What is public participation?
Public participation means that citizens are involved in the environmental or natural resource decision-making that has an effect on them. Public participation is also seen as part of sustainable development, and it may enhance social learning. It can be assumed that the final decisions are made with more competence, when local knowledge is included and expert knowledge is scrutinized by the public (Webler et al. 1995). Furthermore, the legitimacy of the final decision may be better, when the different stakeholders are involved in the decision making.
The reasons for participation
In relation to forestry, ILO (2000) has identified seven purposes:
1. Increase awareness of forestry issues and mutual recognition of interests
2. Gather information and enhance knowledge on forests and their use
3. Improve provision of multiple forest goods and services
4. Stimulate involvement in decision-making and/or implementation process
5. Enhance acceptance of forest policies, plans and operations
6. Increase transparency and accountability of decision making
7. Identify and manage conflicts and problems together, in a fair and equitable way.
The levels of participation
Germain et al. (2001) divide the process to six levels:
4. Collaborative decision making
5. Delegated power
6. Total control of participants
Organization of participation
The participation can be organized in many ways. In case of active participation, the stakeholders may work in working groups or citizen juries, for instance. This sort of organization is suitable for the last three levels of participation. When the participation is less active, the opinions of the stakeholders may be elicited through interviews, surveys, questionnaires and public meetings. These methods are suitable especially for the consultation level.
The success of public participation process
The success of the participation process may depend both on the outcome of the process and the process itself.
In several studies, lists of success criteria have been defined.
The phases of public participation
Each public participation case may include slightly different phases, and each phase may include one or more tasks ( see also Participatory planning case template).
In each phase, and for each of the tasks, many different tools may be available(e.g. Lynam et al. 2007). Some of the tools are generic, so that they can be used in many fields, not just forestry. Some of the tools may be forestry specific, for example the growth and yield models of different tree species. Many forest DSS include tools for many different tasks, and they may also be combined with the more generic tools. However, for achieving success the way the tools are used may be as important as the tools themselves (DeMeo et al. forthcoming)
De Meo, I, Ferretti, F., Hujala, T. & Kangas, A. FORSYS: The usefulness of Decision Support Systems in participatory forest planning: a comparison between Finland and Italy. To appear in Forest Systems.
Germain, R.H., Floyd, D.W. and Stehman, S.V. 2001. Public perceptions of the USDA Forest Service public participation process. Forest Policy and Economics 3: 113-124.
International Labour Office 2000. Public participation in forestry in Europe and North America. Report of the FAO/ECE/ILO Joint Committee Team of Specialists on participation in Forestry. International Labour Office, Geneva.
Lynam, T., de Jong, W., Sheil, D., Kusumanto, T. and Evans, K. 2007. A Review of Tools for Incorporating Community Knowledge, Preferences, and Values into Decision Making in Natural Resources Management.Ecology and Society 12(1): 5 
Webler, T., Kastenholz, H. & Renn, O. 1995. Public participation in impact assessment: a social learning perspective. Environmental Impact assessment Review 15:443-463.