Life cycle assessment (LCA) and risk assessment are operationally different but share the common purpose of supporting decisions about reducing threats to human welfare. Both analysis methods also involve a complex mixture of science and value judgments reflecting epistemological as well as moral and esthetic values. The inability of risk assessment and LCA to be “value free” has been a source of considerable controversy in both communities. Recognition of the contingent and social nature of human interpretation of the risks and environmental impacts created by public and private decisions has led to an increased appreciation of the importance of involving interested and affected parties in risk characterization. Comparison of the value-based nature of LCA and risk assessment demonstrates the need for participation in LCA. Although the need for participation by affected parties in decision-making processes is gaining acceptance, there is little agreement as to how participation should be structured. Risk assessment and LCA have a shared need for research examining the design and analysis of participation processes appropriate to a given decision context. A proposed framework recommends participation strategies designed to enhance the effectiveness of policy-driven analyses such as risk assessment and LCA based on the level of trust that interested and affected parties have for other policy participants.
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