Public Participation and Trade-Offs in Flood Risk Mitigation: Evidence from Two Case Studies in the Alps

in Nature and Culture
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  • 1 ETH-Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich anna.scolobig@usys.ethz.ch
  • 2 University of Trieste luigi.pellizzoni@dispes.units.it
  • 3 Istituto di Sociologia Internazionale di Gorizia bianchizza@isig.it
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ABSTRACT

There is an increasing demand for improvement of the quality of decisions about flood risk mitigation by fostering public participation in decision-making. However, the extent and way in which formalized participation guarantees good outcomes is still a matter of discussion. This article analyzes different approaches to decision-making for flood risk mitigation by comparing two experiences in the Italian Alps. In Vipiteno-Sterzing, decisions were made by involving citizens in a structured participatory process. In Malborghetto-Valbruna, a formally technocratic (yet substantially inclusive) approach was adopted after the flood that affected the municipality in 2003. Our results critically review the perspective that structured participation is always something “good.” In this regard, the way relevant trade-offs between public and private goods were acknowledged and dealt with turned out to be crucial. At the same time, effective participation is closely related to citizens’ actual engagement, institutional responsiveness to residents’ needs and expectations, and the capacity to harmonize different views and types of knowledge in the development of risk mitigation options. Policy context, choice of approach and quality of outcomes appear as “nested” issues. Further research is needed in order to assess different experiences of decision-making and to set robust conditions for better outcomes in public participation.

Contributor Notes

Anna Scolobig is researcher in the Climate Policy Group, at ETH-Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich. Her main research interests are in the social dimensions of environmental change, public participation in science for policy, human systems’ response to disasters and social vulnerability, risk communication and governance. Before joining ETH she worked at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna, the University of Trieste, and the Institute of International Sociology of Gorizia. She has been involved in a number of EC funded projects, in the 6th and 7th Framework Programme, all with an interdisciplinary vocation. Among her recent publications: Scolobig, A., De Marchi, B., Borga, M. 2012. “The Missing Link between Flood Risk Awareness and Preparedness: Findings from Case Studies in an Italian Alpine Region.” Natural Hazards 63(2): 499–520. Address: ETH-Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Climate Policy Group, Department of Environmental Systems Science, Universitätstr. 16 CHN J72.2, 8092 Zürich, Switzerland. E-mail: anna.scolobig@usys.ethz.ch.

Luigi Pellizzoni is an associate professor in Sociology of the Environment at the Department of Political and Social Sciences of the University of Trieste. His research interests intersect two main areas: risk, environment, techno-science, and related policies and conflicts; participation and deliberative democracy. Among his recent publications: Neoliberalism and Technoscience: Critical Assessments (with Marja Ylönen, Ashgate, 2012). Address: University of Trieste, Department of Political and Social Sciences, Piazza Europa 1, 34127 Trieste, Italy. E-mail: luigi.pellizzoni@dispes.units.it.

Chiara Bianchizza is a researcher and project manager at ISIG—Istituto di Sociologia Internazionale di Gorizia. Since 2010 she was a researcher at ISIG, where she worked for the FP7 project CapHaz-Net. Now she is a project coordinator for ISIG of EC-funded and locally based projects on stakeholders’ involvement in participatory territorial management. She is in charge of project writing/management, as well as of research, on social capacity building for natural hazards, participation, social mechanisms of adaptation/mitigation to climate change, the role of perception in strengthening community participation and studies on social dynamics of sustainable development. Recent publications: Bianchizza Chiara and Frigerio Simone, “Domination of or Adaptation to Nature? A Lesson We Can Still Learn from the Vajont, Italian Journal of Engineering Geology and Environment—Book Series (6) www.jege.uniroma1.it. Address: ISIG—Institute of International Sociology of Gorizia, Italy, Via Mazzini, 13, 34170 Gorizia, Italy. E-mail: bianchizza@isig.it.

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