As I was searching the web today for resources on the history of public participation in the United States, I came across this paper (PDF) from 1998 by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of NEPA Policy and Assistance outlining a number of recommendations regarding effective public participation.

The document defines public participation as follows:

Definition of “Public Participation”

The Secretary’ s Public Participation Policy Statement defines public participation as open, ongoing, two-way communication, both formal and informal, between DOE and its stakeholders—those interested in or affected by its actions. The purpose of such interactive communication is to enable both parties to learn about and better understand the views and positions of the other. Public participation provides a means for DOE to gather the most diverse collection of options, perspectives, and values from the broadest spectrum of the public, allowing DOE to make better and more informed decisions. In addition, public participation benefits stakeholders by creating an opportunity to provide comment and influence decisions.

In keeping with this definition, this paper uses the word “public” broadly, to include any and all interested or affected parties. The “public” includes: interested or affected private citizens; state, local, and tribal governments; environmental groups; civic and community organizations; business and labor groups; and independent experts from the scientific, technical, and academic communities. Keep in mind as well that seeking comments of Federal agencies with jurisdiction by law or special expertise is an important aspect of the NEPA process. Further, although effective communication within the DOE complex is certainly essential, this paper focuses on improving the involvement of external stakeholders in DOE’ s affairs.

The paper lists the following benefits of public participation:

  • Open the decision making process and build credibility
  • Identify issues
  • Enhance mutual understanding
  • Make better decisions
  • Enhance community support and minimize delays
  • Promote environmental justice

The document also mentions the use of “computer bulletin boards, e-mail, Internet, and similar forms of communication”.