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Q method factor analysis of stakeholder social perspectives of the effectiveness of Environmental Impact Assessment public participation in the Western Cape, South Africa

Publication Date
DOI: 10.1594/pangaea.821640
  • Law
  • Political Science


Public participation is an integral part of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), and as such, has been incorporated into regulatory norms. Assessment of the effectiveness of public participation has remained elusive however. This is partly due to the difficulty in identifying appropriate effectiveness criteria. This research uses Q methodology to discover and analyze stakeholder's social perspectives of the effectiveness of EIAs in the Western Cape, South Africa. It considers two case studies (Main Road and Saldanha Bay EIAs) for contextual participant perspectives of the effectiveness based on their experience. It further considers the more general opinion of provincial consent regulator staff at the Department of Environmental Affairs and the Department of Planning (DEA&DP). Two main themes of investigation are drawn from the South African National Environmental Management Act imperative for effectiveness: firstly, the participation procedure, and secondly, the stakeholder capabilities necessary for effective participation. Four theoretical frameworks drawn from planning, politics and EIA theory are adapted to public participation and used to triangulate the analysis and discussion of the revealed social perspectives. They consider citizen power in deliberation, Habermas' preconditions for the Ideal Speech Situation (ISS), a Foucauldian perspective of knowledge, power and politics, and a Capabilities Approach to public participation effectiveness. The empirical evidence from this research shows that the capacity and contextual constraints faced by participants demand the legislative imperatives for effective participation set out in the NEMA. The implementation of effective public participation has been shown to be a complex, dynamic and sometimes nebulous practice. The functional level of participant understanding of the process was found to be significantly wide-ranging with consequences of unequal and dissatisfied stakeholder engagements. Furthermore, the considerable variance of stakeholder capabilities in the South African social context, resulted in inequalities in deliberation. The social perspectives revealed significant differences in participant experience in terms of citizen power in deliberation. The ISS preconditions are highly contested in both the Saldanha EIA case study and the DEA&DP social perspectives. Only one Main Road EIA case study social perspective considered Foucault's notion of governmentality as a reality in EIA public participation. The freedom of control of ones environment, based on a Capabilities approach, is a highly contested notion. Although agreed with in principle, all of the social perspectives indicate that contextual and capacity realities constrain its realisation. This research has shown that Q method can be applied to EIA public participation in South Africa and, with the appropriate research or monitoring applications it could serve as a useful feedback tool to inform best practice public participation.

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