Public consultations were held during the planning of a large national park so that final decisions were informed by local knowledge and were in keeping with citizen demand. The process was helpful to policy makers as it returned a diversity of opinions and suggestions.
Problems and Purpose
The use of civic participation during the planning and implementation process of the Black Forest National Park in the German federal state Baden-Württemberg was pursued for a number of reasons. First, the contractually determined inclusion of public participation in the coalition agreement between both governing parties of the Baden-Württemberg state government (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, SPD Baden-Württemberg, 2011). As well, policy makers decided to carry out the civic participation process to discuss the consequences of a potential national park with the citizens on an objective level (Arzbach, 2016). The process was seen as a way to strengthen the acceptance of the national park and to establish a park together with and not against the citizens of the region. One goal of the participation process was to learn from local knowledge, and to involve this knowledge into the planning and the implementation process (Expert A, 2016; Arzbach, 2016). It was also stressed that the use of civic participation in complex projects was an important part of the party philosophy of the two governing parties. Therefore, it was inevitable to use civic participation in a big project such as the Black Forest National Park (Rückert, 2016; Renn, 2016).
Background History and Context
The idea to create a national park in the federal state of Baden-Württemberg was first envisioned in the 1990’s by the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU). Back then, the state government commissioned an expert report outlining the potential risks and opportunities the creation of a national park might entail. However, then Minister-President Erwin Teufel decided against the implementation of a national park. In the following years, the environmental policy of the state government changed and the governing party CDU (Christian Democratic Union) developed its own environment strategy paper, which included the possible implementation of a national park (Landtag von Baden-Württemberg, 2010). In 2011, a new Minister-President of the environmental party Bündnis90/Die Grünen was elected. The two governing parties Bündnis 90/Die Grünen and the SPD (Social Democratic Party of Germany) agreed upon the creation and establishment of a national park in their coalition agreement. The agreement also included the carrying out of civic participation during the planning phase. Quickly after the governing parties had agreed on the creation, the northern Black Forest was chosen as being an ideal area to fulfill the requirements for the implementation of a national park in terms of size (roughly 10 000 square meters) and nature conversation suitability (Bundesamt für Naturschutz, 2016).
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The civic participation process was fully funded by the Ministry of Rural Affairs, Food and Consumer Protection of Baden-Württemberg. The state ministry engaged a non-profit institute for communication and cooperation research in developing a civic participation concept, which was supposed to involve the local citizens in the planning and developing process of the national park. The ministry also put out a tender for an independent expert report to give an independent and extensive opinion on diverse topics concerning the creation of a national park in the northern Black Forest area.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The public participation process involved three stages each of which used a different method of participant recruitment and selection.
In September 2011, the Ministry of Rural Affairs, Food and Consumer Protection mailed 120 000 flyers to every household in the potential national park area, 2 200 of which were filled and returned (Hilpert, Ulmer, Renn & Drews, 2011). The flyers also were displayed at stores and public buildings to make sure everybody had the chance to fill out the reply card (Renn, 2016). Another option for anyone who wanted to take part in the participation process was the use of an online platform which was open during all four stages of the process. The described forms of participation can be classified as self-selected due to the direct mailing/open access of the flyers and the open access to the online platform.
Throughout the process, the ministry and the conservation and forest administration gave talks in over 130 informational events which were open to all. Citizens also had the opportunity to call an Info-Telephone, on which experts answered questions concerning the potential national park. These two participation methods can also be classified as being self-selected. The informational events were open to everyone with no restriction to specific groups, also anyone was allowed to call the Info-Telephone.
The deliberation stage took place at the end of September 2011, in the form of a one-day citizens’ forum. 350 guests were invited to the informational lectures and small group discussions. The group discussions were moderated by professional participation experts and the event was docuemnted and forwarded to the experts, who wrote the independent expert report.
Participant selection during this stage is difficult to classify. On one hand, the event was open to anyone and the forum was promoted through different channels, such as newspapers and online media. On the other hand, most of the participants were individually invited and represented some sort of interest group. Almost every discussion group consisted of lay stakeholders only, which is why the participant selection of the working groups can be classified as lay stakeholders.
Methods and Tools Used
Civic participation has increasingly become a standard component of environmental decision-making. Environmental policies are often highly complex, involve many actors and can have a positive effect on local citizens. These among other reasons make policy makers tend to involve the citizen through public participation to avoid conflicts, make qualitatively better decisions and to achieve higher public acceptance for policy decisions (see Newig, Jager & Challies, 2012). However, the form of public involvement differs immensely from case to case.
In 2011, the Ministry of Rural Affairs, Food and Consumer Protection started the planning process by introducing a steering committee, which was staffed by state and local politicians. The entire planning process was accompanied by several civic participation events. During this process, the resistance movement against the park was high and many events were attended by both supporters and opponents, protesting against the idea of a possible national park. According to the decision makers, the participation process was supposed to be unbiased as to the result, in other words, it was open whether the national park would be established or not (Renn, 2016). The policy makers did not want to establish a park against the will of the local citizen (Arzbach, 2016).
During the participation process, suggestions and concerns regarding a potential national park were collected from the citizens in question form and answered by an independent team of experts in an extensive report. As well, a deliberation stage took place at the end of September 2011, in the form of a one-day citizens’ forum. 350 guests were invited to the informational lectures and small group discussions.
Originally, the plan of the civic participation experts, who had developed the participation concept, was to discuss the results of the independent expert report with the citizens. According to that plan, the citizen would have either been able to decide in a statewide referendum whether the national park should be established or not, or they would have been able to formulate a recommendation for the decision makers (Renn, 2016). However, after the expert report turned out to be very positive, the policy makers decided that a national park should be implemented without further discussion or a referendum. After the expert report was published, mainly informational events, where the results of the report were presented, took place for the citizens. In 2013, the federal parliament voted for the establishment of a national park in the northern Black Forest, which then opened in 2014.
Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction
The planning and civic participation process of the national park underwent four phases. In the first phase, mainly informational events took place. In the second phase, the communicational part, concerns and suggestions of the citizens were collected through different channels. In the third phase, local expert groups discussed specific topics concerning the national park and an independent expert report was drawn up in which the contributions of the citizens were included. In the last phase, the expert report was published and presented to the public, a national park state law was created and the state parliament voted for the establishment of a national park.
Civic participation during the process was a combination of citizen consultation and stakeholder participation, which was supposed to inform the public, gather preferences, concerns and objections from the affected citizens (Wachinger, Hilpert & Renn, 2015).
The first type of civic participation offered participants several opportunities to contribute input on topics of all kinds concerning a possible national park. In September 2011, the Ministry of Rural Affairs, Food and Consumer Protection mailed 120 000 flyers to every household in the potential national park area (Wachinger, Hilpert, Renn, 2015). The flyer included a reply card, which enabled and invited everyone to ask questions regarding the national park. About 2 200 reply cards were sent back and all questions were clustered and forwarded to the experts, who wrote the final report (Hilpert, Ulmer, Renn & Drews, 2011). The flyers also were displayed at stores and public buildings to make sure everybody had the chance to fill out the reply card (Renn, 2016). Another option for anyone who wanted to take part in the participation process was the use of an online platform to express concerns and wishes in the form of questions, which were also collected and clustered for the independent expert report. In the fourth phase of the planning process, citizens were able to comment and express their preferences about a first version of the national park state law, which was uploaded to the online platform by the Ministry of Rural Affairs, Food and Consumer Protection. According to one interviewee, all comments were reviewed and, where possible, taken into account while adjusting the national park state law (Arzbach, 2016).
In terms of communication and decision mode, the participants during this phase were able to express their preferences in the form of questions and comments regarding a potential national park. This participation type is classified as giving advice and consultation since the political decision makers preserved their authority while being open to input from the participants in the form of questions for the final expert report.
The second type of civic participation fulfilled educational purposes. During the entire participation process, the ministry and the conservation and forest administration gave talks in over 130 informational events. Citizens also had the opportunity to call an Info-Telephone, on which experts answered questions concerning the potential national park. As far as communication and decision mode are concerned, the educational stage gave participants chance to express their preferences. Usually, every informational event offered participants the possibility to express their thoughts at one point, the same with the Info-Telephone. In terms of power and authority, the participants had no expectation of influencing policy action, therefore this type can be classified as being for personal education.
During the third stage of participation, the participants had the opportunity to deliberate. End of September 2011, a one-day citizens’ forum took place in Bad Wildbad. In the first part of the event, the 350 guests listened to informational lectures about the history, principles and requirements of national parks. In the second part, the participants came together in small working groups to discuss specific topics, such as forestry, hunting and agriculture, nature protection or urban development (Wachinger, Hilpert, Renn, 2015). At the beginning of the event, participants had to sign in and choose which group they wanted to be part of. The group discussions were moderated by professional participation experts, who also wrote down the results. The goal of the groups was to find and formulate concerns and suggestions within their topic in the form of questions for the expert report. The group members discussed and deliberated about which questions they would prefer to be answered. Every group presented their results to the audience at the end of the group work (Wachinger, Hilpert, Renn, 2015). All the questions were collected and forwarded to the experts, who wrote the independent expert report.
In terms of communication and decision, the participants in the working groups deliberated and negotiated. Together, they had to figure out individual and group goals, exchange perspectives and phrase questions for the independent expert report. Decision makers still kept their power and authority, but they were open to receive input in the form of questions for the final expert report. Therefore, the deliberative events at this stage can be classified as giving advice and consultation.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The purpose of the civic participation process was to collect concerns, suggestions and possible challenges of a potential national park in the form of questions (Renn, 2016). Those questions were answered in an extensive independent expert report. The political decision makers highly based their decision on that report to decide whether a national park should be established in the northern Black Forest or not. The precise influence of the citizens’ input on the final political decision is difficult to measure. It can be said that with the help of suggestions and questions from local citizens, the experts writing the report had to examine topics they had not considered before. For example, two interviewees mentioned that suggestions from citizens about the zoning of the potential park and the handling of bark beetles in the park a strong influence on the expert report (Rückert, 2016; Arzbach, 2016). As a result of the civic participation, more topics had to be taken into account in the independent expert report than originally thought. Two interviewees stressed that local citizens were able to add some knowledge external experts were not aware of (Expert A, 2016; Arzbach, 2016). The participation process had a strong influence on the shape and organization of the national park, even though the actual influence of the participation process on the policy decision is difficult to measure.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
To sum up all three types of civic participation, in terms of participant selection two participation methods were self-selected and one consisted of lay stakeholders. Citizens, who were interested in taking part in the participation process, had mostly the chance to do so. One interviewee explained that some participants criticized obstacles in the process. For example, the information flyer and reply card was sent out during summer holidays, a time many people were on vacation (Ruf, 2016). The timeframe for sending back the reply cards was short and the cards not pre-paid, which might have reduced the number of returned cards. The strong focus on the online forum has been criticized because elderly people often are often not that familiar with making use of the internet compared to younger generations (Ruf, 2016). This may have reduced the opportunities for older participants - who were described as making up a significant amount of those opposing the implementation of the national park - to take part in the participation process (Ruf, 2016).
In terms of communication and decision mode, the participants only had the chance to deliberate and negotiate in working groups at the one-day citizen forum, where most of the participants were lay stakeholders (Expert A, 2016). In any other type, participants were just able to express preferences. In terms of power and authority, citizens had various opportunities to give input, which was taken into account in the final expert report on which the political decision was based. Political decision makers were not interested in transferring their decisive power partly or fully to the citizens. According to an interviewee from the ministry and one from the steering committee, the case was too complex and the formal requirements were not given to put the decision in the hands of citizens (Arzbach, 2016; Rückert, 2016).
The most obvious reason for the use of civic participation, in this case, is the contractually determined inclusion of public participation in the coalition agreement between both governing parties of the Baden-Württemberg state government (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, SPD Baden-Württemberg, 2011). However, interviews with participants and officials revealed more reasons for the use of civic participation (although one must keep in mind that the named reasons are subjective opinions of the six interviewees). According to the assistant head of the Ministry of Rural Affairs, Food and Consumer Protection during the planning process, the policy makers decided to carry out the civic participation process to discuss the consequences of a potential national park with the citizens on an objective level (Arzbach, 2016). As stated by this interviewee, the process was also supposed to strengthen the acceptance of the national park and to establish a park together with and not against the citizens of the region. One goal of the participation process was to learn from local knowledge, and to involve this knowledge into the planning and the implementation process (Expert A, 2016; Arzbach, 2016). It was also stressed that the use of civic participation in complex projects was an important part of the party philosophy of the two governing parties. Therefore, it was inevitable to use civic participation in a big project such as the Black Forest National Park (Rückert, 2016; Renn, 2016).
As described by two interviewees, the fact that the civic participation process was prematurely stopped by the political decision makers with the announcement that the national park will be established without further discussion of the results of the expert report, led to dissatisfaction and frustration among participants (Renn, 2016; Rombach, 2016). To some citizens, this move of the state government gave the impression that the decision makers had decided on the creation of a national park from its very beginning and that the participation process was not open and unbiased as was led to believe by the decision makers at the beginning of the process (Renn, 2016; Rombach, 2016). Another interviewee stressed that while the citizens thought that they were discussing arguments for or against the establishment of a national park, the policy makers more or less already discussed how the national park could look like specifically (Ruf, 2016). The point in time, when Minister-President Kretschman went public to announce that the Black Forest National Park would be created, was chosen poorly and came too early, because the original participation plan was to discuss the report results with the citizens first and then decide on the establishment of the park (Renn, 2016). This interruption of the participation process made participants feel that they had not been taken seriously as two interviewees explained (Renn, 2016; Rombach, 2016). The communication between decision makers and citizen was imperfect as well because the participants were not aware of the level of influence they had in the final decision at each point in time during the participation process (Arzbach, 2016). Even though the policy makers had told that the final decision would be made in the state parliament beforehand, according to the interviewees, not all participants were aware the limited influence on the final decision. Interestingly, a survey (conducted one and a half years after the opening of the national park) showed that 68 percent of the local citizens were satisfied with the participation and discussion process during the park implementation despite all the frustration and resistance against the implementation of a national park during the planning process (Nationalpark Schwarzwald, 2016).
Boundaries and opportunities of civic participation in environmental policy-making are strongly discussed in deliberative research, however, the ongoing discussion does not offer a clear answer to the question of whether public participation is able to improve policy results or not (see Renn, 2011). At state level, this civic participation process was the first of this extensive dimension in Baden-Württemberg. A civic participation process of this size was new to politicians and citizens. By evaluating this case, different lessons can be learned and different assumptions can be made. Those assumptions, however, are not generally valid, because they rely on the observations of one case and only six expert interviews.
In this environmental policy case many actors were involved and complex questions had to be answered. Local knowledge was one way of solving problems and finding answers to open questions. The first assumption is that policymakers are likely to use civic participation in environmental questions due to case complexity and local knowledge. In this case, both governing parties had civic participation as an integral part in their party programs. The second assumption is that the use of civic participation is related to the party program and party philosophy of the policymakers. Third, policymakers want to take the ultimate decision in complex environmental cases and do not want to pass off the decisive power to citizens. Case complexity and formal requirements can be possible reasons. Fourth, interrupting running participation processes by changing the participation procedure through political decisions leads to dissatisfaction among participants. Fifth, a transparent participation process, where all parties involved know who makes the final decision, is a requirement for a successful participation process in terms of participant satisfaction. To draw comprehensive assumptions further empirical research needs to be done. In comparing similar cases one can examine whether the described patterns can be found in other cases as well, only then general assumptions and theories can be drawn.
Arzbach, Thorsten. Expert interview on January 26, 2016.
Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, SPD Baden-Württemberg, 2011. Der Wechsel Beginnt. Koalitionsvertrag Zwischen Bündnis 90/Die Grünen und der SPD Baden-Württemberg. [pdf] Stuttgart. Retrieved March 28, 2016, from : <http://www.baden-wuerttemberg.de/fileadmin/redaktion/dateien/PDF/Koaliti...
Bundesamt für Naturschutz. (2016). Nationalparke. [Online]. Retrieved May 20, 2016, from: https://www.bfn.de/0308_nlp.html
Expert A. Expert Interview on January 28, 2016.
Fung, A. (2006). Varieties of Participation in Complex Governance. Public Administration Review, Special Issue December, 66-75.
Hilpert, J., Ulmer, F., Renn, O., & Drews, N. (2011). Ist ein Nationalpark im Nordschwarzwald möglich? Anforderungen an eine Studie. Fragenkatalog. [PDF]. Retrieved April 30, 2016, from http://lel-bw.de/pb/site/lel/get/documents/MLR.LEL/PB5Documents/alr/pdf/...
Landtag von Baden-Württemberg (2010). Kleine Anfrage des Abg. Walter Krögner SPD und Antwort des Ministeriums für Umwelt, Naturschutz und Verkehr Biosphärenreservate in Baden-Württemberg. Drucksache 14/6799. [pdf]. Retrieved March 28, 2016, from: < http://www.landtag-bw.de/files/live/sites/LTBW/files/dokumente/WP14/Druc...
Newig, J., Jager, N., & Challies, E. (2012). Führt Bürgerbeteiligung in umweltpolitischen Entscheidungsprozessen zu mehr Effektivität und Legitimität. Erste Ergebnisse einer Metaanalyse von 64 politischen Fallstudien. Unveröffentlichtes Papier eines Vortrags auf dem “Tag der Politikwissenschaften 2012“, 1-19.
Nationalpark Schwarzwald (2016). Erste Akzeptanz-Studie: Großes Interesse am Nationalpark. [Online]. Retrieved July 7, 2016, from http://www.schwarzwald-nationalpark.de/aktuelles/erste-akzeptanzstudie/
Renn, Ortwin. Expert interview on January 12, 2016.
Renn, O. (2011). Bürgerbeteiligung–Aktueller Forschungsstand und Folgerungen für die praktische Umsetzung. Hilpert, J.(Hg.): Nutzen und Risiken öffentlicher Großprojekte: Beteiligung als Voraussetzung für eine größere gesellschaftliche Akzeptanz. In: Stuttgarter Beiträge zur Risiko-und Nachhaltigkeitsforschung, 19, 19-41.
Rombach, Karl. Expert interview on January 5, 2016.
Rückert, Klaus Michael. Expert interview on January 13, 2016.
Ruf, Michael. Expert interview on March 15, 2016.
Wachinger, G., Hilpert, J. & Renn, O. (2015). Partizipation – durch die Mediationsbrille betrachtet. Das Beispiel Nationalpark Schwarzwald. Spektrum der Mediation, 58, 54-58 .
Full video coverage of the event: https://www.schawa.tv/nationalpark-schwarzwald.html
The first version of this entry used information from online resources, magazine reports and six interviews with people involved in the participation process. Mario Ruf interviewed three different groups of people: the first were closely connected to policy decision makers, the second were experts from the administration, and the third were experts who developed and accompanied the civic participation process.
Lead image: dpa https://goo.gl/3K46sy