Meaningful stakeholder involvement in decision making processes on sustainability issues

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


This thesis designed, tested and evaluated a participatory decision making methodology that meets the conditions for meaningful stakeholder involvement. The underlying idea is that relevant stakeholder groups involved in decision making processes on sustainability issues, such as scientists, public authorities, private parties and societal actors, often have different forms of knowledge, perspectives, values and experiences on environmental issues, and hence they should join forces in order to reach sustainable solutions. The design of the participatory decision making process, the participation and inclusiveness of stakeholders, the degree of shared knowledge production and the legitimacy were found to be critical factors for meaningful and participatory decision making processes on sustainability issues.

A set of heuristics is proposed for designing meaningful and participatory decision making processes that are legitimate and that can be derived from the studied cases on sanitation and marine governance:

  1. The participatory decision making process is divided in consecutive phases; each with a clear starting and end point. The results of stakeholder input in each case is used to shape the next phase in the decision making process.
  2. Different stakeholder groups are assigned to participate in specific phases of the decision making process. This allows stakeholders to exert meaningful influence in phases where their contribution can be considered relevant, while excluding stakeholders in phases of the decision making process where they have little to contribute. Not all stakeholder groups need to be involved in each phase of the decision making process.
  3. A multidisciplinary scientific team is capable to guide and facilitate the decision making process. These scientists fulfil a dual role: as process facilitators and as stakeholder participants. Their dual position does not endanger the (legitimate) fulfilment of both roles.
  4. When it comes to ensuring access to and inclusion in participatory and meaningful decision making, this thesis has demonstrated that just being invited and sitting at the table is not enough, mainly because of unequal footing. Consequently, a great deal of effort has been put into designing and facilitating a decision making process in which the voices of all stakeholder groups involved were heard, stakeholders were able to put their interests, values and ideas on the table, influenced discussions and made final decisions about agreed options.
  5. Joint knowledge generation is regarded as an interaction process between different stakeholder groups, resulting in a common knowledge base, which gives meaning to - and legitimizes - decisions taken. A vital role is assigned to knowledge coalitions, which may consist of various stakeholder groups, like societal actors, private parties, policy-makers and (scientific) and permit joint knowledge generation. By recognizing and paying extensive attention to multiple ways of knowing, and by providing different stakeholders the opportunity to collaborate and understand each other's perspectives, it is shown how joint knowledge generation can occur among and between various stakeholder groups.
  6. This thesis makes a distinction between input-, throughput-, and output legitimacy. Input- and throughput legitimacy have been achieved by inclusion of stakeholder groups in the for them relevant phases of the decision making process and joint knowledge generation in new knowledge coalitions were important for the acceptance and justification of shared decisions by stakeholder groups. Decision making processes can improve legitimacy of sustainable solutions through optimizing input and throughput legitimacy. These provide the helpful conditions for -  although do not guarantee - output legitimacy.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Mol, Arthur, Promotor
  • van Vliet, Bas, Co-promotor
Award date17 Sept 2019
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789463950534
Publication statusPublished - 17 Sept 2019


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