Can participation improve environmental governance? Lessons from European water management


(CC0) Jens Johnsson /

(CC0) Jens Johnsson /


It is increasingly argued that involving stakeholders and the wider public in planning and decision making leads to more effective environmental governance. But the impact of such participatory planning in practice remains unclear. In this report, the authors compare the impact of different approaches to participatory planning under the European Water Framework Directive (WFD) using case studies from Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Participation is believed to influence environmental quality in at least four ways:

  • Enabling environmental concerns to be included in decision-making
  • Incorporating relevant knowledge – including local knowledge and experience
  • Improving decisions and outcomes through dialogue and negotiation
  • Making it more likely that stakeholders will accept and implement decisions as they are involved in shaping them

From the three case studies, the most effective plans and implementation emerged from the process that incorporated two-way stakeholder dialogue, was well facilitated and generated commitments to voluntary actions by stakeholders.

Broader positive outcomes arose from stakeholder participation across the cases, such as increased knowledge about sustainable water management, enhanced trust and improved capacity to build networks and collaborate.

The full report can be downloaded below. The authors are part of the Evaluating the Delivery of Environmental Governance using an Evidence-based Research Design (EDGE) project based at Leuphana University, Germany.

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