Public deliberation in waste management

Public deliberation in waste management should address technological and social contexts of decision-making, finds a recent review in the UK.  

‘A conceptual framework for negotiating public involvement in municipal waste management decision-making in the UK’ reports on attitudes to public involvement and explores engagement practices, resources and capacity in participatory decision-making. Participants include local authorities and communities, activist groups, community engagement practitioners, NGOs, waste management companies and government agencies. 

The study produces a framework that maps types of technologies (“non-thermal”, “emerging”, and “controversial”) to types of risk, providing premises for public involvement, modes and levels of engagement, and benefits. It shows how early and inclusive public input from a variety of stakeholder perspectives can inform and strengthen decisions, especially when it comes to controversial issues.

Composting, for example, would be a “non-thermal” technology corresponding to a “largely technical and narrowly defined” type of problem or risk: that is, suitable for restricted public involvement open to internal stakeholders and partners, detailed proposals for comment or objection with outcomes around accountability, solution-building, and public awareness.

Incineration, however, would be an “ambiguous problem” with broadly defined social issues, the premise for which would be to engage with dissent and find a more effective or acceptable solution. It would require extensive public involvement to generate outcomes around equity, legitimacy, acceptability, and conflict resolution.

The study suggests that approaches to public involvement can be influenced by the nature of the problem, local cultures, values, and histories, the urgency of decision-making, in addition to the availability of resources and expertise. Understanding that participatory or deliberative approaches should not be reduced to a treatment applied to representative decision-making, the framework offers a guide to achieving a balance between deliberative and representative approaches to policy.

Kenisha Garnett is Lecturer in Decision Science in the Institute for Resilient Futures, Cranfield University (CU). Tim Cooper is Professor of Sustainable Design and Consumption at Nottingham Trent University. Philip Longhurst is Professor in the Centre for Bioenergy & Resource Management, CU. Simon Jude is Lecturer in the Institute for Resilient Futures, CU. Sean Tyrrel is Director of Education in the School of Energy, Environment and Agrifood, CU.   

Photo: Matt Brown/Flickr/cc

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