Details: By: Lawrence, Rick L., Daniels, Steven E., Society & Natural Resources, 08941920, Nov/Dec97, Vol. 10, Issue 6
Database: Academic Search Premier

The public involvement programs of natural resource agencies have been broadly criticized as unresponsive to public desires. Historically, improving natural resource decisions has been the primary conceptual basis for designing public participation programs. However, the social psychological field of procedural justice suggests a new conceptual basis for public involvement that recognizes the importance of procedures as well as outcomes. This theory is based on a balancing of the self-interest and group-value models of behavior. Issues that arise in the operationalization of this theory for natural resource decision making include (1) the impact on interest group, in addition to individual participants, (2) impacts on nonparticipants, (3) effects of historical mistrust, and (4) measures of procedural fairness.

Keywords citizen participation, group-value model, public participation, self-interest model, social psychology

In 1993, perhaps one of the most comprehensive forest planning processes ever undertaken in the United States was conducted by the Forest Ecosystem Management Assessment Team (FEMAT), created at the request of President Clinton. The FEMAT process began with a Forest Conference in Portland, Oregon, on 2 April 1993 (Shannon and Johnson 1994). Over the next 3 months, nearly 600 technical specialists, representing a range of disciplinary perspectives, were involved in the analysis of the biological, economic, and social aspects of various management options outlined in the FEMAT report (Staebler 1994a). The April 1994 issue of the Journal of Forestry provided an overview of the technical and scientific analysis contained in FEMAT in a series of 11 articles; it also provided 17 critiques that offered critical commentary on the FEMAT process and its results. Scientific debate about the adequacy and appropriateness of the FEMAT analysis continues against a backdrop of legal challenges on a variety of asserted legal/procedural violations (Staebler 1994b).

Any assessment of FEMAT's success or failure necessarily must be equivocal and problematic. In December 1994, Judge William Dwyer of Seattle ruled that the proposed option adopted from the FEMAT process (so-called Option 9) complied with federal laws regarding forest planning. Although implementation of Option 9 has been slow, some efforts are beginning to take form; some timber sales have been approved, watershed analyses (a key element of the plan) are beginning to be undertaken, etc. Yet public dissatisfaction--from the environmental community to timber-dependent communities--is high.

As in many other natural resource planning efforts, the infusion of state-of-the-art science, the latest planning technology, and the investment of planning and scientific skills has done little to ameliorate the public conflict over forest management. It has not, as the President requested, "broken the gridlock." What more, or different, could have been done?

There are no simple answers to this question. However, the isolation of the FEMAT project as largely a technical-scientific issue seems to encompass much of the shortcoming (Walker and Daniels 1996). During the project itself (with the exception of the Forest Conference), public participation in, and scrutiny of, the FEMAT exercise was virtually nil. Following release of the report and the draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, over 100,000 comments were received and analyzed (USDA Forest Service and USDI Bureau of Land Management 1994). Nearly 400 individuals provided input at 3 public meetings. Scoping activities prior to the announcement of the proposals might have also involved the solicitation of public views. However, in summary, participation was limited, it tended to be obtained in a noninteractive manner, it was not systematic, and there was little or no connection between participation and analysis.

This pattern is not unique to FEMAT; indeed, it is illustrative of many current public participation practices (Blahna and Yonts-Shepard 1989). Despite unprecedented levels of scientific, technical, logistical, and financial support, levels of public dissatisfaction and conflict remain high. Clearly, good science and technical input, while necessary, have not been sufficient to resolve the debates. Not only have the content and substance of public input been constrained and removed from integration into the planning processes, but the manner in which public input has been obtained has also operated to reduce public understanding and contributed to dissatisfaction and a sense of unfairness. In this article we examine this latter dimension in more detail. To do so, we turn to an area of social psychology research called procedural justice and a discussion of how its principles and concepts apply to the practice of public participation. This research indicates that the manner in which public involvement is conducted can affect how the public reacts to ensuing decisions. A central thesis of procedural justice is that the perceived fairness of public participation procedures can affect public satisfaction as much as the substantive nature of the resulting decision.

This article (1) reviews the basic concepts and key findings of procedural justice research, (2) examines the implications of these concepts and findings for natural resource decision making, and (3) presents some of the major questions future research must address for procedural justice theory to be successfully incorporated into public participation programs.

The Current State of Public Involvement

Formal public involvement has become an integral part of natural resource decision making. Many reasons have been advocated for increased citizen participation, and high hopes have been held for the promise of involvement improving the technical quality and public acceptability of decisions. However, the reality of public involvement generally has been viewed as falling far short of the promise. For at least the last 20 years, during which time public involvement in the national forest planning process has been legally mandated, the Forest Service has been widely criticized for its public participation programs (U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment 1992). Further, while the Forest Service has been the most notable target of criticism regarding its public involvement efforts, there is no evidence that other agencies have fared better, whether at the federal, state, local, or private level. In fact, probably no other natural resource agency has made greater efforts to improve public involvement programs, and the Forest Service decision-making structure has been suggested as a model for other agencies to emulate, notwithstanding widespread criticism (Wondolleck 1988).

Criticism of public participation efforts rarely has arisen from lack of agency procedures. Millions of dollars and extensive staff have been devoted to these efforts (Gericke et al. 1992) Yet a common lament from resource managers has been that they have done the best they know how, followed all of the guidebooks, and complied with every law, and still they are attacked for the nature of their decisions and their unresponsiveness to public desires (Lyden et al. 1990). An increasingly common rationalization has been that if managers are attacked by all sides of an issue, they must have done a good job of balancing public opinion (Wondolleck 1988).

Defining success as "equilibrated dislike" is not indicative of the quality of resource management. This article demonstrates that it is not a necessary state of affairs or even a particularly useful goal. Rather, this state of affairs has arisen, at least in part, from an emphasis on decision outcomes to the exclusion of key procedural elements of public involvement. It is the thesis of this article that this exclusion has seriously limited effective natural resource decision making, implementation, and acceptance.

The focus in natural resource decision making on outcomes fails to consider effects on the public of processes through which outcomes are reached. For example, as noted earlier, in the FEMAT process a massive team of natural resource experts was assembled to develop new approaches for sound forest management practices. Public involvement in the process, however, largely followed traditional public testimony/comment letter approaches. Research findings from social psychology report that decision-making processes affect the public in ways separate from, and in addition to, decision outcomes (Lied and Tyler 1988). In other words, even if the resource manager makes the "proper" decision, the manner in which the decision is made has effects on the public. Thus, process elements have been an important missing ingredient.

Introduction to Procedural Justice

Procedural justice is a branch of social psychology first developed in the early 1970s by John Thibaut and Laurens Walker. Procedural justice is based on the hypothesis that for participants in decision-making procedures, the procedures used to arrive at decisions are significant determinants of satisfaction separate from the effect of outcomes. Thus, for example, procedures that are perceived as fair by participants might reduce dissatisfaction with unfavorable decisions, while procedures perceived as unfair might reduce satisfaction with what are otherwise judged as objectively fair decisions. [For a review of these patterns, see Lind and Tyler (1988).]

The first question faced by procedural justice researchers was whether this basic hypothesis is supported. Strong support was found in the early work of Thibaut and Walker (1975). Since that time, at least 11 laboratory and scenario studies (e.g., LaTour 1978; Walker et al. 1979; Houlden 1980; Greenberg 1987) and 11 field studies (e.g., Tyler and Folger 1980; Lissak and Sheppard 1983; Tyler et al. 1985a; Alexander and Ruderman 1987) have lent support to this conclusion. These studies generally have found stronger effects of procedural fairness on participant reactions when outcomes are negative.(n1) Research now supports the generalizable conclusion that "In most situations procedural justice judgments lead to enhanced satisfaction; this effect is especially strong when outcomes are negative" (Lied and Tyler 1988, 207).

Notwithstanding the general conclusions on the positive effects of fair procedures, a few studies have produced anomalous results (Forger 1977; Folger et al. 1979). In these cases, participants with negative outcomes had increased negative reactions under perceptually more fair procedures. Thus, under certain circumstances participants were less satisfied when they had more input into decisions than when they had less. This effect has become known as the "frustration effect," and a number of authors have tried to explain under what conditions it occurs. Based on a review of previous experiments, Lind and Tyler (1988,183) concluded that the frustration effect occurs when "a weak procedural advantage is opposed by negative outcomes whose impact is strengthened, either by repeated disappointment in the face of rising expectations . . . or by social support for the perception that the outcome is unfair."

A review of the same studies by Cohen (1985) led to a somewhat different theory for the frustration effect. Cohen noted that the frustration effect occurred in studies involving organizational settings, but not in studies involving legal settings. Thus, the difference might be a function of the differing roles of the decision maker in these two settings. In the legal setting, the decision maker is considered impartial (a judge or arbitrator), while in an organizational setting, the decision maker has a personal stake (such as an employer). Thus, limited participation might be viewed as a sham to induce loyalty or commitment.

In addition to examining the basic hypothesis of procedural justice, a large number of studies have examined what elements of procedures result in perceptions of fairness and what are the implications of perceptively fair and unfair procedures. Thus, it has been found that perceptions of procedural fairness are related to (1) acceptance of, and levels of compliance with, decisions (Tyler 1987; Gibson 1989) and (2) confidence in decision makers (Tyler and Caine 1981; Tyler et al. 1985b; Dixon 1993). Key elements defining fair procedures include (1) the opportunity for participants to express their views, even when the participant knows expression of views cannot or will not affect the decision (Thihaut and Walker 1975; Lind and Tyler 1988; Tyler et al. 1985b) (this finding has potentially serious ethical implications, which we discuss later), and (2) the quality of justifications for decisions and feedback to participants (Forger and Martin 1986). Thus, procedural justice research points to certain specific procedural design elements that can be expected to result in specific, possibly measurable, advantages.

Implications of Procedural Justice for Public Involvement in Natural Resource Decision Making

Traditional Conceptual Basis for Public Involvement

Although little has been written directly addressing the conceptual basis (or lack thereof) for public involvement in natural resource decision making, prior practice and literature have embodied an implied basis. However, procedural justice findings suggest that this historical basis has been incomplete.

Wengert (1976), noting a lack of organized theory in public participation literature in general, presented five possible perceptions of participation that influence participation theory. These perceptions include: (1) participation as policy, based on the normative conclusion that public participation is a desirable policy that should be implemented; (2) participation as strategy, as a means to achieve other objectives; (3) participation as communication, so that informational inputs to decisions are improved; (4) participation as conflict resolution, as a means for bringing disparate sides together to share views and achieve compromise; and (5) participation as therapy, as a means for the disaffected to become involved in decision making. While it is possible to fine-tune or expand this list, it reflects the traditional perceptions. Further, although each of these perceptions may potentially have outcome and process elements, Wengert's review of these demonstrates that traditionally all of these perceptions have been outcome oriented, except for participation as therapy. The inclusion of participation as therapy reflects an early recognition that participation can have effects that are not outcome related. However, the use of public participation as therapy has been regarded as "dishonest and arrogant" and "a masquerade of involving citizens in planning" (Arnstein 1969).

Notwithstanding the reference to the therapeutic role of public participation, the overwhelming emphasis in the natural resource literature has been on improving outcomes as the conceptual basis for public involvement. Whether examining the goals, methods, or evaluation of public participation programs, the literature and practice have been primarily concerned with the effects of involvement on decisions. Thus, in an extreme example of this approach, a public participation coordinator for the Soil Conservation Service predicted that if public participation failed to make an enormous effect on decision making, public participation would disappear from the decision-making process (Cuthbertson 1983).

Examining the history of natural resource management in the United States helps explain the emphasis on outcomes. During the first half of this century, and prior to significant public input in natural resource management, natural resource decisions were viewed within a positivist framework (Behan 1966). Decisions were seen as answers to technical problems, all of which potentially could be solved through the application of scientific expertise. The positivist tradition was an outgrowth of the progressive era of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This period was the beginning of the "technological age wherein scientific methods of management and decision-making were perceived as a godsend that would improve living conditions, create efficiency, and overcome political corruption" (Wondolleck 1988, 23). Thus, entrusting federal lands management to trained professionals was a means of realizing the benefits of technology and controlling the corruption and mismanagement that could arise from a political bureaucracy. A positivist approach to forest management was central to Gifford Pinchot's molding of federal forest management early in this era. In the letter of instruction from Secretary of Agriculture Wilson to Pinchot (drafted by Pinchot), an important theme was delegation of forest management to trained foresters (Dana and Fairfax 1980).

Changes in the 1960s led to increasing distrust of agency discretion and a demand, and ultimately requirements, for public involvement (U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment 1992). Resource managers, trained to have faith in technical solutions, initially viewed these requirements primarily as opportunities for managers to educate the public (Bolle 1971). It was assumed that if the public was educated as to why the managers were making the decisions they were making, the public would accept those decisions. Resource managers soon discovered that this assumption was incorrect. Education was seen as a sales effort, but the public wasn't buying.

Early studies of these public involvement programs discovered another important role for the public (Hendee et al. 1973). As part of the affected environment, the public was a source of additional expertise and data for decision making. For example, in the FEMAT process, there was concern about the effects of changes in national forest harvest levels on local communities. Data for analysis of such effects were obtained, at least in part, through a series of workshops comprised of citizens familiar with the region's communities (admittedly a limited and constrained effort). As useful as such information was, however, it still restricted the public involvement process to a "data-gathering" function.

Contemporary natural resource literature has increasingly recognized that managers operate in a political framework (Cortner and Shannon 1993). Such a recognition calls for an important addition to the conceptual basis for public involvement. In addition to the traditional data provided by the public, political positions become additional data for the decision-making process. Emotional reactions of participants can also be treated as data (Creighton 1983). If a decision is found to be suboptimal by some standard, the fault can be attributed to inadequate information. If nonparticipating interests challenge a decision, the conclusion can be drawn that decision quality suffered from lack of input from these interests. Although this approach to public participation provides important additional data for decision makers, given the highly charged nature of natural resource decisions, it is not surprising that decision makers feel that the best they can achieve is equal attack from all sides of an issue.

These historical approaches to natural resource decision making are all outcome oriented. With outcome-driven approaches, the overriding purpose of the decision-making process is to arrive at the "proper" decision. What constitutes a proper decision is influenced by political factors (which can be input as additional data), and will have to be explained to a concerned public. However, if this proper decision can be arrived at, the resource manager has succeeded.(n2)

A Procedural Justice Basis for Public Involvement

For public involvement to be successful, it must be responsive to the motivations of its public constituency. In Lind and Tyler's (1988) review of procedural justice, they examined two models of behavior that can be compared against the approach to public participation emphasizing outcomes. The self-interest model postulates that participant motivation in decision-making processes is to maximize personal gain. Lind and Tyler note that this theory dominates public policy analysis. The current approach to public involvement emphasizing outcomes is consistent with this theory because as participants pursue personal gain, they are concerned primarily with outcomes and the possible impacts on their self-interest. In this model, procedures are viewed only as means to an end. Thus, resource managers are concerned with using public involvement to determine and perhaps reshape participants' goals. Optimal decisions are then those that either maximize net gain to participants as a whole, allocate gain to those most likely to interfere with policy implementation, or otherwise make decisions based on participant self-interest.

The self-interest model is not wholly inconsistent with procedural justice findings. Commonly included in the model is the recognition that individuals must at times control their preferences to obtain decisions that require cooperation. This can be viewed either in the short term with respect to a single decision, where a compromise is better than nothing, or in the long term, where cooperation now can lead to benefits later. In either case, the individual still seeks to maximize personal gain.

An alternative model examined by Lind and Tyler is the group-value model. The group-value model assumes that group membership is a significant factor determining attitudes and behaviors. Group identity (those who are members of the group) determines the external features of the group, while procedures (how people are treated within the group) determine the internal features. Further, this group can be society as a whole. Thus, when procedures comply with basic societal values or norms of fairness, individuals perceive procedural justice. However, application of procedures that are not in accordance with these values would result in a sense of separation of affected individuals from the group. In addition, the individual might question the long-term relationship with the group authorities and institutions (Tyler 1989). Thus, because of the importance of group membership, application of procedures violating societal standards of fairness would result in dissatisfaction and other negative reactions toward the decisions and decision makers, even when decision outcomes are favorable.

Lind and Tyler found that neither the self-interest model nor the group-value model fully explains the findings of procedural justice, but that a combination of both models is necessary to understand individual motivations (Conlon 1993). Thus, two elements significantly affect an individual's evaluation of procedures--the impact of the procedures on the individual's self-interest, and concordance of procedures with group or societal norms.

Lind and Tyler's conclusions about procedural justice theory can be translated to a new conceptual basis for designing public participation programs. The theory indicates that a purely outcome-oriented approach to public involvement is inadequate. Public participation is more than a data source for decision makers. A procedure that yields necessary data might enable the decision maker to maximize outcome satisfaction. However, if the procedures fail to meet societal standards of fairness, participants' sense of group/societal membership will have been violated and aggregate satisfaction will be less than if the procedures were perceived as fair. This is not to say that attention to procedural justice at the expense of outcomes is the answer to the public involvement dilemma. Rather, quality technical decisions and appropriate procedures are each necessary for creating successful natural resource management, but neither aspect is sufficient by itself.

However, in addition to challenging previously held conceptual approaches to public involvement, this theory provides hope and guidance for improving design of public participation programs in the future. Programs designed to both improve data input for decisions and meet participants' perceptions of procedural fairness can be expected to result in substantial improvements in participant satisfaction. Procedural justice research indicates that the implications are far reaching. Benefits of increased perceptions of procedural fairness should result in:

Greater acceptance of, and higher levels of compliance with, decisions (Tyler 1987;Gibson 1989).

Increased confidence in decision makers (Tyler and Caine 1981; Tyler et al. 1985b; Dixon 1993).

Other lessons for agencies involved in natural resource decision making include:

Procedures that allow participants to express their views can be expected to achieve these benefits (Thibaut and Walker 1975; Lind and Tyler 1988; Tyler et al. 1985a), and should be used, even where the decision maker has little or no decision space.

The benefits of providing public participation programs consistent with procedural justice principles depends on decision makers providing quality justifications for their decisions and adequate feedback to participants (Forger and Martin 1986).

The benefits of these programs can be extended by providing more inclusive programs. Disaffected publics should be included as well (Tyler and McGraw 1986).

For almost a century, natural resource decision making has been founded in a positivist ideology that supports primarily scientific or technical answers to natural resource issues. This has resulted in a conceptual approach to public involvement that emphasizes the importance of outcomes. In spite of increasing evidence of the shortcomings of this approach, attempts have been made to make it operate with modifications. However, a new approach is necessary. A new conceptual basis for designing public participation programs has been presented that reeognizes the importance of fair procedures complying with societal norms. However, certain questions remain for this theory to be applied fully, and it is these to which we next turn.

Application of Procedural Justice to Public Involvement Programs: Issues for Future Research

Although strong theoretical support exists for the value of incorporating procedural justice principles into public involvement programs, numerous questions remain as to the principles' actual implementation. A number of issues relate to the applicability of principles from the procedural justice field to natural resource decision making, given the contextual differences between the settings of previous procedural justice studies and natural resource decision making. Answers to these questions, while important for public involvement, will also be critical to the field of procedural justice as it moves beyond a research topic to an applied tool.

Impact of Procedural Justice Theory on Interest-Group Participants

Procedural justice studies and theory have focused on the perceptions and responses of individuals to procedural effects. This emphasis needs to be expanded for application in the natural resource decision-making arena.

Natural resource decision making has been dominated by interest-group participation since at least the 1970s (Wondolleck 1988). Thus, although many individuals can, and do, participate in natural resource decision making, interest groups representing larger constituencies and having substantial resources have become major influences on natural resource managers. This phenomenon distinguishes natural resource decision making from much of what procedural justice researchers have studied.

The influence of interest groups on public participation in natural resource decision making cannot be overstated. In many cases, the stagnation of decision making is related to the actions of such interest groups. The debate over late-successional forests in the Pacific Northwest has been driven by national and regional interest groups. Substantially all nongovernmental litigants in this controversy have been interest groups.(n3) Attempts to improve the related decision-making procedures through methods that address individual responses without addressing interest-group responses are unlikely to alter the overall situation.

One study of procedural justice effects on participants that were not individuals examined acceptance by corporations of arbitration awards (Lied et al. 1993). Acceptance was based on likelihood of appeal. It was found that with corporations, as with individuals, acceptance was most highly correlated to procedural justice judgments, rather than outcome favorability. Although many natural resource interest groups are motivated by different factors than corporations, this study offers initial support for extending procedural justice concepts from the individual to the group level.

While the impact of interest group politics on procedural justice effects remains unstudied, certain aspects can be theorized. On the local and regional level, ad hoc groups often are formed by dissatisfied citizens to influence a particular decision or planning process. Methods based on procedural justice concepts that successfully reduce public dissatisfaction can be expected similarly to reduce the formation of, or levels of dissatisfaction within, this type of interest group.

On the other hand, national public interest groups might be less affected by procedural justice effects. Actions based on procedural justice effects are most likely to be influenced when the actions are motivated by levels of satisfaction. While this might be the case with the formation of, and acts by, local interest groups, national interest groups appear less likely to be motivated by levels of individual or group satisfaction. Rather, these groups are more likely to be motivated by how a proposed action fits into a national political agenda, financial objectives, membership goals, or other factors. Thus, in terms of national interest group response to increased procedural fairness for individual decisions, methods based on procedural justice concepts are unlikely to have a significant effect.

Use of procedural justice findings could have a long-term effect on national interest groups. Individual satisfaction levels might affect the perceived need by individuals to join or contribute money to national interest groups. If a reduction in membership and funding occurs, such interest groups might be forced to reconsider their strategies.

Impact of Procedural Justice on Nonparticipants

Procedural justice research has focused on the effects of justice perceptions on participants in decision making. However, decision-making procedures can have significant effects on nonparticipants as well.

A conventional wisdom often cited in public participation literature is that public involvement program success can be measured by the number of people who participate (e.g., Creighton 1983), and, indeed, procedural justice research supports the conclusion that increased perceived procedural fairness might increase participation in natural resource decision making (Tyler and McGraw 1986). This research suggests that one reason some people fail to participate is a sense of frustration with procedures, outcomes, or both. For example, some believe that their input is not listened to by resource managers. These people might choose not to participate in natural resource decision making at all or choose not to participate in administrative procedures, transferring their efforts instead to other forums, such as the courts or legislatures. Procedural justice findings indicate the importance of input being used by the decision makers and feedback being provided to the participants (e.g., Conlon et al. 1989). These steps should reduce the perception that input is being ignored and alleviate this reason for nonparticipation.

However, many persons choose not to participate for reasons unrelated to perceptions of procedural or outcome fairness (Mohai 1985). For example, it has been theorized that many disadvantaged groups do not participate in natural resource decision making because they have limited resources and, while they might be significantly affected by natural resource decisions, these decisions have relatively low priority to them. Revised public involvement methods based on procedural justice concepts are unlikely to increase participation from these publics in spite of the significant impacts decisions can have on them and the important input they can provide. Therefore, while application of procedural justice concepts can be expected to increase public participation, predicting the amount and social breadth of increase will require a better understanding of why people currently do not participate.

Effects of Historical Mistrust on Participant Reactions

The failures of natural resource managers in dealing with the public and conducting public involvement programs have been extensively documented (e.g., U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment 1992). Low levels of confidence in resource managers have resulted. On the other hand, procedural justice effects in a climate of low confidence in, and mistrust of, the decision maker generally have not been examined. Rather, decision makers in most procedural justice studies have been judges and others cast in an impartial role.

Given the current climate, it is possible that short-term reactions to procedural justice methods will be negligible. The levels of mistrust and cynicism might be so high that any attempts to improve procedural fairness receive only skepticism. Research in negotiations indicates that negative relations are quite durable (Pruitt and Carnevale 1993). These historical relations result in parties developing selective perceptions of each others actions. Thus, it seems unrealistic to expect immediate increases in participant satisfaction.

However, Dixon (1993) found that confidence in Forest Service managers was significantly influenced by procedural justice perceptions. Thus, in the long term, procedural justice effects might operate to reduce the climate of mistrust and doubt. In this new climate, increased satisfaction from procedural justice effects may be significant. This analysis implies an increasing spiral, where procedural fairness would lead to increased trust, which would in turn lead to perceptions of increased procedural fairness and so on. This analysis suggests that pursuing methods based on procedural justice research is likely to be beneficial, but that patience will be necessary to see the full benefits.

Valid concerns might be raised that procedural justice findings could encourage the Machiavellian use of public involvement. When provided with the opportunity to express their views, citizens might be more satisfied even when there was never any intention to listen to those views or consider them in the decision-making process. However, aside from the obvious ethical issues involved, the findings regarding the frustration effect should give dishonest public participation practitioners pause before using this approach. These studies indicate that when the opportunity for input is in fact a sham, participants might react with a lower degree of satisfaction than if no voice had been provided. The uncertain nature of the frustration effect makes the abuse of voice a dangerous approach for the practitioner.

Measures of Procedural Fairness

Procedural justice effects have been observed as a function of perceived procedural fairness. In early research, this was controlled by providing patently fair and unfair procedures. Attempts to determine the elements of fairness concentrated on legal proceedings and adversarial systems versus other systems of litigation. Subsequent research has looked at other measures of fairness.

Leventhal (1980) has postulated six rules of fairness: (1) consistency of decisions across persons and time; (2) suppression of decision-maker bias; (3) accuracy based on good information and an informed decision; (4) correctability of errors; (5) representativeness of groups of affected individuals; and (6) ethicality compatible with fundamental moral and ethical values. While subsequent research indicates that this listing might be too simple (Lied and Tyler 1988), it serves as a starting point to study the complexity of fairness judgments.

Barrett-Howard and Tyler (1986) found that the relative importance of these measures of fairness depends on the decision-making scenario. The study compared work and social situations, formal and informal decision-making structures, cooperative and competitive participants, and equal and unequal power vis-a-vis the decision maker. Although that study did not examine administrative decision making, the scenarios can be compared to natural resource decision making. Natural resource decision making is more similar to the social than the work setting. Further, it is a formal decision-making structure, is generally competitive, and the decision maker has superior power. In this scenario the researchers found, in descending order of importance, that bias suppression, consistency across persons, ethicality, and accuracy were significant elements of fairness. Certainly, further research is necessary with direct application to natural resource decision making to determine the most important elements of fairness.

Another factor complicating evaluations of fairness may be the political philosophy of the participants. In one study (Rasinski 1987), individuals with equity-based political philosophies emphasized the importance of procedural justice, while those with equality based philosophies were more concerned with distributive justice. This dichotomy makes it unwise to concentrate on a limited view of justice and fairness.


Public participation in natural resource decision making is at a critical stage. It has become an integral part of the decision-making process without a clearly articulated conceptual basis. With ever-increasing complexity and controversy, public involvement often has become a battleground, rather than a source of cooperation and collaboration for Improved decision making.

This article argues that public involvement has been locked in an outcome-driven approach that fails to include effects of public participation programs beyond decisions. Procedural justice provides a path out of this narrow approach and the basis for a new conceptual basis for designing public participation programs. This conceptual basis is based on a blending of the self-interest model of human behavior and the group-value model. It recognizes the importance to individuals not only of outcomes but of procedures as well. It is in fair procedures that individuals find reaffirmation of their membership and importance in society. Regardless of outcomes, failure of procedures to comport with societal norms of fairness will result in disaffection. Fair procedures can be expected to increase participant satisfaction, compliance with laws, and opinions of decision makers.

Effective incorporation of procedural justice principles into natural resource decision-making procedures will require consideration of factors not previously addressed by procedural justice research. These factors include the impact of interest groups, the effects of procedural justice on nonparticipants in the decision-making procedures, the effects of historical mistrust of decision makers, and appropriate measures of procedural fairness in natural resource decision making.

The authors thank Dale J. Blahna, Department of Forest Resources, Utah State University, Donald E. Conlon, Department of Business Administration, University of Delaware, and Hanna J. Cortner, Water Resources Research Center, University of Arizona, for their reviews of a draft of this article. Partial funding for this project was provided by Boise-Cascade Corporation.

Address correspondence to Rick L. Lawrence, Department of Forest Resources, Peavy Hall, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331-5703, USA. E-mail:


(n1.) This phenomenon might be the result of a "ceiling" effect, where participants with positive outcomes already have such high satisfaction levels that there is little room to measure the effects of additional factors.

(n2.) It has been argued that this positivist approach is inherent in administrative decision making (Brunson 1992).

(n3.) The prominence of interest groups in natural resource litigation is driven, in part, by legal decisions regarding requirements for standing to bring suit [see Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727 (1972)]. Therefore, the dominance of interest groups in this type of litigation is unlikely to change unless new laws are passed expanding the classes of litigants who can bring suit.


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Received 20 September 1995; accepted 13 May 1996.


By RICK L. LAWRENCE, STEVEN E. DANIELS AND GEORGE H. STANKEY, Department of Forest Resources, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, USA

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Source: Society & Natural Resources, Nov/Dec97, Vol. 10 Issue 6, p577, 13p
Item: 9712231744