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ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEWS AND CASE STUDIES: Sometimes Less Is Better: Ethics of Public Participation

  • Carie Fox (a1) and Philip Murphy (a2)

Most discussions of ethics in public participation emphasize the agency's obligation to engage in more public participation. Yet, ethically speaking, sometimes less is better. If the increased public participation lacks forethought and proper support, it may do serious harm. We analyze three types of ethical breach that may occur when an agency engages in robust public participation: uncomplicated lying or manipulation, failing to provide a fair exchange, and asking for wisdom but failing to support it. As we discuss the need for clear ethics, we look at three constituencies that might be impacted: public participants, the general public, and the resource. Because convening agencies tend to have disproportionate power in a public participation process, we argue that convening agencies (and, through them, their consultants) ought to develop ethical standards addressing the three categories with respect to all three constituencies. Finally, based on our analysis, we suggest that sometimes less public participation is better.

Environmental Practice 14:212–219 (2012)

Corresponding author
Carie Fox, 3414 NE Clackamas Street, Portland, OR 97232; (phone) 503-231-6557; (e-mail)
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Environmental Practice
  • ISSN: 1466-0466
  • EISSN: 1466-0474
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