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Translating Goals to Practice: An Analysis of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Public Participation Practices

PAM, Vol. 15 No. 1, (2010)

A persistent mantra in twentieth century political discourse calls for increased involvement of the public in government decision-making. Public participation has been touted as a means to improved representativeness, better policy outcomes, and more efficient policy process. The environmental policy domain has been on the forefront of government agencies’ experimentation with public participation. The normative, instrumental, and substantive rationales provide a framework for how public agencies articulate specific goals for public participation. This article examines how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers translate expressed rationales and goals for public participation to specific mechanisms to involve the public. The findings focus on five goals for public participation articulated in extant literature: 1) informing and educating the public, 2) incorporating public values in agency decision making, 3) building trust, 4) reducing conflict, and 5) improving substantive quality of outcome. The study findings suggest that public managers are generally indiscriminate in their choice of activities to meet specific public participation goals. However, public managers do define distinct roles and face discrete challenges based on their articulation of public participation goals.

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