Society For Risk Analysis Annual Meeting 2017

Session Schedule & Abstracts

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Common abbreviations

Symposium: The Risk of Citizen Opposition: Tools to Foster Public Participation with and Acceptance of Energy Policy Issues

Room: Salon 1   10:30 am–12:00 pm

Chair(s): Marilou Jobin

Sponsored by Risk Policy and Law Specialty Group

Worldwide, energy policies have had a strong emphasis on restructuring their energy systems. However, citizen opposition, e.g. to wind farm projects or new nuclear power plants, has become a barrier to the implementation of energy technologies. Hence, governance of infrastructure planning has become crucial for the realization of energy infrastructure projects. Public participation is often seen as the panacea to advance energy transitions, since it can not only help to achieve a particular objective or improve the quality of decisions, but also gives an opportunity to those affected by energy policy issues to state their preferences and values. Yet, the form of public participation in energy decisions needs to be specified to guarantee their success. Specifications on the participatory processes can be the setting of goals, the definition of the problem at hand or purpose of public participation, as well as the use of applications that model future energy worlds. The latter, so-called decision support systems (DSS) are used to facilitate deliberation on energy systems and to elicit public preferences on energy system transitions by showing consequences of a chosen energy portfolio. However, the decision-making process of people engaging with an interactive application and how this affects their preferences is still unclear. In this symposium, we will explore and discuss how these different forms of public participation help the early recognition of opposing views for a new energy infrastructure project, stimulate deliberate decision making regarding energy choices and help foster acceptance of energy policy issues. As a socio-technical issue, this topic can inherently only be tackled in an interdisciplinary manner. We will therefore provide insights from the field of environmental social sciences, sociology, political sciences, environmental psychology, decision-making and social psychology.

W2-J.1  10:30 am  Are decision support systems practical tools for public participation? Insights from tracing laypeople’s decision processes regarding the future energy portfolio. Jobin M*, Visschers VHM, van Vliet OPR, Siegrist M; ETH Zurich

Abstract: Public participation engages participants in real-world settings, whereby deliberation on a subject takes place in face-to-face interactions, such as round-tables. However, new technologies allow citizens to be involved while not being physically present; it rather enables them to communicate their preferences through an interactive application, such as a decision support system (DSS). The main goal of a DSS is to stimulate a deliberate examination of the topic at hand. Using a DSS, knowledge on future energy portfolio preferences of citizens can be gathered, so that the energy transition can be made towards a portfolio of energy sources that the majority of citizens accept. How people decide for a certain energy production portfolio in a DSS usually remains concealed, not allowing inference in how they engage with the topic. However, it is crucial to assess the type and level of engagement a person has in order to take the stated preferences as indicative of what the public prefers. For example, a deeper level of processing is an indication that preferences for a portfolio composition are founded on a deliberate decision-making process. We examined to what kind of energy production portfolio a sample of 100 Swiss people would like to transit, using a DSS on energy production in Switzerland that shows real-world constraints and environmental, financial, and social consequences of people’s choices. Moreover, we assessed laypeople’s information processing in the DSS by so-called mouse tracking. In our talk, the information processing data will be related to their energy portfolio choice. Our aim is to show that a DSS can be used as an additional tool for public participation, as it induces in-depth elaboration among its users. As a multiplicity of persons can have access to a DSS and indicate their preferences, it allows the wider public to educate itself on and participate in energy policy issues.

W2-J.2  10:50 am  Thinking critically about public participation in renewable energy decisions: Insights from the first U.S. offshore wind development. Bidwell D*, Dwyer J; University of Rhode Island

Abstract: Following risk management and other environmental fields, scholars and practitioners of energy transitions have advocated for greater public participation in decisions about renewable energy technologies. These calls for greater participation, however, are frequently light on specifics. In this presentation, four critical issues regarding the problem scope, purpose of participation, degree of inclusivity, and allocation of decision authority are considered. First, despite a focus on project-specific processes, transitions may require planning or policy discussions at a broader scale. Second, the way the purpose of participation is characterized may have significant effects on the character of a process. Third, participation can be open to all concerned parties or targeted as specific interests. Finally, the distribution of decision-making authority may facilitate or impede transitions. More research is needed to better understand how these features of participation interact and influence the outcome of participatory decisions. The authors use the case of the Block Island Wind Farm, the first offshore wind energy project in the United States, to illustrate the importance of these four issues. This project involved two distinct phases of participation, an inclusive regional ocean planning process and a site-specific permitting process, in which the four issues were addressed quite differently.

W2-J.3  11:10 am  Public participation in energy transitions: what we can learn about public attitudes from diverse engagement methods. Demski C*, Spence A, Pidgeon N; Cardiff University and University of Nottingham

Abstract: Increased public participation in energy transitions is thought to foster more inclusive and socially accepted energy policy. Alongside this, the question of public acceptability and preferences with regards to energy choices has received a lot of attention in recent years. These two agendas have led to an array of innovative methods and tools for engaging members of the public, supporting deliberation and decision-making, thus enabling meaningful participation. In our own research we have used deliberative workshops, focus groups, biographical interviews, surveys, experiments and online interactive tools to engage participants with energy transitions issues and elicit their preferences and values. These diverse forms of participation have led to new insights into public preferences for energy system change. They also reveal something about the nature of public preferences and acceptability, which has important implications for approaches to public participation, and the interpretation of outcomes and responses. Here we present analysis comparing public attitudes and preferences for key aspects of energy policy across multiple elicitation methods used in our recent projects. We compare both within individuals (e.g. stated preferences in a survey and in an online interactive tool) as well as across individuals. Through this analysis we show that substantial public ambiguity and uncertainty exists and that attitudes can change depending on framings and context. Importantly, public preferences towards complex issues such as energy transitions need to be conceptualized as being constructed through the process in which participation takes place. Nonetheless, we also find stability in expressed preferences despite the diverse ways we used to foster public participation. As such we discuss why differences might occur (or not) across different modes of engagement, how these might be interpreted, and what implications this has for public participation within energy policy.

W2-J.4  11:30 am  Governance of Renewable Energy Infrastructure Planning. Potentials for Public Participation. Schweizer PJ*; Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies Potsdam

Abstract: The German energy transition implies the restructuring of the German energy sector. By 2050, at least 80% of Germany's electricity is to be derived from renewable energy sources. This includes the comprehensive and accelerated extension of the electricity grid. As a frontrunner in the transformation of its electricity system, Germany represents a learning ground in the search for sustainable models of energy production and consumption. The transformation of the German energy infrastructure poses major challenges to all parties involved. Not only involves the energy transition substantial financial risks but also social risks and benefits need to be fairly balanced. As a result, many infrastructure planning projects lead to opposition from stakeholders and parts of the public. Governance of infrastructural planning therefore has to reconcile public opposition and robust planning. Facilitating the energy transition in Germany poses serious governance challenges thereby demanding balanced decision-making that incorporates science and values in judgmental risk governance. The presentation will investigate these challenges for decision-making by drawing on empirical evidence from Germany, focusing on the potential of public participation and stakeholder involvement for discursive governance, especially with regard to the prospects and limits of deliberative, group-based approaches in online and offline formats.

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