Agencies responsible for remediation and long-term stewardship of areas with chemical and radiological contamination are feeling the pressure to increase public participation in decision-making. Much of the literature outlining advice for how best to involve the public in collaborative decision making implicitly assumes that there is one best design for such processes.
We report on an empirical investigation into what participants in a process to establish a standard for remediation of plutonium in soil around the Rocky Flats facility near Denver, Colorado think about the most appropriate way to conduct such a decision-making process with public participation. Tapping subjective beliefs and preferences with an approach called Q methodology, we collected in-depth qualitative and quantitative data from twelve experienced participants. Analysis of these data revealed three distinct perspectives on what would be the ideal decision making process for this context. Two of the perspectives emphasized the need to link remediation and stewardship planning, while the third was characterized by the view that these are distinct, sequential activities.
Planners should assume that there may be multiple ideas about what is the most appropriate public participation process for a given situation. Continuing disagreement about the need to link remediation and stewardship can be reflected in disputes about process design. Success should be viewed as a function not only of the design features used but also the extent to which the design matches the needs and preferences of the participants.