The Role of Publics and Deliberation

Image description coming soon

The Agile Initiative programme research team are pleased to launch the second of two discussion documents.

The role of publics and deliberation at the environmental science-policy interface

The document was launched at a webinar on the 25th of June, 2024, which you can watch on YouTube.


This discussion paper reviews the role of publics and deliberation at the environmental science-policy interface. We highlight two dominant ways to think of public(s), as either a homogenous whole, or as multiple and emerging around particular issues. The way we conceptualise public(s) will shape how and why public participation might be used. Environmental researchers and decision makers may choose to engage in public participation to steer environmental research towards more “democratic” outcomes, or to co-create new knowledge alongside publics. Deliberative democracy is one way of engaging the public through informed dialogue, reflection, and consideration of the conflicting ideas and values which are embedded in environmental challenges.

We describe the foundations of deliberative democracy and some core complexities and considerations of deliberation, while assessing the role of different sources of knowledge in these processes. Public deliberation is no panacea for complex environmental challenges. It comes with risks including perpetuating a depoliticised image of global challenges as “solvable” through expert knowledge, rational conversation, and technological solutions. We attempt to articulate a path through these challenges towards a public participation which is reflexive and contextualised, and can contribute to building effective and just environmental knowledge and policy.


We hope that the material in this discussion paper provides a springboard for reflections on the role of public participation in the environmental science-policy interface, and helps researchers and decision-makers to navigate the expanding field of participatory research in environmental science and policy. This discussion document is not a “how-to” guide, but rather an investigation of dominant approaches to publics and participation, and we hope that it suggests  some core conceptual themes to researchers and decision-makers that are useful to think through when considering involving publics in environmental research and policy that may result in generative public participatory work.


This discussion document was written by the programme research team at the Agile Initiative. Read the first discussion document here: Universities: evidence producers or co-producers?