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Participation & Sustainable Development in Europe

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Why participation?

Participation by very different social elements – ordinary citizens, lobbyists, entrepreneurs, politicians, administrators – is a vital prerequisite for sustainable development. Only if conflicting interests and claims are harmonized can our society be sure, long-term, of a healthy environment worth living in, economic success and prosperity, and social cohesion.


  • Participation processes bring together people with differing interests, views and ideas, who might not otherwise have met.
  • Differing perspectives, needs and ranges of experience are exchanged. 
  • A common pool of knowledge about the manifold facets of the project accumulates.
  • Subsequent decisions can take this pool of knowledge into account, which makes them more robust.
  • Comprehensive solutions that take a variety of interests into acount can be developed. 
  • The extent to which people identify / are satisfied with the result can be increased. 
  • In many cases the results of a participation process achieve more general acceptance and are more durable. 
  • The results can then be implemented earlier and there is less likely to be need of subsequent adjustment (i.e. time and money can be saved once again).
  • If conflicts of interest are tackled within the framework of a participation process, this may well help to avert the threat of legal action.

Limits to participation

Participation processes can contribute significantly to improving the quality and acceptance of decisions on matters of public interest. But they are not a magic wand that need only be waved to solve any and every problem. Participation processes have little chance of success if


  • stakeholders are reluctant to take part, because (say) they are afraid of being “pocketed”, their previous experience of participation processes has put them off, or they believe that they can achieve their aims better in other ways.
  • decision-makers do not support such processes, possibly because politicians and/or administrators are worried about their power to decide being curtailed.
  • there is no scope for action, because the main decisions have already been taken.
  • social diversity and differing degrees of access to participation processes cannot be evened out, if (say) the organizers are unsuccessful in involving groups that are hard to reach or disadvantaged (such as migrants).

That does not mean that no possibility of participation exists in such cases. But it then necessary to restructure the situation in such a way that participation becomes possible and makes sense.

You will find more information about the necessary framework, the benefits of and limits to participation here:

>> Worksheets from the Strategic Group on Participation