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Outcomes

There is little theoretical discussion relating to the outcomes of participatory exercises or what they mean. In part, this can be related to the traditional linear view of consultation exercises, where the publication of response rates relates to the decline of an organization’s interest in an activity. Outcomes can be actual or perceived, and the difference between the two can influence the types of activity likely to take place. Actual outcomes include the ability to gain democratic legitimacy for a solution or the completion of “successful” activities. Although identifiable, they often have less influence on the nature of participation than perceived ones. This is compounded by the idea that different actors’ objectives/notions can vary greatly and that they may not be clearly stated [13]. An authority may desire a certain level of participation from the public, want useful contributions to inform their decision-making, see some contributions as less relevant, inform the public about certain issues, and complete an activity “appropriately,” using the correct methods and gaining a “representative” voice from their public. The authority may also have more negative views, such as seeing consultation as unnecessary or believing that the public will not have understood the importance of the issue and failed to respond. Similarly, citizens’ outcomes may include the adoption of their ideas in policy, that they will have performed their duty, that they will have learned something about their environment, a policy, or a technology, and/or that they will have socialized with their neighbors and friends. Their more negative views may include that the authority is not listening. These ideas present some of the concerns or risks that may occur in participatory settings and, in many ways, the questions that actors will tacitly ask themselves.
This can lead to different understandings of what forms of participation are being offered by the authority or desired by the potential participants. Given varying notions, the same outcome will not necessarily be treated by different actors in similar ways. This emerges through the documents that are created as an outcome of an activity, often produced by officers or consultants for elected members. There is possibly a need to consider better ways of communicating “findings” that preserve some of the nuances of participants’ responses and relate more to qualitative rather than quantitative analysis, influenced by the methods used.



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