The Quality of Stakeholder-Based Decisions



The increased use of stakeholder processes in environmental decision making has raised concerns about the quality of decisions these processes produce. Some claim that stakeholders make inadequate use of scientific information and analysis and are all too ready to sacrifice technical quality for political expediency. This article looks to the case study record to examine the quality of the decisions from stakeholder-based processes. The data for the analysis come from a “case survey,” in which researchers coded information from 239 published case studies of stakeholder involvement in environmental decision making. These cases reflect a diversity of planning, management, and implementation activities carried out by environmental and natural resource agencies at many levels of government. Overall, the case-study record suggests that there should be little concern that stakeholder processes are resulting in low-quality decisions. The majority of cases contain evidence of stakeholders improving decisions over the status quo; adding new information, ideas, and analysis; and having adequate access to technical and scientific resources. Indeed, data suggest that it is the more intensive stakeholder processes—precisely those that have aroused recent concern—that are more likely to result in higher-quality decisions.