Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Karori Sanctuary: Public Participation

In Diane Campbell-Hunt's book about the development of the Karori Sanctuary, I note a persistent duality in her portrayal of "the public" and its role in the project.  This is captured almost perfectly in the title of the fifth chapter: "Public Consultation and Public Relations."

I hasten to point out that "public participation" in some deeper and fuller sense is not really part of the discussion.

The chapter opens with the following claim (Campbell-Hunt 2002, p.53, emphasis added):
Public consultation is crucial because you must have support from your local community.
In what sense, must? Is this an instrumental requirement, a necessary condition, a mere means to the predetermined ends of the project? Or is it a normative requirement, an ought, a recognition of citizens' rights to make decisions about the future of their common environment?

Is the goal to manage (or even manipulate) public opinion so the Karori Sanctuary Trust can go ahead and do what they wanted to do in any case, or is it to engage the public in a process of will-formation through which the goals of the Trust might be amended in deference to the community?

In other words, is public consultation a matter of good strategy or of political legitimacy? Or is it a little of each?

I don't yet know the answers to these questions. The (small-d) democrat in me wants very much for it to be the latter option, an open and democratic process of deciding what to do with the land.  However, I don't yet quite grasp all the details of the political setting of the project, and I do not yet have many sources on the history of public consultation about Karori and its results. For now, I have only Campbell-Hunt's book, which raises as many questions as it answers.

Two preliminary observations, though, to help direct subsequent investigation.

First, the strategy/legitimacy duality parallels the behavior/action duality (discussed previously here and here). If individuals are mainly to be understood as emitters of behavior, then the interaction of the Trust with the public is to be understood in terms of public relations, the management of people's psychological stance and their likely behavior toward the project. If, on the other hand, individuals are mainly to be understood as moral agents capable of reasoned choice, then the interaction of the Trust with the public is to be understood as public consultation or even public participation, and the way is opened for substantive deliberation among interested parties.

The evidence in the text is that both of these ways of understanding are in play.

On the one hand, Campbell-Hunt notes that "feelings ran high" (p.54) and that members of the public "need reassurance, information, to be listened to and to be taken seriously." (p.58)  The suggestion here is that they need to be appeased, and so neutralized so the project can proceed as planned.

On the other hand, there is real concern for addressing public concerns cognitively rather than merely psychologically. The paragraph (on p. 58) that ends with the public's need for "reassurance" begins this way:
In handling public consultation, honesty and integrity are two essential qualities to develop and maintain. Don't downplay others' concerns or inflate your own value. Develop a realistic and justifiable case. Use peer review. Keep to the facts. Treat the concerns of others fairly.
Hardly a ringing case for open deliberative process, but at least it invokes an idea of fairness.

More promising is an inset box on public consultation, which outlines a definition of the term from a 1992 High Court ruling. Among the requirements: "enter the meeting with an open mind" and "take due notice of what is said." (p. 56). This is pretty slippery - what's "due notice"? - but it points in the direction for what I would see as more genuine public participation.

Stronger still, Campbell-Hunt offers this bit of advice: "Never exclude the possibility that the public might raise relevant issues that you haven't though of." (p.55)

The second observation concerns the concrete details of the political situation in which the Karori Sanctuary Trust has been operating. The Karori Sanctuary is the project of a private, not-for-profit trust operating on land owned by the City of Wellington. One consequence of this fact is that the political legitimacy of the project - the legitimate authority of the trust to decide what will and will not happen on this particular bit of public property - does not spring directly from the consent of the public, but from established institutions and their rules.

To carry out this particular project, the Trust must secure the appropriate lease and various "resource consents" from various agencies at the local and national level. A resource consent from the relevant public agency is required whenever the goals of the project are at odds with any of a dozen or so laws, regulations, and master plans. Campbell-Hunt offers a list of documents to be consulted by anyone planning to develop a sanctuary, from the Resource Management Act of 1991 to the by-laws and regulations of the local city council (p.101).

Then, of course, given that this project is unfolding in New Zealand, there are the traditional land claims of tangata whenua to be considered, as institutionalized in the Treaty of Waitangi and in the Waitangi Tribunal. Consulting with local iwi on many of the details of the project, including protocols for the translocation of endemic species (p. 128) is not only prudent, not only required, but also the decent thing to do.

In any case, some of the institutions with legitimate authority over one aspect or another of the Karori project require some sort of public consultation as a condition of giving their consent. From this, perhaps, springs the strategic cast of Campbell-Hunt's discussion of the public and its concerns.

Diane Campbell-Hunt. (2002). Developing a Sanctuary: The Karori Experience. Wellington: Victoria Link. 

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