A comparative analysis of two modes of citizen participation

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

The aim of this study was to compare the outputs of two modes of citizen participation, the solicitation of written public input, and mail-back questionnaires, on the basis of the opinions and preferences expressed about ORV use and management at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. This comparative analysis was undertaken in order to gain a fuller understanding of the pitfalls and potentialities of survey research in the citizen participation process.

The first of two data sets came from a 1978 survey of CHNS residents and visitors on their views about ORV use and possible management actions at the seashore. The second source of data was derived from a content analysis of the written public input on the ORV use and management issue. The Codinvolve System, which was pioneered by the U.S. Forest Service, was used for the content analysis.

A test of the reliability of the coding was conducted to evaluate the coding procedure. A phi-test generated coefficients, which when transformed into chi-square values, revealed that the reliability rate was better than 90.0%.

The comparison of the two data sets, the survey results, and the Codinvolve output, focused upon the differences between them with respect to the number and character of expressed opinions. Differences between the public input submitted prior to the release of a controversial National Park Service draft ORV management plan and that received after its release were also analyzed. Due to the general scarcity of comments within the public input, chi-square comparisons between the data sets were not feasible. Instead, comparisons of percentages were used to identify the salient differences.

Substantial differences were found between the survey and Codinvolve data sets in both the number and character of expressed opinions. However, no substantial differences were found between the pre-plan public input and the post-plan public input. It was noted that the Park Service’s draft ORV management proposals were mentioned in over three-quarters of the post-plan public input.

In conclusion, this study suggested that the solicitation of written public input is not an effective citizen participation technique as it fails to educate the public about the various elements and decision parameters associated with an issue. Furthermore, this citizen participation technique provided very limited data on the opinions and preferences of the affected public about ORV use and management. The possible research which survey research can perform in citizen participation and environmental conflict resolution are also discussed. The addition of a workbook or information manual to a mail-back questionnaire was suggested as a means of endowing this citizen participation technique with an educative element. The need for further research on the design and effectiveness of the combined workbook/mail-back questionnaire approach was stressed.