chapter  6
12 Pages

The Potential and Limits of Participatory Rural Planning

The idea of participation in planning is very much at the heart of how this field of public policy is operationalised, to the extent that it is now inconceivable that any planning initiative would be brought forward by Government without some wider engagement. This can vary from invited discussion with select stakeholders who hold expert knowledge on the topic at hand and who may, in the public interest, have a valid association connected to the outworking of a particular theme, to wholesale consultation with citizens, membership organisations and representative bodies. These processes can add legitimacy to decision-making, can identify potential points of conflict in advance, can seek to incrementally shape public perceptions around an issue, and can advance the building of coalitions of support for longer term and strategic policy directions. In a context of uncertainty or crisis, participatory dialogue can be perceived as a way to mobilise active citizens in the quest for institutional, policy or project revival. The case study material in this book evidences these considerations whether through the arenas of rural planning policy-making in Northern Ireland, village planning in the Republic of Ireland, or the work of the European Citizens’ Panel in the borderlands of Ireland. The important point here is that participation in planning has a utility value from the perspective of good state management, notwithstanding a much-vaunted paternalism that rests on the language of involvement and empowerment.