What counts in the end for these policy scientists, or at least what should prevail in the context of good governance, is the quality of policy argument (Dunn 1982; Fischer and Forester 1993).

The participatory wave provided fertile ground not only to analyse and theories, but also to develop and apply tools to facilitate participation. The notion of participation as empowerment, as put forward by Freire (2004), inspired scholars in the field of development studies to create tools known as Participatory Action Research (Fals Borda and Rahman 1991; Hall 2005) and Participatory Rural Appraisal (Chambers 2008; for an overview see Tufte and Mefalopulos 2009). Urban planning experimented with deliberative tools such as, in Germany, Planungszelle and Citizens' Fora (Renn 2004). The 1980s witnessed harsh controversies related to environmental and technological risk, such as the worldwide concerns over nuclear power, hazardous waste and (transboundary) water pollution. The rise of tools such as citizens' and science courts (Kantrowitz 1967; Seley 1983), citizens' juries (Huitema et al. 2007), scientific mediation (Abrams and Primack 1980) and consensus conferences (see for example, Einsiedel et al. 2001) corresponded with this period. The invention and application of participatory tools to help policy officials in 'dealing with an angry public' (Susskind and Field 1996) was also witnessed. Apart from new tools, existing tools were reinvented and/or adjusted, such as focus groups (Merton and Kendall 1946) and brainstorming (Osborn 1963).

Although the conceptual link between participation and learning is echoed among a wide group of policy scientists, it would be incorrect to trace the origins of participatory assessment tools and methods to the participatory ideology exclusively. Before the Cold War, the US Defense establishment recognized the critical importance of avoiding tunnel vision and 'group-think' among decision makers in situations characterized by stress and uncertainty. Tools for simulation and gaming (see Chapter 3, this volume), originally developed in the military and international relations studies, have found wide use in participatory settings (Mayer 1997). Critical notions developed in decision science found their way through many science disciplines, especially that of the 'wicked problem' (Rittel and Webber 1973) and related notions such as 'type 3 error' - solving the 'wrong problem' (Raiffa 1968) - and bounded rationality (Simon 1973). A wicked, ill-structured or unstructured problem is defined in terms of uncertainty or conflict with respect to the (relevance of) knowledge and values at stake (Hisschemoller and Hoppe 2001). Interestingly, for Rittel and his followers the participatory wave was not the starting point but the necessary consequence of so-called second generation design. The appearance of so many 'wicked' problems he considered a good reason to transfer the ways in which the large-scale NASA and military-type technological problems had been approached into civilian or other design areas (Bayazit 2004). Management science also delivered its own contribution to participatory tool development, inspired by notions from decision science and philosophers like Ackoff (1978), Churchman (1967) and Dewey (1932).

At this point we may understand why assessing the specific qualities of participatory tools for policy formulation is far from easy. This is because there is persistent ambiguity in political thought with respect to the moral and practical benefits of participation. Participation, as scholars tend to agree, can serve three purposes: empowerment, learning and legitimization or, in the terminology introduced by Fiorino (1990), normative, substantive and instrumental. The normative view relates to the very concept of democracy, which means rule by the people (the demos) and the idea that every citizen has the right to speak and be heard. Learning relates to the substantive rationale for participation. In this view, participation is a method for knowledge production. The connection between the normative and the substantive has become reflected in statements that 'lay people are experts with respect to their own problems' (Mitroff et al. 1983) or that 'citizens are the best judges of their own interests' (Fiorino 1990, p. 228). For participatory assessment tools and methods this implies that they must be able to incorporate a maximum of diversity (Stirling 2008). Diversity enhances learning, because it helps articulate marginal viewpoints that have more probative value than mainstream thinking (Dunn 1997). Participation as knowledge production is the focus of trans-disciplinary research (Funtowicz and Ravetz 1993; Gibbons et al. 1994). Third, legitimization relates to implementation, which in Fiorino's terminology is the instrumental rationale for participation. A decision is likely to be accepted if the process is considered fair, even by those who have lost the struggle over the outcome.

Notwithstanding an inclination among advocates of participation to tie these three features neatly together, they are not by definition compatible. The notion of diversity appears especially problematic. From the instrumental perspective, too much diversity endangers effective and legitimate decisions. Yet, from the perspective of empowerment, (too much) diversity would undermine the unity needed to effectively oppose the powers-that-be. A closer look into the history of political thought reveals that diversity has not consistently or exclusively been an ingredient of democratic theories. Instead, the necessity of (managing a certain amount of) diversity can (also) be traced to political thought of Machiavelli (1970), who is not usually considered a democrat at all. Machiavelli argues that diversity and social conflict are conditions allowing states to adapt to changing realities, safeguarding their people from war and disaster. In a mild way, this argument has been adopted by pluralist theorists as manifest in the 'intelligence of democracy' (Lindblom 1965).

 
Found a mistake? Please highlight the word and press Shift + Enter  
< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >

Related topics