“Examining Reflexive Governance and Public Advocacy in Environmental Impact Assessment”

Jaap G. Rozema ¹ ²*, Alan J. Bond¹ ², Jason Chilvers¹ ², Matthew Cashmore³
¹ School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich, United Kingdom ² Science, Society and Sustainability Research Group, University of East Anglia, Norwich, United Kingdom ³ Danish Centre for Environmental Assessment, Department of Development and Planning, Aalborg University, Denmark  
EIA and sustainability decision-making
Environmental impact assessment (EIA) is a decision-support tool to help identify potential adverse environmental effects and mitigation measures in project development. In the Member States of the European Union (EU) project developers must comply with Directive 85/337/EEC (as amended). Proposed projects are classified on the basis of, amongst others, their nature, location or size (Council of the European Communities, 1985). EIA is often presented as a scientific and apolitical procedure. It is meant to improve the quality of decisions through the envisaged objective of ecological rationality. However, there is a wide variety of meanings and beliefs that civil society actors may adhere to in the conduct of EIA. These can seep into frames that steer their affinity and engagement with sustainability principles.

Reflexivity in practice: deliberating the A4 highway extension
In the Netherlands it has been advanced that the existing A4 highway is extended to make a major traffic connection between Delft and Schiedam (South-Holland Province). An EIA has been carried out. The planned highway extension would create socio-economic benefits such as reductions in travel time and congestion, and improvements in road safety. However, the extension would also dissect a large area known as Midden-Delfland which is dominated by wetlands, fens and ditches. It is highly biodiverse and plays an important role in providing recreation opportunities for local people. Plans for the extension have triggered a considerable degree of civil contestation. In order to increase the level of reciprocity between civil society and decision-makers, in the early 2000s a politician of the provincial government proposed that each actor involved in the highway extension would make a drawing of the area. The politician has argued this has greatly benefited to reflexivity and representative equality: “You have to look differently at that highway. We’ve organized a session that consisted partially of talking, (...) and the rest was drawing. Draw how it should look like. Draw what you would like to see changed. Draw what your dream scenario of Midden-Delfland is in ten, twenty, thirty years. Because everybody had to draw, (...) the farmer was equal to the graduated biologist” (Anon., personal communication, 2012). Research conducted in the Dutch highway extension case study will be compared to a similar case study in the United Kingdom (UK). Both datasets that are generated through fieldwork involve inquiry into extant opportunities for public advocacy. The comparison aims to explore the degree to which political culture and institutional design relates to reflexive governance.
References: Anon. (2012), Interview, 24 February 2012, Den Haag Council of the European Communities (1985), "Council Directive of 27 June 1985 on the Assessment of the Effects of Certain Public and Private Projects on the Environment (85/337/EEC)", Official Journal of the European Communities, C175, pages 40-49. Jasanoff, S (2005), Designs of Nature: Science and Democracy in Europe and the United States (Princeton University Press, Oxford) March, J G and J P Olsen (1996), "Institutional Perspectives on Political Institutions", Governance, 9(3), pages 247-264 Voß, J-P, D Bauknecht and R Kemp (2006), Reflexive Governance for Sustainable Development (Edward Elgar, Cheltenham) Wiklund, H (2005), "In Search of Arenas for Democratic Deliberation: A Habermasian Review of Environmental Assessment", Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal, 23(4), pages 281-292 Acknowledgements: Photo courtesy ‘projected image of A4’: www.helewestland.nl. Accessed: 26 March 2012 Photo courtesy ‘drawing hand image’: http://webpages.scu.edu/ftp/rnwright/main_page.html. Accessed: 26 March 2012 Other photos and the figure are owned by the corresponding author.

Developments in reflexive governance
Contentious issues in EIA are apt to mobilize divergent perspectives towards sustainable development. The challenge ahead is therefore to anchor the virtues of collaboration and deliberation in EIA through reflexive governance. This refers to the inherent reflexivity between strategies that aim to steer societal development and the ideas, values and incentives that influence steering capacity (Voß et al., 2006). It furthermore argues that sustainable development is a highly dynamic concept where multiple actors coalesce in a widely diverse institutional environment. Increased attention to reflexivity in decision-making offers chances for public advocacy in EIA. A more pronounced role of civil society in its conduct may impact substantively on the civil legitimacy of predicted impacts, on fair representation in various procedural stages of EIA (e.g. impact scoping, identification of mitigation measures) and on acceptance of final decision outcomes. In EIA, Wiklund (2005) has investigated the potential for reflexivity based on four defining attributes of extended deliberation: (1) interest advocacy of those that are affected; (2) the right to effective participation; (3) a fair distribution of power and resources; and (4) communication that is reciprocal and impartial. They may be able to canvass the various frames that actors could deploy in issues related to sustainable development.

Theorizing public advocacy
Reflexive governance is strongly focused on public advocacy, envisaged as the proliferation of citizen preferences and concerns in public affairs. Two conditioning factors may be discerned: •  Institutional design (of the state, polity, sector, et cetera). It relates to the institutions that govern processes of decision-making (March and Olsen, 1996); • Political culture. It refers to the democratic norms and virtues that bind civil society (Jasanoff, 2005). Institutional design and political culture may jointly structure the mode of collective action in decision-making.

Furthermore, political participation of civil society actors may be categorized as follows: •  Orchestrated participation. It entails the representation of citizens in state-sanctioned deliberative settings, for example citizen juries, user groups and public inquiry; •  Popular participation. This is a citizen-led form of participation and deals with concerted expressions of civil engagement in certain problem arenas. It is proposed that institutional designs and political cultures influence trends and modes of participation, and hence reflexive governance. That is, reflexivity is partially conditioned by institutions and culture.

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