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Keywords:

  • Public participation;
  • risk communication;
  • democracy;
  • concerns;
  • causal model;
  • policy making

Two methodological steps in the study of peoples’concerns are elicitation and classification. Elicitation of concerns through analytical methods such as surveys can be supplemented with techniques that perform more diversively. We present two examples of how this can be accomplished: one in the expert community and one in the lay community. A classification taxonomy is a subjective choice of the researcher and it can only be evaluated against the stated objectives of the research. We present a classification schema that is explicitly oriented toward diagnosing the substantive needs of public discourses about risk decision making. To illustrate how concerns can be elicited in a social setting and how this classification tool can be applied, we report on a public participation exercise in New Jersey where citizens discussed the impacts of land application of sewage sludge at an experimental farm.