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Public Participation

Public participation is the process by which an organization consults with interested or affected individuals, organizations, and government entities before making a decision. Public participation is two-way communication and collaborative problem solving with the goal of achieving better and more acceptable decisions. Public participation prevents or minimizes disputes by creating a process for resolving issues before they become polarized.


Other terms sometimes used are "public involvement," "community engagement," or "stakeholder involvement."

Creighton's public participation work has addressed many of the most controversial issues of our time including prescribed burns, water quality regulations, closure of nuclear plants, siting of nuclear waste repositories, toxic waste cleanup, electric rates, closure of coal-fired power plants, siting of transmission lines, land use planning, global climate change and low-cost housing. Most recently he led a team advising the Army Corps of Engineers on a new framework for public participation in Corps flood risk decision making, post-Hurricane Katrina.

Other Creighton experience includes:

  • Served as founding President of the International Association for Public Participation, (IAP2)

  • Author of three texts on public participation

  • Conducted public participation training in Egypt, Israel, Brazil, Japan, Thailand and Korea.

  • Wrote the Edison Electric Institute’s Public Participation Manual and conducted EEI public participation training for electric utilities.

  • Assisted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Common Sense Initiative panel with efforts to improve integration of EPA’s stakeholder involvement and dispute resolution initiatives;

  • Assisted with the development of a plan for identifying a municipality to act as volunteer host for Pennsylvania’s low-level radioactive waste disposal facility.

  • Designed and conducted more than 300 public participation programs.


People participate when they believe their participation can make a difference. They need opportunities to influence decisions, feel that their ideas have truly been listened to, and understand how their ideas are addressed in final decisions. This requires two-way communication. Not only does the public need to be heard. but the decision makers need to communicate to the public in ways the public can understand.


Creighton believes in using highly interactive participation techniques such as workshops, large group/small group meetings, or work groups. People enjoy working together to complete common task. Some of the traditional techniques, such as public hearings, tend to exaggerate differences instead of bringing people together. 

There's no effective "cookie-cutter" design for public participation programs. Public participation needs to be an integral part of the decision making process. The goal is to design the process so that decision makers exchange information with the public when the public can best influence the decision and when it has greatest value to decision makers. This requires a careful analysis of the decision making process, potentially impacted public, and issues most likely to be of interest to the public.
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