Public Participation or Control

Have  you been included in the decisions affecting you?

It says a lot about peoples opinion of themselves if they include others in decisions. I’ve seen three examples of different approaches in the past week.

One was my first time on the National Advisory Group to Public Participation Networks. By their nature NAGs are just that – made up of the opinions of those in the room. Much like political advisors. However the advice is only as good as it is representative of the people it represents, the greater good or wider population. If you have an advisor that is out of touch with facts or people then the advise you receive may be completely wrong and subject to controversy or better still, a rebellion.

As an aside, whilst in Dublin I attended the monthly meeting of the An Taisce Climate Committee. It’s hard to believe we set it up 5 years ago. It has been a breath of fresh air in the national climate change arena by challenging climate deniers, media misinformation, lack of publicity, incorrect school books and all round pathetic national inaction on the crisis of our lifetime. At the moment we’re working on a submission to the National Energy and Climate Plan 2021 to 2030.  You can see more about the NECP here. I’m a little concerned that the text of the draft document under consultation is a bright blue colour. This makes it difficult to read and impossible to print. One could be forgiven for thinking the government is discouraging engagement!

Yesterday I attended a workshop for Clare PPN reps. Amongst other issues we were introduced to the Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy. It is currently open for public consultation. It is a massive document but we were advised to focus on our areas of interest and see that our vision and opinions were reflected. You can see more about it on the Clare PPN website here. In contrast to many other government consultations the consultants contracted to engage the public are doing a pretty good job. Very often government consultations are issued under the radar in the hope that the draft plan they have formulated is the end result. I would consider this a dictatorship. It’s a pity the RSES is such a big document but hopefully everyone feels they can input.

The third experience I had was a more local consultation. In contrast there was a lack of awareness raising of the event and subsequently attendance. This meant the input was restricted to those in the room – hardly anybody! This can be orchestrated so that control of the outcome is in the hands of those who desire power. Very often those who have chosen to monopolise input state that they were the only ones who cared enough to engage even though they were probably the ones who excluded everyone else by not informing them of its existence. Not making an effort to inform people is, by design, exclusion and something I detest as a public participation advocate. It’s what I am forever addressing in this blog but usually at a county or national level. It’s a pity it exists at community level where collaboration and inclusion are integral to peoples well being. Individuals who like to be in control are usually the opposite of what a community needs as it leads to a lack of engagement with decision making. An apathetic community thereby facilitates a dictators reign. It is a vicious cycle but it can be changed with transparency, communications, accountability and a willingness to be inclusive.

Public participation has been my focus for over a decade now. Making sure that everyone is included in decisions affecting them makes for a more inclusive, collaborative, respectful and peaceful society. I’ve gone from raising awareness of issues that will impact everyone to designing the policy which will make the impacts easier – especially with climate change and resource depletion. This includes local, regional, national and international plans, policies and procedures. It also means I wouldn’t be a great politician as I value other peoples opinion as much as my own. An inflated ego would be wasted on me 🙂

Theresa O’Donohoe

February 19 2019

collaborating people's charter
Bringing people together with all of their views and opinions can be a very rewarding exercise – this was the start of the Peoples Energy Charter back in 2012.
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