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Stakeholder and public participation in river basin management—an introduction

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Participation of the public and stakeholders in river basin management is increasingly promoted because it is expected to improve resource management and enable participants to engage freely and equally in management (support democratic processes). Three overlapping and interacting mechanisms by which participation is expected to enhance river basin management are outlined: (1) providing space for deliberation and consensus building for better quality decisions, (2) mobilizing and developing human and social capital for better quality decisions and their implementation, and (3) raising the legitimacy of decisions to facilitate their implementation. There are several complexities associated with each of the mechanisms that add challenges to realizing the expectations of participation. They include the need to carefully manage consensus building and conflict to maximize the quality of the decision without jeopardizing the potential for implementation; being aware of and implementing strategies to manage asymmetrical power relationships between participants; ensuring that participants perceive benefits from participation that exceed costs; and defining criteria for a legitimate process, and a legitimate decision, that satisfy all participants. Strategies identified to address these challenges focus on managing the characteristics of the participation process. Ongoing evaluation during a participation program or project is essential to reflect and refine how participation is being done, to address the challenges and endeavor to achieve high‐quality decisions that can be implemented efficiently. WIREs Water 2015, 2:393–405. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1086 This article is categorized under: Engineering Water > Planning Water Human Water > Water Governance
Conceptual frameworks for understanding participation based on degree of participant involvement in decision making. Types of participation described in the case studies in Boxes are indicated.
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Conceptualization of participation according to whether the processes are conflictive or cooperative (based on van den Hove). Types of participation processes described in the case studies in Boxes are indicated.
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