Institutionalising Deliberative Democracy to Promote Environmental Policy-Making: The Role of Public Hearings

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Liberal democracy has been accused of failing to deliver an environmentally sustainable future. In response, deliberative democracy has been heralded as the most promising and realistic form of democracy to promote green issues. Yet, used independently, deliberative processes can be inefficient and ineffective when it comes to policy and decision-making. Combining deliberative processes within liberal institutions is the most realistic way of combining the uses of each democratic model and furthering the environmental agenda. The assertion is that public hearings embody the correct hybrid characteristics to enable this coupling. Despite the plethora of research carried out on the potential of deliberative processes to work in conjunction with existing methods of decision-making, the potential of public hearings has been largely overlooked.

This research adopts a mixed method approach to help identify where public hearings could be most effectively utilised in the decision-making process. The thesis explores seven case studies which are, the Alpac hearing on the development of a pulp mill held in Alberta, Canada; the Formartine hearing on the development of a golf course, in Aberdeen, Scotland; the British Columbia Citizens’ Assembly hearings on electoral reform, in British Columbia, Canada; the Glenmorie hearing on a windfarm proposal in the Highlands in Scotland; the Helensburgh hearing on wind-power, in the west coast of Scotland; the United Nations (UN) hearing on the citizens versus the United Kingdom, in Geneva, and finally; a hearing held by the European Commission on manufacturing industries in Belgium.

The research is operationalised through a newly conceptualised normative framework – the Democratic Standard Enactment Index (DSEI) – whereby a fuzzy set Qualitative Comparative Analysis (fsQCA) is undertaken to highlight the thus far overlooked benefits of public hearings. Through the application of the DSEI and the fsQCA, the research finds that public hearings have the potential to enact some, if not all, of Smith’s (2009a) democratic standards (inclusion, popular control, transparency and considered judgement), as well as the ability to fulfil the institutional goods of transferability and efficiency. The research finds that public hearings can facilitate an exchange of ideas and information, within a hitherto overlooked sphere of deliberation - the ‘meso’ level - which narrows the field of discussion while making it more accessible for wider groups of people, enabling the connection of micro and macro level deliberation. Consequently, public hearings can be considered to provide a unique function in institutionalising deliberative democracy and promoting environmental policy-making.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of the West of Scotland
  • Pyper, Robert, Supervisor
  • Elstub, Stephen , Supervisor, External person
  • Sapouna, Maria, Supervisor
Award date4 May 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • democracy
  • environmental policy-making


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