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Experts, knowledge, risk, and fulfilling the promise of participation

Cook, Brian R., de Lourdes Melo Zurita, Maria
Global environmental change 2019
experts, governance, interviews, models, occupations, risk, risk managers, risk reduction
'Participation with publics' has been embraced in both government and academic literatures as a necessary but currently unrealized means of governing socio-environmental challenges. This near-universal embrace carries global significance. Long-standing efforts in the context of disaster risk reduction (DRR) provide an opportunity to consider how experts have positioned participation such that it can only fail. Using interviews with risk managers, we demonstrate that they impose boundaries on participation via application of a deficit model. Despite continuous calls to make governance more participatory, we explore how the boundaries imposed on participation persist because of how experts are expected to do risk management, and how experts understand their occupations. As a result, meaningful publics-experts interactions are bounded into impossibility. Following demonstration of the DM as the essence of how experts conceive experts-publics interactions, using experts' own suggestions for improving risk reduction, we suggest relationship building as a way of reinvigorating participation. We explore how disaster risk reduction grounded in relationships could overcome existing boundaries, offering an easily-applied reconceptualization for differentiating meaningful from superficial participation, as well as a viable alternative to prevailing participatory methods. Given the intransigence of countless socio-environmental challenges and the need for improved interactions amongst experts-publics, the findings offer a novel pathways that may open a pathway to realizing the promise of participation.