EU funded research project River Dialogue tried to identify the best approaches to increase public participation in the implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive, through testing two specific participatory methods of citizens’ involvement - focus groups and citizens’ juries.
A Focus group is a planned discussion among a small group of people on a specific topic. Obtained information is asked on social interaction, and the group setting allows individuals to use the ideas of others as cues to more fully elicit their own views. Nine focus groups on water management issues with all major stakeholder groups in the Emajõgi river basin were conducted in 2004.
A Citizen’s Jury is a randomly selected panel of citizens, which meets for 3-5 days to carefully examine an issue of public significance through discussions, examinations of information, and questioning of witnesses. The members of the jury are given the chance to hear views and receive information from a variety of expert witnesses. Finally, the jury presents their recommendations to the problem issue.
A Citizen’s Jury in Emajõgi River region was organized on the topic of water transportation, based on the results of the focus groups and several discussions with environmental authorities of the region.
- An important aspect of a Citizen’s Jury is that it promotes political dialogue aimed at mutual understanding, which does not mean that people will agree, but rather that they will be motivated to resolve conflicts by argument rather than other means.
- The way people reached the recommendations has to be considered at least of similar importance as the recommendations themselves. The feeling that someone is so much interested in the opinions of citizens’ came as a surprise to a number of participants.
- The citizens’ jury proved very well that people, when thinking together in a pleasant constructive atmosphere, prevent conflicts and, by way of compromises, reach solutions. And these people do not all have to be experts.
Importance of the case for IWRM
The case describes how local people, who are not specialists, can take part indiscussions and decision making process of complex environmental issues. Also,the case shows that new innovative approaches are necessary to be used toimplement EU WFD under the IWRM principles.
Photo credit: Jaanus Silla