Participation Processes in Coastal Zone Management

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In a wide context, the importance of participation arises from the wide diversity of the EU’s coastal communities and their different experiences with national, regional, and local coastal management policies, as well as the wide diversity of national approaches to complying with EU policies and international agreements. More importantly, these communities face different sets of conflicts among stakeholders and cope with these conflicts with a wide diversity of institutional and value systems (5-210). For example, in Greece there is limited opportunity for the public to be involved in planning and decision-making processes, whilst in Spain opportunities exist firstly when the developer submits a notification soliciting any comments or questions with further opportunity on a later stage (6-14).

A series of international frameworks and policies have included participatory processes over the past years. The World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) encouraged participation and established the need for public participation in key environmental decisions by all ‘concerned citizens’ and Agenda 21 also stressed the need for broad public participation in decision-making. More recently, the UN Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention) strengthened public rights with respect to participation related to sustainable development (6-13).

Challenges for participation processes

One of the characteristics of participation processes is the variety of backgrounds of the people involved in terms of the way the stakeholders are affected by policies or planning proposals or motivated to participate. Participants are usually influenced by the nature of the position they hold, the kind of group they represent and the policy-relevant resources they possess. Thus, for planners the challenge is sometimes to demonstrate political awareness and sensitivity. They must be able to bring stakeholders together, facilitate their interaction, and assist them in constructively addressing their conflicts of interest. (1-659-60).

A research conducted in Norway has proven the variety of forms in which stakeholders actually participate in coastal zone planning. According to this research the stakeholders are grouped in three categories: private stakeholders, public stakeholders and local interests (1-662). Among them fishers, landowners and agricultural farmers are the most active stakeholders at public meetings mostly because they represent interests with a long history and a largely unquestioned legitimacy when it comes to their role in planning and policy processes. These groups of people also hold a twofold role as stakeholders, protecting their interests, and members of the local community (1-664).

In temporal terms, arranging public meetings is rather time and money-consuming for areas already short of such resources. On the other hand, there could be much to gain from strengthening such collaborative and integrative procedures. According to international experience, involving local communities early on in the planning processes is vital: it may solve, or even prevent, severe conflicts. This must be perceived as a benefit, especially since the stakeholders in the coastal zone are becoming more numerous and their tasks more complex—and as (international) demands for integration increase (e.g. the EU water framework directive) (1-667). In spatial terms, small municipalities tend to provide better conditions for the direct participation of user- groups and stakeholders in the planning and decision-making processes and results for coastal issues. The larger the municipality, the more participation has to take place indirectly through systems of representation. On the other hand, the smaller the municipality, the less likely it is to have the resources necessary to facilitate such process (1-668).

Methods for participatory processes

Although it is generally accepted in the management community that stakeholders, including the general public, can contribute positively to a management process and can benefit from such processes, researchers continue to examine ways with how to design processes that effectively involve the public (3-351).

In the figures below two frameworks are presented established for coastal and marine management providing inputs in participatory processes. Figure 1 presents a framework established in USA for coastal and marine resources management. Figure 2 demonstrates a circular model of participation. Move around the wheel changes of participation priority at different times and places are represented with the prevailing cultural and economic needs or constraints (4-366).

Over the past years a series of methodologies have been examined in order to promote participation processes using various tools in theory and practice. An interesting example worth mentioning is the use of electronic methods to facilitate communication between coastal managers and the public through Geographical Information Systems (GIS) in educating, promoting, and involving the public in coastal planning and decision-making (8-1528).

Benefits of participation

Involving the public in management helps: •Facilitating information sharing; •Developing innovative management strategies; •Enhancing support of decisions; •Ensuring that decisions reflect the values and interests of a democratic society (3-351); •Accurately conveying the implications of a proposal to all interested parties, thus enhancing political credibility; •Ensuring full mitigation of significant impacts, including consideration of possible alternatives; •Soliciting the ‘hidden’ knowledge of the wider community and their key concerns (6-14-15).

Aims of participation

•To carry forward the principle of subsidiary adopted by the European Union (EU) that promotes shared responsibility and the need for cooperation at all levels •To gain the commitment of all relevant parties to the process and to the outcomes •To harness widespread expertise and to promote transdisciplinary learning •To help transcend narrow sectoral interests and assist development of integrated policies •To use local knowledge and create a sense of ownership •To help attract sufficient, or additional funding •To help validate the proposed plan •To assist consensus building and the resolution of conflicts through discussion and negotiation •To increase awareness and understanding of the issues in the wider community •To help sustain the momentum of a project through to implementation, monitoring, and ongoing support •To foster local democracy •To implement Agenda 21 (7-139).

Criteria set

•A clearly understood process, •Fully representative of all parties, •Operating in an open and transparent way, •Using relevant techniques with adequate resources and a strong commitment to learning (7-139). •Trained facilitators of the participation process •Recognizing differences within interest groups •Considering the context of the process (3-363-65).

Key issues on how to encourage participation

•Informing the public as to how the information which is gathered during the consultation process is going to be used at the decision-making stage. •Involving stakeholders at the earliest stage •Scoping and winning initial support •Determining the degree and style of participation •Devising the participation strategy carefully using appropriate mechanisms •Publicizing the program (7-140). •Giving the opportunity to affect the decision •Make the process more accessible to participants through less use of technical scientific terms, sharing information, consideration of the different desires of and constraints on a diverse participant population. •Hosting meetings at various scales: large public meetings seem to be an efficient way to disseminate information and bring together all stakeholders, although smaller group meetings provide a more effective forum for dialogue and trust building (3-363-65).


•Polarization around key issues

  • Uncertainties and unexpected events

•Difficulty in handling conflicts •Unrepresentative committees or groups •Intrusion of other political or personal agendas •Incompetence and loss of trust •Insufficient resources at a critical stage •Refusal to disclose or share information •Complexity of organization •Challenges to scientific opinion •Breakdown in communication •Bureaucratic intransigence •Unrealistic expectations •Unhelpful legislative powers and policies •Inflexible sectoral interests (7-141-2). •Challenges of integrating science into management (3-363-65).

Problems especially for ICZM

•Many ports have a long history of autonomous powers and action. •The tourism industry is sometimes fragmented. •Marine industries are used to operating within very different sectoral guidelines and regulations. •Control may be remote or responsibility diffuse. •Some activities are unauthorized. •There may be general suspicion of experts and controls. •Local political accountability •Difficult cooperation across neighbouring territorial authorities •Discontinuities across the land–sea boundary •Varying scales of activities (7-141-2).

Final remarks

The natural, cultural and socio-economic conditions of coastal communities are diverse, complex and dynamic. The interaction between contextual elements and processes varies on spatial and temporal scales. Planning theories over the past few decades have made a strong case for participatory approaches. Within natural resource management research and development studies, citizen and user group participation is often regarded as vital and something that should be encouraged because it tends to make the planning process more effective, equitable and hence legitimate, provided those who participate are representative of their constituents and capable of looking after collective interests as well as those of their own group (1-660).