Evaluating an analytic-deliberative method for ranking environmental risks

Discussion Paper
1 January 2010

In previous research, a systematic analytic-deliberative process for public participation in risk ranking was introduced and successfully tested with participants from the United States using heath, safety, and environmental risks.

To explore the viability of the process in another cultural setting, we tested it with Chinese participants, because previous research has shown that Americans and Chinese differ substantially along many dimensions of cognition and social organization relevant to decision making. Using 10 environmental hazards based on current environmental regulatory programs in a Chinese city as the risk domain, 5 groups of 8–9 participants ranked the hazards using both holistic and multiattribute approaches. Results shows that (1) risk rankings from the holistic and multiattribute approaches are consistent, (2) participants indicate that they are satisfied with the procedures and resulting rankings, and (3) agreement increase over the course of the ranking exercise. Results for Chinese participants were compared with previous results for Americans to look for cultural effects involving deference to technical expertise and quantitative analysis, and skepticism toward public participation in policy making. Although there are some hints of cultural differences, no cultural effect had a substantial effect on measures of the method’s validity or replicability. Because this analytic-deliberative process offers a scientifically sound and measured approach to legitimate public involvement, it may be attractive to Chinese leaders as they respond to growing demand for public participation in risk-management policy.

Publication | 15 January 2010