In 2012, the WWV Consultation on Biodiversity involved over 3000 participants over 34 citizen consultations in 25 countries on the same day. The consultation was part of wider citizen participation project to identify and ensure public opinion is considered by policy makers.
Problems and Purpose
The World-Wide Views’ Global Consultation on the subject of biodiversity took place in 2012 as part of the WWV Citizen Participation Project on Biodiversity in the lead-up to the international Conference of Parties (COP) in India on global biodiversity. The Consultation involved over 3000 participants over 34 citizen consultations in 25 countries on the same day. Run by the World-Wide Views Alliance, a global network of public and private bodies, the Consultation allowed citizens to voice their opinions global warming and biodiversity - two issues of international importance with immediate and global implications. Efforts to combat climate change have only recently been embraced as a collaborative effort by policymakers world-wide, making the consultation one of the first and largest public engagement projects on the international scale.
Background History and Context
The World Wide Views’ Alliance (WWVA) and its Global Consultation project were created due to the emerging need for cross-border solutions to global problems such as global warming and biodiversity. The Alliance's first order of business was to bridge the widening gap between citizens and democratic policymakers which had left little room for citizen participation in a policy area that directly influenced their lives. Indeed, before the creation of the WWVA, many citizens around the world played no role in global policymaking. The result was a growing body of policymakers with no knowledge of public opinion on global issues or, indeed, on a global scale. Therefore, they were considered out of touch. The Alliance's Consultation has, therefore, been the first large-scale global deliberation on world-altering contentious issues such as climate change and biodiversity. Not only do these consultations help guide policy makers and result in better-informed legislation, but, as scholars have pointed out in recent years, giving citizens input in the policy making process allows the process of democracy to reform its institutions; further, it has, thus far, resulted in a better matching of governance outcomes to citizen wants and needs.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The World-Wide Views Alliance was initially created and run by the Danish Board of Technology, an independent counselling organisation under Denmark’s Ministry of Higher Education and Science. The DBT was replaced by the Danish Board of Technology Foundation - an independent, non-profit foundation - in 2011 and the WWVA came under its control in June 2012. Currently, the World-Wide Views’ Project on global consultation concerning biodiversity is funded through sponsorship by a variety of partners including the Loka Institute, Virginia Tech, The Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes, Arizona State University, Museum of Science, the University of Massachusetts, Colorado School of Mines, BioDiversity Caucus, Choice Africa, Saint Lucia National Trust and Talent Africa. The biodiversity consultation in 2012 was funded by VILLUM Foundation and The Danish Ministry of the Environment. Other consultations called by the Alliance’s National Partners are intended to be self-funded with the costs per consultation ranging from 30 to 100 thousand euros, depending on the event’s location.
The consultation project was developed within the World-Wide Views alliance and overseen by four bodies: its national partners, a steering group, the project coordinators, and the advisory board.
The first body of project oversight and implementation are the WWVA National Partners. This group includes government councils, non-governmental civil organisations, and education centres such universities and colleges. The partners are expected to organise the citizen consultations and should also have a non-bias viewpoint so they cannot be biodiversity charities or pressure groups.
The second part of the project’s organizing team is the Steering Group which assists the WWVA with its coordination of the project, it is made up of UN Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Montreal, the Danish Ministry of the Environment and the then Danish Board of Technology. The steering group helps to find new potential National Partners, the Steering Group also recommends questions and briefing materials for citizen deliberation.
Next are the coordinators, this is the Danish Board of Technologies role, they coordinate the every-day running of the project, the coordinators are in control of the project and question design.
Finally, the last member in the oversight team is the Advisory Board. The Board’s mandate is to produce information material to be presented to citizen participants before the consultations. Its composition reflects its task: it consists of academics and experts on the subject of biodiversity.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The 2012 consultation included 34 simultaneous events in 25 countries. Citizens were recruited in a wide variety of ways: contact by the National Partners by mail, in person (especially in remote areas of lesser economically developed countries), telephone calls, advertising on social media and in news outlets. The final method of recruiting citizens to the event was "snowball sampling" where, for example, two people ask two people and they ask another two and it grows organically.
Around 100 of those contacted were selected to participate in their nearest consultation, ensuring each group of participants represented the demographics of the country or region including gender, job title, type of education and geographical area they live in. The Alliance used representative sampling to ensure a fair and broad selection of citizens to produce fair and credible results.
Methods and Tools Used
The consultation method used was based on the 2009 World-Wide Views’ event on global warming. Before the event, participants were given informational booklets followed by discussions led by government or COP 11 officials. All information provided was vetted and monitored by the WWV academic Advisory Board. To achieve accurate measures of opinion, there were four sessions with an optional fifth session, with citizens answering 2-4 multiple choice questions between each.* Following the consultations conclusion, the answers collated and reported on the WWVA website for use at the COP11 conference in 2012.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The consultation involved 3000 citizens in twenty-five countries participating in 34 events on the same day. The consultation engaged citizens in the process of first-hand policy creation by sourcing their views on the future health of the planet. Having been received informational material before discussions, participants had a good working knowledge of the subject and issues, leading to a far more academic and thorough deliberation. Opinion measurement was uniform across events with the same questions being administered at the end of each discussion.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The results revealed a consistent, supportive view of new policy measures to protect biodiversity across global participants. The consultation’s findings were collected in a report given to the Executive Secretary of the United Nations for Biodiversity at the COP11 conference in India. The results found in the report have been discussed by representatives of countries, international organisations and NGO’s. In this regard, the WWVA’s goal of involving citizens in the political decision-making process was achieved. As a result of the consultations’ opinion measurement and deliberation, twelve conclusions were reached:
- Most citizens worldwide do have some knowledge of biodiversity.
- Citizens think most people in the world are seriously affected by biodiversity loss and more participants from developing countries than developed think that their country is so.
- Citizens worldwide are very concerned about the loss of biodiversity.
- The establishment of new protected areas should be given higher priority than economic aims.
- Efforts should be made to protect natural areas.
- Eat less meat and intensify agricultural production.
- Incentives and subsidies leading to overfishing should be phased out.
- Protection of coral reefs is a shared responsibility.
- More protected areas should be established in the High Seas.
- All countries should pay for protecting biodiversity in developing countries.
- Benefit sharing should apply to genetic resources already collected.
- Use of genetic resources from the High Seas should benefit biodiversity. 
Ultimately the results and the 12 recommendations show that the 3000 participants in the deliberation are largely in favour of political action to stop the decline in global biodiversity. There is general support for new regulations and international laws for biodiversity. The consultation also found little difference in opinion between countries or regions. Indeed, the views on biodiversity appear to be uniform across the world. The consultation and its report added weight and legitimacy to the Convention of Biological Diversity’s call for a Strategic Plan for Biodiversity to be collectively implemented by world governments 2020. The consultation demonstrated to policy makers that the Plan’s implementation is imperative for global education and action on the consequences of biodiversity loss.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The consultation has received praise for getting citizens involved in the global policy-making process with politicians on the broadly affecting issue of biodiversity. In general, citizen consultations have been praised by scholars for regenerating the democratic process. By deliberatively involving the people most affected by policy decisions in the legislative process, the consultation proved that citizen views and opinions can tell us more about issues than simple poll ratings. When considered opinions about policy are collected, democratic governance is strengthened as policymakers become more in-tuned with the needs of their constituents and policies better match the wants and needs of the citizens.
Consultation such as the WWVA’s event have also garnered critique from numerous scholars. In relation to the event held in 2009 on global warming, Julien Taplin argued that yes, the deliberations were successful to the point that they united the opinions of civilians, but the opinions and results were not passed on to the micro level of policymakers and that these opinions were not if not very marginally taken on by policymakers. Similarly, the project on biodiversity did not deviate from the previous method so, as Taplin argued, that gap between civilians and policymakers has still not been bridged.
Democracy scholar Simone Chambers similarly argues that one of the biggest issues of policy deliberations like this, is their status as ‘microscopic phenomena’. Even though they the citizens are picked randomly and to reflect the diverse nature of countries, they still only contain a small fraction of a countries citizens. Chambers likened this situation to Robert Dahl’s definition of mini-public: “an assembly of citizens, demographically representative of the larger population, brought together to learn and deliberate on a topic in order to inform public opinion and decision-making.”. It is frequently argued that a representative sample of a population is not considered to be legitimate enough for policymakers to act on, as they create perfect conditions and the results don’t come across as organic and slightly manufactured. One of the biggest issues of mini-publics is underlined by James Fishkin, who acknowledges that, while mini publics struggle to gain media attention, it is nevertheless imperative that other citizens should know what is being deliberated for them when a country is being represented by a small fraction of its population. In this regard, however, the WWVAs consultation on biodiversity was a relative success. The role of media was incredibly important to the organisers attempted to reach the macro-sphere and avoid the consequences of mini-publics, they did this by media broadcasting and lobbying.
The World-Wide Views’ Alliance’s consultation on biodiversity has demonstrated that large-scale, global deliberations on collective issues are possible. Together with its first event on global warming, WWVA has helped to develop the foundations for more democratic deliberations to be carried out by other organisations. However, the next global deliberation will need to address the key issues of its predecessors by, for example, increasing its sample size to increase legitimacy and encourage policymakers to not only consider but act on its recommendations.
The World Wide Views on Climate and Energy
World Wide Views Citizen Participation Project on Global Warming
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Deliberations Final Report http://biodiversity.wwviews.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/WWViews_on_Bi....
*Questions and answers available at: biodiversity.wwviews.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/WWViews_on_Biodiversity_ResultsReport_WEB_11-2012.pdf