Rethinking expert engagement in participatory processes

IIASA scientists have developed and tested a new way for disaster-risk experts to engage in participatory and deliberative processes, differing significantly from their traditional role of simply providing policymakers with technical solutions. In the new method landslide experts interactively developed risk protection options that corresponded to the different perspectives of the stakeholders. As a result, experts and stakeholders were able to co-produce useable knowledge.

The unique participatory process, developed by the IIASA Risk and Resilience Program, was designed to reduce landslide risk in the highly exposed Italian town of Nocera Inferiore. The process, along with the complementary scientific risk analyses and decision tools, was presented in a 2016 special issue of the journal Natural Hazards entitled Rethinking participatory processes: the case of landslide risk in Nocera Inferiore [1].

The three-year participatory process, described in [2], was carried out in a town where public opposition to an expert-proposed landslide risk mitigation project had resulted in a stalemate. Under the new approach, citizens and experts co-produced landslide risk mitigation options. The main difference in this case, compared with other analytic-deliberative processes, was its explicit elicitation of multiple stakeholder perspectives on the nature of the problem and its solution.

The process began, as described in [3], with experts identifying three distinctly different discourses, reflecting the varying views of the community: “safety first” with emphasis on a mix of active and passive structural measures; “careful stewardship of the mountain” requiring (mainly) natural measures like a belt of trees to actively stop the landslide, and “rational choice” with emphasis on the opportunity costs of all measures and the need for informed individual choice, for instance, in the construction of homes.

The expert support, which also included quantitative risk analysis and cost-benefit analysis, took these different stakeholder perspectives into account in the design of policy options. A final unique feature of the process was the aim of compromise rather than consensus. Instead of working towards a full agreement on the problem and its “best” solution, the participants forged a compromise, recognizing that there are multiple ways to view a problem and the “best” solutions.

Experts produced three technical options that reflected these distinct views and at the same time complied with Italian law requiring a high degree of safety in public landslide investments. The measures ranged from structural storage basins that passively block the path of the landslide, rills and forestation that actively prevent landslides, and warning systems that reduce the consequences. The options were discussed and refined by participants and experts in the deliberative process until they adequately reflected the “contested terrain”. This served as the basis for negotiating a compromise. The provision of multiple co-produced policy options enhanced stakeholder deliberation by respecting legitimate differences in values and worldviews.


[1] Linnerooth-Bayer J, & Patt A (2016) Rethinking participatory processes: the case of landslide risk in Nocera Inferiore, special issue of Natural Hazards, 81 (S1): 69-88.

[2] Scolobig A, Thompson M, & Linnerooth-Bayer J (2016). Compromise not consensus: designing a participatory process for landslide risk mitigation. Natural Hazards 81 (S1): 45-61.

[3] Linnerooth-Bayer J, Scolobig A, Ferlisi S, Cascini L, & Thompson M (2016). Expert engagement in participatory processes: translating stakeholder discourses into policy options. Natural Hazards 81 (S1): 69-88.