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Defining effective participation : a case study of the Vancouver International Airport Environmental Assessment and Review Process Rowson, Juliet Mary


Since the late 1960’s, public participation in environmental decision making has become increasingly common. Such participation, however, has often been performed in an uncoordinated fashion, with little reflection upon the forms of participation which are most effective in terms of meeting societal goals. In a democracy such as Canada, effective participation is the form of participation deemed most desirable by the general population. Therefore, the aim of this study is to obtain a ‘democratic’ definition of effective participation in environmental decision making. I have selected the Vancouver International Airport Environmental Assessment and Review Process as a case study. Interviews with forty-three participants were carried out in order to determine their definition of effective public participation. Public participation has been conceptualized as being composed of a primary dimension, the degree of power sharing between elected officials and the public; and five secondary criteria which are necessary to reach effective participation in practice. These five criteria are: who is permitted to participate in environmental decision making; the degree of access to resources; the nature of the participatory mechanism; the scope of the participatory process; and finally the stage in the decision making process that participation is solicited. In terms of the primary dimension of participation, it was found that the consultative model of decision making was the most popular definition of effective participation. The Environmental Assessment and Review Process itself was a consultative process, therefore, the majority of the interviewees considered the ‘status quo’ level of power sharing to be most conducive to effective participation. Opinions of effective participation in terms of power sharing were dependent upon individuals’ participatory experiences, motivation for participation, and sociological makeup. In terms of the five secondary effectiveness criteria, a third of the participants found that the Environmental Assessment and Review Process was already conducive to effective participation. Alternative visions of effective participation in practice were expressed, and they were commonly associated with an individual’s motivation for participation.

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