BENEFITS OF PUBLIC PARTICIPATION

The benefits of public participation are many and it is not easy to categorise them. It is important to note that public participation suggests direct involvement of the public and takes place, preferably, in an open discussion with decision makers. The author has tried to categorise some of the important benefits of public participation under various themes development, management, conflict resolution etc. after studying extensively.In general, a number of benefits can be listed which are given below for easy understandability of the pervasive impact of public participation in the plan making and plan implementation processes. According to an online source on public participation (http://www.biodiversity.ru/coastlearn/pp-eng/benefits.html), the following are the main benefits that public participation can help in achieving if conducted in an effective manner.
Sustainable Development
The Aarhus Convention (under United Nations Economic Commission for Europe) grants the public rights and imposes on Parties and public authorities obligations regarding access to information and public participation and access to justice (http://www.biodiversity.ru/coastlearn/pp-eng/boxes/sustainability.html).
Sustainable development can be achieved only through the involvement of all stakeholders in an effective manner. Ultimately the users have a greater say in the development than a policy framer.
Environmental Protection
Principle 10 of the RIO DECLARATION recommended public participation to handle environmental issues:
“Environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens, on a relevant level. On a national level, each individual should have appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities, including information on hazardous materials and activities in their communities, and the opportunity to participate in decision making processes. States should facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available. Effective access to judicial and administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy, should be provided” (UNESCO, 1992).
Environmental issues can be addressed when valued by the public. It is important that a party represents the interest of the environment in the public debate.
Conflict Management
Although conflicts cannot be avoided, they are made explicit in the public participation debate and resolved through the process of dialogue and consultation with groups with conflicting interests.The statement of the World Bank Technical Paper 139- Environmental Assessment Sourcebook, are given below:
“The purpose of taking the views of effected people into account is to improve project viability. The Bank has found that where such views have been incorporated in the design, the projects are more likely to be successful. The Bank has not found community participation to be an impediment to project execution. On the contrary, projects in which effected peoples’ views have been excluded, suffers from more frequent delays and poorer quality” (World Bank, 1992).
Project Understanding and Reduction of Public Opposition
The better understanding of the benefits of the project can surely minimize the opposition by the local people. Very often the policy making and planning is done by expert outside the local community which is a source of distrust and to overcome this, there is need for public consultation.
“Public consultation, participation and involvement in the early stages of the project can prevent the dissemination of rumours and the rise of negative perceptions which are very difficult to change once they take root” ((http://www.biodiversity.ru/coastlearn/pp-eng/boxes/sustainability.html).
Social, Environmental and Economic Benefits
If the public is involved in the full decision making process, their concerns may be met early on in the planning process when changes may be easier to make, rather than late in the process when even small changes may cost both time and money. This is possible in a participatory planning making process. Local people need to be made aware of the economic, social and environmental benefits of the project or programme.
Effective Use of the Available Data
According to Budd (1999), public participation and consultation is an opportunity to solicit the “hidden” knowledge of the wider community and their key concerns. This is possible in an environment of public participation and consultation in plan making process. Local people are more aware about the planning and development issues and they might have some form of indigenous problem solving skills which can be better harnessed in a participatory planning process.
Other Benefits
Effective community consultation, early on in the project cycle, creates ownership (shared responsibility, involvement) for the project. It provides the opportunity to accurately convey the implications of a proposal to all interested parties, thus enhancing political credibility. Additionally, it is a mean to ensure full mitigation of significant impacts, including due consideration of possible alternatives (Budd, 1999).
Acceptance of the public as a valued partner in the participatory process can inspire the co-operation between citizens, their government, and industries that is crucial to the success of planning. The benefits of public participation are both for short term and long term planning and development. Skill learnt in one programme or project can be utilized in other developmental works either initiated by the government or themselves.

Shashikant Nishant Sharma
Urban Planner
{Courtesy: Sharma, S.N. (2012), Participatory Planning in Plan Preparation: A Case of Delhi, Graduate Thesis, Department of Physical Planning, School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi}
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