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Ciaran O’Fraicheallaigh’s article “Public Participation and Environmental Impact Assessment”, which is published by the Department of Politics and Public Policy in Queensland’s Griffiths Business School in 2009, claims that public participation has become a central topic in Environmental Impact Assessment Literature (O’Faircheallaigh 2010, p. 19).
Ciaran O’Fraicheallaigh received MA and PhD degrees of International Relations from the Australian National University (Griffith University n.d.). For over twenty years Professor O’Fraicheallaigh performed negotiations with Indigenous organizations and communities and was an adviser for Australia’s leading Aboriginal Organizations, among which are the Cape York, Northern Central, Kimberley Land Councils and Yamatji (Griffith University n.d.). Moreover, he is a director of the Centre for Governance and Public Policy Program on Indigenous and environment governance and capacity (Griffith University n.d.).
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The article’s subject matter studies range of purposes of effective public participation, importance of its various models in policy making, and agencies’ and government’s reasonable interpretation of these purposes (O’Faircheallaigh 2010, p. 20). The article argues that the benefits of public participation are taken for granted (O’Faircheallaigh 2010, p. 20). Moreover, according to the author, some scholars argue that the issue is about how to implement and undertake its multiple purposes, which are not differentiated (Hartley & Wood 2005, cited in O’Faircheallaigh 2010, p. 19).
The article’s purpose is to underline benefits of the public participation in the light of precise definition of its notion, community’s influence on decision-making process and further involvement in the policy implementation, evaluation of different approaches of effective treatment of community view and its support maintenance, importance of every objective’s contribution into overall achievement of effective public participation (Lawrence 2003, Becker et al. 2004; Davlin & Yap 2008; Lockie 2001, OECD 2001, cited in O’Faircheallaigh 2010, p. 20).
Author’s conceptual framework identifies the logic of the purpose, defining the term “public participation” as an interaction between government, corporate actors and public as a part of EIA process (O’Faircheallaigh 2010, p. 21). Therefore, the author discards justification of the term’s definition, based solely on the active involvement of the public in decision-making and government’s influence on that involvement (Bishop and Davis 2002, O’Faircheallaigh 2010, p. 21). Thereby, the logic of the article’s purpose identifies broad purposes of the public participation and differentiates the stages of their implementation (O’Faircheallaigh 2010, p. 19). Conceptual framework is explained by the evaluation of the following public participation stages, which include: a) obtaining public input into the decision-making process, such as providing information to public with filling informational gaps of problem solving and social learning; b) sharing decision-making with public by reflecting democratic principles while allowing legitimacy with governments consent; c) reframing decision-making by shifting the balance of power to the interested people, while marginalized groups can make their independent projects (O’Faircheallaigh 2010, pp. 21-23). In order to identify author’s conceptual framework the following arguments and hypothesis should be taken into account: a) citizens can develop their full potential by understanding the system of government, which can greatly benefit from their participation; b) project proponents and government agencies perform broadly-based projects, which can result in short term economic growth, because ETA stays under their dominance and cannot influence their decision-making process (Barton 2002; Hindess 2002, cited O’Faircheallaigh 2010 p. 22); c) the degree of public involvement depends on the significance of the core problem and communities can gain their influence over impact assessment of parallel planning outside EIA process (O’Faircheallaigh 2010, p. 23).
Article’s content is methodically reviewed and the following considerations justify effectiveness of the author’s conceptual implementation: a) public participation involvement can be represented as data collection, active consultant’s presence and social learning, which prevents hostility and anxiety grounded on unfair policy decision-making; b) public participation in decision-making process can be assessed by assistance, joint decision making and reconstruction of the decision-making structures, because public is located on the lowest level of the influence grading after EIA domination; c) passive public participation can ameliorate policy effectiveness and shift the balance of interests of unfair political community to general public benefits (O’Faircheallaigh 2010, p. 23).
Author’s negotiation context clues, which predetermine definition of the public policy’s central notions give a broader look on the science fields of impact assessment, corporate social responsibility and indigenous studies and are designated for the subject’s comprehension by the intended readers of these fields.
The article’s strengths are based on the implicit value of the issue, which is centered on the positive outcomes of the interacted concepts of public participation involvement in decision-making and policy influencing. However, the article’s weaknesses are not based on focusing attention on the disadvantages of public participation and its worthiness, based on the cost and time-consumption.
The article’s contribution to wider range of literature is assessed by the enhancement of impact science field’s approaches. Studying Arnstein’s hierarchy of participation in terms of degree of control over policy decisions, the article reinforced the approach with suggestion of shifting the balance of power and adding interacted forms of public participation into these policies (Arnstein 1969, cited by O’Faircheallaigh 2010, p. 23). Thomas’s approach is criticized in the article, because its models of five forms of public participation assume that the fundamental choice belongs to public officials and public has to accept the set degree of participation (Thomas 1990, cited by O’Faircheallaigh 2010, p. 24). Based on the six different forms of the public participation ranging from consultation to control, Bishop and Davis’s approach is regarded as imprecise, since it does not recognize the primary role of agencies in decision-making (Bishop & Davis 2002, cited by O’Faircheallaigh 2010, p. 25).
The article’s aims/purposes were achieved with the help of conceptual framework’s stages and consideration of arguments in the lights of government’s benefits from public participation in decision-making process and policy accessibility (O’Faircheallaigh 2010, p. 25).
Text organization can be assessed as repeating and disclosing, because conceptual arguments are displayed before thesis statements and further structurally evaluated. Evaluation of concepts are analyzed and synthesized in the structural assessment.
The article provides the evidence of the above listed conceptual aspect, which gradation represents a different level of public involvement. The example of passive public participation was used to give evidence to the first concept (O’Faircheallaigh 2010, p. 23). Chinese authorities involved public for provision of the population data that will be affected by reconditioning of agricultural land for industrial development (Tang et al. 2008, cited by O’Faircheallaigh 2010, p. 22). The example of independent assessment of aboriginal groups in Canada, who achieved significant impact of influence over policy process by working outside of it, acknowledges the effectiveness of the second concept (Gibson 2006, cited by O’Faircheallaigh 2010, p. 23). In 2008, the newly-elected Labor Government of the Western Australia instituted the right of traditional owners in decision-making and final say of the policy process (Carpenter 2006, cited by O’Faircheallaigh 2010, p. 25).
The author’s references the studies of the scholars and practitioners in the fields of environmental and social impact assessments, public policy, public involvement and environmental management (O’Faircheallaigh 2010, p. 25). The author criticized Chavez and Bernal, Cooper and Elliot, Diduk and Mitchell, and Tritter and McCallum, when he discussed general issues of public participation in policy making (O’Faircheallaigh 2010, p. 23).
The author’s style and tone of writing are appropriate for achievement of the article’s aims, triggered on the appropriate audience concerned with impact assessment issues and avoids needless redundancy. However, repetition is used in the content to reinforce the logic of conceptual framework and effectiveness of the stages of its implementation.
Main aspects of public participation decision-making process are represented in the Table 1, which briefly summarizes stages and purposes of this process (O’Faircheallaigh 2010, p. 21).
Other deficiencies in the article take into account public participation usefulness in prediction of unwanted reactions from the public’s side (O’Faircheallaigh 2010, p. 21). However, litigation costs for the government are not considered during policy legitimating and implementation processes (Irvin & Stansbury 2004, p. 57).
The author’s considerations value the benefits of public participation, but do not measure possibilities of braking gridlock when cost of public participation becomes more relevant than the time spent on decision-making, because it cannot be measured by weeks or even hours (Irvin & Stansbury 2004 p. 58). However, the author supports the common belief among scholars about distrust in environmental regulators, whose attitude to local conditions is often regarded as unsympathetic by the media, brings unpredictable outcomes, which further break down into lengthy litigation delays (O’Faircheallaigh 2010, p. 21; Irvin & Stansbury 2004 p. 57). However, the article justifies that proponents’ impact on decision-making should not be overemphasized, because in order to submit the project, requested by EIA, they may downplay or ignore negative impacts or risks, or even overestimate potential benefits (O’Faircheallaigh 2010, p. 23). Nevertheless, value perspectives do not underline uselessness of public participation, because its cost, if effectively employed, can help overrun the cost of the policy implementation (O’Faircheallaigh 2010, p. 21; Irvin & Stansbury 2004 p. 57).
The article is worth to be read, because author’s concise description of the selected concepts and purpose’s logic precisely present evidence, completeness of the context and certainty of the conclusion.
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