The importance of public and stakeholder participation in environmental assessments (EIA and SEA) has been increasing in the EU, international, and national policy contexts. However, to date, no synthesis of the literature that analyses the performance of participation in different EU countries has been conducted. This review aims to contribute to filling this gap, by systematically gathering a pool of empirical scientific literature that focuses on studying participation in EIA and SEA across the EU and analyzing its content.
Authors conducted systematic literature searches in the Scopus database (n = 2272 references), and via a systematic screening procedure, they selected n = 34 empirical full texts for an in-depth qualitative synthesis. It was found that the included publications are mostly from West-European countries, focus on the EIA domain (mostly infrastructure projects), and use multiple comparative case study methodologies. Main participatory arenas include formal arenas intended for traditional forms of two-way interaction mechanisms (e.g., public hearings), but informal arenas are also emerging in the literature.
The main challenges outlined in the analyzed publications are associated with the low impact of the public or the stakeholders on decisions and timing of participation. The review is limited to published academic articles, thus, future reviews should include a more diverse set of evidence, and primary research is needed to focus on the performance of participation in the South- and East-European countries’ socio-political contexts. EIA/SEA practitioners are encouraged to use more widely participatory mechanisms aimed at joint problem-solving.