|Project Status Reports:
Policy decisions concerning environmental re- sources typically engage a decisionmaker (e.g., the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Forest Ser- vice, or other federal agency) and a group of client “stakeholders,”(i.e., parties whom those decisions af- fect). Social science research often seeks to improve methods on which decisionmakers may rely to gather and aggregate data concerning the preferences of these concerned individuals. For example, contingent valuation (CV) methods seek to capture the “non-use” values of members of society to improve cost-benefit calculations undertaken by the EPA and other agencies. In this framework, social science research may improve agency decisions by making them more sensitive to the preexisting preferences of members of the client society.
For many reasons, a new framework for environmental decisionmaking has emerged that reverses the direction of the flow of scientific information. On this model, stakeholder and other citizen groups representing diverse views and interests become responsible for mak- ing the decisions—or solving the problems—associated with the management of a particular forest, wetland, watershed, or, indeed, any environmental asset. For example, the Forest Service may convene represen- tatives of environmental, industry, and community groups, along with other interested citizens, to serve as a council with power as “trustees” to make local forest management decisions for which that group is then accountable. In this framework, those most affected by a decision—or their representatives—resolve controversies on the basis of information and advice that may be provided by the federal agency and by other, perhaps competing sources.
This project seeks to understand the role that social science research, particularly that associated with CV methods, may play in the framework in which representative stakeholder groups or councils become responsible for many decisions concerning the management of environmental assets, such as forests, water- sheds, and wetlands. This project hypothesizes that social science research into group processes can be useful in this context by serving not so much as a diagnostic but rather as a constructive function. Rather than seeking to plumb ever more reliably the pre-existing preferences of citizens, researchers would examine how group processes can help civic environmental associations work through evidence and argument to solve particular environmental problems. The emphasis would change, then, from aggregating over preferences to deliberating over solutions. The goal would not be to maximize the satisfaction of preexisting preferences but to develop democratic institutions to resolve local and regional
Recent literature in political theory can be joined with that of social science in determining what counts as a suitably diverse, representative, and deliberative body to which agencies may democratically “devolve” certain management decisions. Problems for further research include identifying guidelines for convening stake- holder groups and for identifying the conditions most favorable to negotiation, deliberation, and consensus building. Two papers representative of the output of this project—one a theoretical essay concerning the move from aggregative to deliberative methods, the other an analytic case study—will be available to workshop participants.