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Stage 2: Specification of Policy Objectives

In this stage, participatory assessment tools and methods must be geared towards the articulation of diverse stakeholder perspectives in order to share and explore these. A wide range of tools exists for this step, some of which were already addressed for step 1 (for example, Repertory Grid Technique, Q Methodology). Others are dealt with under stage 3.

A widely applied tool that deserves mentioning is Focus Group methodology. Originally developed for marketing, this tool has been adjusted to the context of environmental policy formulation (Greenbaum 1998; Wilkinson 2004; Gerger Swartling 2006). Its basic idea is to arrange for a conversation in a (small) group on a topic presented in a more or less detailed way in order to find out about peoples' impressions and opinions. Focus Group methodology in fact covers a diversity of approaches, ranging from more to less structured, low to high diversity in the group or from little to much information presented. Climate change modelling has used focus groups for receiving feed-back on scientific models and scenarios (see also Chapter 5, this volume).

Stage 3: Identification and Appraisal of Potential Policy Options

Much experience has been gained with tools to support participatory technology assessments on controversial issues such as genetic modification. Examples include Consensus Conferences, Planning Cells and Citizens' Juries. These tools aim at facilitating a dialogue between experts and laypersons in homogeneous (either experts or laypersons) and heterogeneous (experts and laypersons together) groups. As a common feature, these tools often a priori allocate 'knowledge' to the expert domain and 'values' to the domain of laypeople. Separating 'facts' and 'values' in such a way is at odds, however, with the findings of studies into risk perception indicating that both are intertwined (Cuppen et al. 2009). These tools and methods tend to be based on the assumption that differences in judgement mainly exist between experts and laypersons. However, there may be as many differences within layperson and expert groups as there are between them.

Another 'family' of participatory assessment tools and methods originating from management science aims at improving the quality of (business) plans by assessing conflicting stakeholder assumptions. Well-known examples are Devil's Advocate (Schwenk and Cosier 1980; Schweiger et al. 1986), Policy Delphi (Turoff 1975) and Dialectical Methodology (Mason and Mitroff 1981). The underlying idea of these tools and methods is that the appraisal of competing alternatives benefits from the articulation of stakeholders' contradictory (but hidden) assumptions rather than from invoking 'objectified' expert judgement. These participatory assessment tools and methods differ from Consensus Conferences, for example, in that they recognize different realms of stakeholder expertise, including practical knowledge, alongside scientific (academic) expertise, and treat them as equally valuable. Thus they do not separate stakeholders into an expert and lay group. However, they also make assumptions that have an impact on the structuring of the dialogue process. One assumption is that stakeholder debate can be negatively influenced by differences in power and authority of those involved. Therefore, participatory assessment tools and methods may structure stakeholder interaction in such a way that participants do not know each others' identity (for example, in classical delphi), a practice in line with Habermas' notion of the ideal speech situation. Sometimes, the Devil's Advocate technique is organized as a game: the advocate pretends to be against the proposed plan but actually plays a role. Evaluation research suggests that such role playing (artificial conflict) contributes little to learning, while so-called authentic conflict contributes more (for example, Nemeth et al. 2004).

Yet another approach for appraisal of policy options is backcasting, developed as an alternative to forecasting (see Chapter 3, this volume). Participatory Backcasting first identifies a particular (desirable) future end-point and then works backward from it to the present, as if it were already realized. Backcasting can be a powerful tool to assess the feasibility of a (desired) future state and the interventions needed to reach that point (Robinson 2003). It is able to avoid the conservatism inherent in forecasting, as it encourages reflection on the breaking of dominant trends through 'out-of-the-box' thinking (Dreborg 1996).

Stage 4: Decision Making

Some participatory assessment tools and methods are specifically aimed at reaching a decision, such as joint fact finding (McCreary et al. 2001) and the decision seminar (Lasswell 1960). A well-known example of such methodology is Consensus Building, which aims to 'forge agreements that satisfy everyone's primary interests and concerns' (Susskind et al. 1999, p. xvii). Grounded in the theory and practice of interest-based negotiation and mediation (Innes 2004), this problem-solving approach is essentially different from those participatory assessment tools and methods that focus on problem structuring. The notion of consensus is critical in many participatory assessment tools. In essence, consensus tends to be regarded as preferable to dissent, if only because disagreement might cause troublesome personal relationships, which people working in a (small) group would like to avoid. In case of irreconcilable values, consensus may be artificial or symbolic (Kupper 2006). Such consensus obstructs learning and may lead to the adoption of invalid assumptions or inferior choices (Janis 1972; Gregory et al. 2001; Stasser and Titus 1985; Coglianese 1999). It should be noted that artificial or symbolic consensus is not necessarily negative, as it keeps the process moving and enables parties to develop trust (Hisschemoller and Hoppe 2001).

Despite many criticisms, consensus building is, to our knowledge, the only participatory assessment tool and method with an institutionalized sibling. The US Negotiated Rulemaking Act prescribes the negotiation of the terms of a particular proposed rule, hence the name.

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