Stakeholder Participation and Sustainable Development Strategies - practical examples of the European experience
At the sixth and final EPOS Network Meeting that took place on the 15th and-16th October 2009 in Budapest, Doris Knoblauch presented the analysis of the stakeholder participation processes that took place within the federal or national sustainable development strategies in five European countries. The project revealed that a major challenge was how to deal with all the input generated through the participation processes.
As early as 1992 the “United Nations Conference on Environment and Development” (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro decided on the “Agenda 21” (pdf, 1 MB, English) and highlighted the importance of participation in sustainable development. The Agenda 21 is an important policy document for sustainable development and foresees among other goals the approval of national sustainable development strategies. Furthermore, the EU stated in their Commission Communication "A sustainable Europe for a better world: A European strategy for Sustainable Development" COM(2001)264 final (pdf, 92 KB, English) that sustainable development required widespread participation. In 2006, the European Council of June adopted a renewed sustainable development strategy for an enlarged EU (pdf, 200 KB, English), therein highlighting the importance of both, the involvement of citizens and the involvement of businesses and social partners in their policy guiding principles. Accordingly, almost all European countries have not only developed a national sustainable development strategy, but also conducted a participation process in this context.
However, there are different ways of organizing participation processes and also different ways for coping with the input generated through these participation processes. Within the project “Refinement of the sustainable development strategy and stakeholder dialogue” the Ecologic Institute analyzed the participation processes that took place in Belgium, Germany, Norway, Slovenia and the UK within the context of national sustainable development strategies. The case studies revealed that there are striking similarities but also significant differences in the consultation practices in different countries. Particularly, the processes were different concerning
- methods, and
- formalization (i.e. unique or regular processes).
Similarities could be revealed concerning the major challenges for participation processes. One challenge was the inclusion of the general public beyond the experts working in the field of sustainable development or aspects of it. On the one hand, the general public was difficult to approach and motivate to take part in a consultation exercise. On the other hand, the input generated by the general public was often not too useful for policy makers. The other major challenge was the issue of how to deal with all the input generated through the process. For instance, there are often contradictory comments delivered. Overall the case studies revealed that those participation processes worked best where forums were founded to enable dialogue on a continuous basis, also before and beyond the actual participation process itself.
Doris Knoblauch’s presentation [pdf, 204 KB, English] on past experiences and challenges for participation processes is available for download.