An article in Public Administration Review (PAR) by Associate Professor Renee Irvin has been selected as among PAR’s 75 most influential stories since the journal’s inception in 1940. With more than 3,500 articles having appeared in PAR, being selected as one of the 75 most influential is a stellar accomplishment. Irvin is a professor in the Department of Planning, Public Policy and Management.
Irvin’s article, “Citizen Participation in Decision Making: Is It Worth the Effort?” appeared in Public Administration Review in 2004.
Above: Associate Professor
“This is a remarkable achievement. Public Administration Review is one of the oldest and most prestigious public administration journals, and the people who have received this recognition are the most respected scholars in the field,” said Richard Margerum, PPPM professor and department head. “Renee has a strong reputation for being an insightful scholar who takes a hard look at existing assumptions and asks important and challenging questions. The fact that this is one of the best 75 articles over the past 75 years of a top journal demonstrates that she is a leading scholar.”
Irvin and co-author John Stansbury decided to write the article after completing an EPA-funded research project involving citizen participation. “We were so frustrated by the difficulty of the participation process and its lack of outcomes that we marveled about how our experiences didn’t seem to match with the glowing recommendations from the academic literature,” Irvin said.
So Irvin began to investigate citizen participation literature. She found that “while it extolled the process of citizen participation, the academic proponents were ignoring the costs of these processes and sometimes adverse outcomes. So in our paper we focused on weighing the potential costs and benefits and creating a decision process first—essentially, is it worth our while to incorporate public participation into this particular government decision?”
Irvin’s and Stansbury’s essay surprised many. “The paper was controversial from the start because it called into question a justifiably cherished belief that government decision-making should always involve citizen participation, whether in the form of forums, advisory councils, online review and commentary, and so forth,” Irvin said.
In the article’s conclusion, Irvin and Stansbury noted that “Delegating environmental decision-making authority to citizens is a policy strategy lauded for its holistic conservation of local economic interests, yet criticized by the environmental left for its potential to roll back decades of environmental regulatory success. Even if the citizen-participation process does not lead to relaxed environmental regulation, it may entail a significant expenditure of resources that could be used elsewhere to achieve better on-the-ground results. With widespread public benefit as the goal of any public policy process, it behooves the administrator to consider the advantages and disadvantages of the decision-making process when determining the most effective implementation strategy, bearing in mind that talk is not cheap—and may not even be effective.”
Irvin said that she and Stansbury have been “surprised by the number of citations the article has gathered over the past decade, and are likewise shocked to be included on a list with such leading scholars in public administration. It’s an unexpected and amazing honor.”
The PAR editorial board selected the articles after an eight-month process of data collection, reflection, and deliberations. The Editorial Board reviewed a variety of data sources (e.g., citations, reprints, awards) related to articles PAR had published as well as drawing upon their professional experience and judgment in arriving at the selections.
The 75 articles were announced officially at the 75th anniversary conference of the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA), which convened in March in Washington, D.C.
A reception will be held to honor the 75 most influential articles and their authors at the 2015 ASPA National Conference in Chicago, Illinois, during PAR’s 75th anniversary year. The conference dates are March 6-10, 2015.