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This chapter has highlighted the great variety of participatory assessment tools and methods applied in many policy sectors and venues across the world. These tools and methods have in common that they facilitate some sort of dialogue between people with different views on a specific topic: participatory methods arrange for a procedure along the various stages of the policy formulation process, whereas tools can be applied in only one or few stages. Participatory assessment tools and methods can easily be integrated into other policy formulation tools that require feedback from stakeholders, such as environmental modelling (see Chapter 5, this volume) or multi-criteria appraisal (see Chapter 6, this volume).

We find that only a few participatory assessment tools and methods seriously address the issue of stakeholder identification and selection, despite the fact that this first step determines the process and outcome to a high degree. Most participatory assessment tools and methods can be used for identifying objectives or for exploring alternative courses of action.

In assessing the potential of participatory assessment tools and methods, two issues are of critical importance. First, we find that different (sometimes irreconcilable) views on participation have immediate consequences for their design and application. Some focus on reaching consensus, in order to facilitate decisions on controversial issues, while others focus on articulating conflicting perspectives to enhance learning with respect to developing new policy approaches and options. Second, the practice of applying participatory assessment tools and methods often suffers from contradictory objectives among participants and disappointments that policymakers are more interested in legitimizing already decided measures than in gaining new ideas for addressing intractable issues. These two observations may also explain the observed lack of systematic evaluation of participatory assessment tools and methods in practice.

The critical evaluation this chapter offers is meant to present a state of the art with a fair assessment of the challenges in the field. We do not intend it to discourage readers from studying and employing participatory approaches. After all, despite much skepticism and resistance in policy venues, openness to new insights is and must remain a major feature of good policy formulation and governance.

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