Alternatives to the ‘rational’ decision making model: a new type of democracy?

During the last class we discussed decision making techniques that can be used when faced with an environmental issue. Beside all the usual rational models (EIA, EMS, Risk management, CBA, MCDA, LCSA et.) it was very interesting to highlight the other side of tools for decision making, the alternative models which provide a more qualitative/judgmental perspective on the environmental issue.

Beside the scientific fundamentals that rational models provide, alternative models allow the decision makers to reach an outcome that will not only be right but also stable and accepted. We have already reviewed the potential of citizen juries but I was left wondering whether this type of engagement would work on very polarizing issues. During the class we were able to discuss techniques that potentially allow parties with very different perspectives to find a satisfying middle ground. One of them caught my attention: consensus conferences (although the Delphi technique was also very interesting, and potentially quite misunderstood- maybe I’ll talk about it in another post).

The consensus conference approach was very interesting in the sense that it places the citizens back at the centre of the decision process and focuses on educating a randomly selected group of citizens with balanced information from a range of experts. While this approach is certainly promising it does raises a few questions such as the representativeness of the group of citizens or the ability to transfer the newly acquired knowledge to the rest of the general public.


This approach reminds me a lot of a movement toward increased citizen participation in the democratic process in France. It is called “Démocratie Participative”. Interestingly it highlights the fact that participative democracy should not be considered as a replacement to the existing representative democracy but as a complement of it; as such the initial issue of representativeness is somewhat alleviated. A lot more information can be found on the following webpage of a European think and do tank: POUR LA SOLIDARITÉ or on the French association Fondation Nicolas Hulot pour la Nature et l’Homme. In fact the later published a great tool guide for participative democracy available here (French only sorry) that includes 16 different tools with indication of level of participation, best application, cost, duration, objective, scale etc. Some have been reviewed in class such as scenario workshop or opinion polls and some are missing such as Delphi technique but many are new! Quite fascinating 🙂


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