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The Quality of Stakeholder-Based Decisions: Lessons from the Case Study Record

By Thomas Beierle


The increased use of stakeholder processes in environmental decisionmaking has raised concerns that the inherently “political” nature of such processes may sacrifice substantive quality for political expediency. In particular, there is concern that good science will not be used adequately in stakeholder processes nor be reflected in their decision outcomes. This paper looks to the case study record to examine the quality of the outcomes of stakeholder efforts and the scientific and technical resources stakeholders use. The data for the analysis come from a “case survey,” in which researchers coded information on over 100 attributes of 239 published case studies of stakeholder involvement in environmental decisionmaking. These cases reflect a diversity of planning, management, and implementation activities carried out by environmental and natural resource agencies at many levels of government. Overall, the case study record suggests that there should be little concern that stakeholder processes are resulting in low quality decisions. The majority of cases contained evidence of stakeholders improving decisions over the status quo; adding new information, ideas, and analysis; and having adequate access to technical and scientific resources. Processes that stressed consensus scored higher on substantive quality measures than those that did not. Indeed, the data suggested interesting relationships between the more “political” aspects of stakeholder decisionmaking, such as consensus building, and the quality of decisions.

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