Poster Presentation: The challenge of consensus: Exploring participation in environmental governance

Consensus-oriented environmental governance has received increasing attention recently from researchers, environmental managers, and decision makers because it is believed that participation by all relevant stakeholders will improve decision making and environmental outcomes. However, adopting this governance model is challenging, in part because the credibility and trustworthiness of evidence is questioned when many participants are involved. If decision-making is to become more open to stakeholders and the public generally, how can it be made more effective? This poster draws on three case studies at local, national, and international levels to suggest strategies to address some of the challenges.

Because of their ability to build capacity in policy development and increase the uptake of evidence, environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) have become important in governance processes. A case study about the involvement of ENGOs in decisions regarding marine protected areas (MPAs) in Canada shows that ENGOs fulfill various roles in facilitating the flow of information in decision processes. In particular, they function as boundary organizations between government, stakeholders, and the public.

Social media are powerful tools for providing citizens with information to participate in governance processes. However, two-way conversations between science communicators and the public are difficult to encourage, and citizens may struggle to determine the credibility of information in social media. The second study about individual and NGO science communicators shows that the application of interpersonal strategies help to establish relationships with audiences, encourage two-way conversations, and build trust in information, resulting in effective science communication.

Governments often employ consultation processes to reach consensus regarding environmental conservation. In a third study, about the establishment of a coastal MPA in Canada, stakeholder involvement is particularly important. By examining the information-related activities of members of an advisory committee (their preferences for information sources and channels, how they reconcile conflicting information or misinformation, and their criteria for identifying trustworthy information) this study highlights how governments can maintain credibility and transparency while strengthening collaboration in decision-making.

Together, these three studies underline the importance of reciprocal learning and the necessity of engaging multiple forms of knowledge to address complex environmental issues. By uncovering details of decision activities, the results illustrate how hurdles in consensus-oriented environmental governance can be resolved.



  • Hali Moreland, Rachael Cadman, Curtis Martin, and Bertrum H. MacDonald, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada