Integrating citizens' agendas in New Zealand local government environmental planning and decision-making : an examination of two wastewater planning processes and implications for deliberative democracy : a dissertation presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Social Policy at Massey University, Turitea, Palmerston North, New Zealand
This research considers the problem of ensuring citizens having meaningful opportunities to provide input in local government environmental planning and decision-making. Planning processes are often as much a product of uncertain human behaviours as they are the result of rational activity and formal institutional arrangements. Both the conduct and outcomes of these processes are heavily influenced by conflicts between actors’ underlying perspectives, yet these perspectives are hard to define and their influence is very poorly understood by researchers. Instead, local government research focuses almost exclusively on institutional arrangements and substantive debates over physical resources.
This research focuses on the influence of epistemological and procedural dimensions of actors’ perspectives on the integration of citizens’ agendas in environmental planning and decision-making in New Zealand local government. From a deliberative democratic perspective, I examine obstacles to the conduct of an effective integrative process and consider possible practical and theoretical responses.
The research studies two local government wastewater planning processes. It combines Q-methodology with interviews, observation and documentary analysis. This approach allows me to identify actors’ subjective perspectives and to consider their influence on planning and decision-making. This combination of methods has not previously been used in local government research in New Zealand.
The research shows that while conflicts between actors’ perspectives pose significant barriers to the integration of citizens’ agendas, they can also offer opportunities for addressing those barriers. Integration is clearly limited by a positivist, rationalist perspective that privileges objectivity in knowledge and planning practices. Integration is further limited by a competitive adversarial perspective. Nevertheless, there is also potential where deliberative perspectives are present that are more value-critical and that seek intersubjective understanding of actors’ inputs. Such compromise-seeking perspectives contribute to more communicatively rational planning and more legitimate and durable decisions.
The thesis argues that councils should foster a change among actors towards a more deliberative perspective and should champion such behaviour themselves. Such change is often obstructed by the tacit, unacknowledged, yet persistent, nature of most actors’ perspectives. The thesis concludes that while transformation of perspectives is unrealistic, a more communicatively rational planning approach is achievable as a basis for legitimate decisions that more effectively integrate citizens’ agendas.