Citizen Participation in Climate Adaptation Processes

14:00 Wednesday 29 May


Room S9


Theresa Anna Michel (Germany) 1

1 - University of Oldenburg

Participation has emerged as vital concept in the sustainability discussion. An increasing number of political processes (especially on the local level) declare participation of stakeholders and citizens as a main aim. In particular the involvement of citizens in adaptation processes is viewed as essential to achieve changes and implement e.g. climate adaptation plans. Even though participation is not a new concept, it can be difficult to succeed with it. Thus, my research question is ‘what are the challenges and success determinants of citizen participation in climate adaptation processes?’ I contribute to planning processes as I identify success determinants and provide guiding principles to be considered for participation. My research focuses on climate adaptation processes aiming at the protection from flooding and heavy rain in urban areas in Germany.

I conducted a literature review on participation theory, carried out a data analysis of eight climate adaptation projects in Germany and interviewed five participation experts. The results provide an overview on participatory processes in the defined field discussing aims, methods, participants and challenges. Deriving from the results, I formulate a set of success determinants to be considered during the planning and realisation of participation.

The reviewed projects include citizens in various levels from informing and advising individuals to cooperatively developing strategies. One can distinguish four main objectives of participation on the basis of concepts of democracy: functionalistic, neo-liberal, deliberative and emancipatory. My results show that functionalistic and deliberative aims are mostly pursued in practice. Based on my research results, I advise to follow an adequate communication strategy (also with critical citizens), show sensitivity concerning the topic and pursue the participation process and the process’ results consequently in order to reach defined targets. Identified success determinants of participation processes are among others the usage of visual instruments (e.g. hazard maps) and a transparent communication about the possibilities and boundaries of the participants’ influence. As consequences of flooding can be a sensitive topic for individuals, it is advisable to involve a professional moderator to keep emotions in mind. However, participation greatly depends on individuals involved and thus needs to be flexible.

Overall, a strong connection between the involvement of citizens within a project and the raise of awareness has been depicted in my research. The developed guiding principles compile guidance to support positive outcomes of further adaptation processes in urban contexts and can be transferred to other local participation processes.