Does stakeholder participation improve environmental governance? Evidence from a meta-analysis of 305 case studies

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  • Jens Newig
  • Nicolas Wilhelm Jager
  • Edward R.T. Challies
  • Elisa Kochskämper

Participation and collaboration of citizens and organized stakeholders in public decision-making is widely believed to improve environmental governance outputs. However, empirical evidence on the benefits of participatory governance is largely scattered across small-N case studies. To synthesize the available case-based evidence, we conducted a broad case-based meta-analysis across 22 Western democracies, including 305 individual cases of public environmental decision-making. We asked: How do ‘more’ participatory decision-making processes compare against ‘less’ participatory ones in fostering – or hindering – strong environmental governance outputs, (i.e. environmental provisions in plans, agreements or permits)? Which design features make a difference? What role does the decision-making context play? How do results change if we control for the intentions of the leading governmental agency? To capture the central design features of decision-making processes, we distinguish three dimensions of participation: the intensity of communication among participants and process organizers; the extent to which participants can shape decisions (“power delegation”); and the extent to which different stakeholder groups are represented. Our regression analysis yields robust evidence that these three design features of participation impact upon the environmental standard of governance outputs, even when controlling for the goals of governmental agencies. Power delegation is shown to be the most stable predictor of strong environmental outputs. However, communication intensity only predicts the conservation-related standard of outputs, but not the environmental health-related standard of outputs. Participants’ environmental stance was another strong predictor, with considerable variation across different contexts. While our results remain broadly stable across a wide range of contexts, certain contextual conditions stood out in shaping the relation between participation and environmental outputs. Overall, our findings can inform the design of participatory processes that deliver governance outputs of a high environmental standard.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102705
JournalGlobal Environmental Change : Human and Policy Dimensions
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 01.09.2023

Bibliographical note

We thank Brigitte Geißel, Tom Koontz, Mark Reed, Graham Smith, and Craig Thomas for constructive feedback throughout the project, and Örjan Bodin, Manuel Fischer, Jacob Hörisch, Tom Koontz, Mark Lubell and Graham Smith for constructive comments on an earlier draft of this paper. We thank Ana Adzersen, Bente Bauer, Anna-Lena Bögeholz, Roxanne Bree, Lennart Brunkert, Franca Bülow, Anna Drazkiewicz, Lena Elmgren, Julia Gärtner, Anne Heitmann, Marc Heuer, Katharina Huhn, Insa Krempin, Mascha Kurenbach, Nikolas Lührs, Lukas Montag, Karsten Müller, Timo Steinert, Sarah Velten, Esther Xicota, and Anja Zirngibl for their support in producing the dataset. This research received funding by the European Research Council under grant no. 263859 (“EDGE – Evaluating the Delivery of participatory environmental Governance using an Evidence-based research design”) to JN, and by the German Research Foundation under grant no. NE 1207/2–1 (“ECOPAG”) to JN.

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