European Approaches to Decision Making in Local and Regional Transport Schemes

European Approaches to Decision Making in Local and Regional Transport Schemes


P Jones, University of Westminster, UK



The extent to which transport authorities are able to successfully implement sustainable transport policies varies considerably from one urban area to another. While much research has been carried out to assess differences in policy outputs and outcomes, relatively little effort has gone into examining the processes of policy formulation, scheme development and implementation, and the factors that contribute to success or failure. Two general aspects are of interest here, with particular regard to barriers that can delay or prevent progress:

1. The project planning and management process (from project formulation, through planning, design and implementation)

2. The process and role of stakeholder engagement

These issues are being addressed in a European Commission funded study called GUIDEMAPS (Gaining Understanding of Improved Decision Making And Participation Strategies), as part of the CIVITAS Programme. The principle aim of GUIDEMAPS is to identify procedures and tools to improve policy decision-making and achieve sustainable mobility throughout the European Union, by overcoming barriers and delivering better policy outcomes. The project is incorporating a wide range of ?projects?, from the level of strategic policy documents to local neighbourhood schemes, and covering major transport investment schemes and demand management projects. It is also looking at stakeholder engagement in a broad context, including all forms of communication and awareness raising.

The study has six objectives:
* To briefly review the wealth of material on recent advances in the knowledge about decision-making processes in urban transport, in order to deliver effective and efficient policy outcomes;
* To provide a comprehensive survey and evaluation of participatory practices used by local authorities in several public policy areas across Europe, such as citizens? juries, scenario planning and community planning, in order to identify best practices;
* To prepare draft guidelines for identifying and overcoming barriers in decision-making processes, based on a detailed analysis of selected Practice Examples;
* To field test the draft guidelines with local authorities in a series of Case Studies and seek comments on the guidelines from other experts and potential end-users;
* To organise workshops to promote the exchange best practice within and between EU countries; and
* To develop a best-practice handbook to decision-making.

This paper draws on work undertaken in the first part of the three-year research study, covering the review of decision making process and stakeholder participation, and interviews with around 200 ?information providers? in eight European countries (seven EU members and one Accession Country). The latter were designed to identify the current situation concerning the design and implementation of local and regional transport schemes in Europe, as well as gaining an understanding of common and best practice in decision-making and stakeholder involvement. In all, information was obtained on 206 transport ?projects? (ranging from strategic plans and major infrastructure projects, to local neighbourhood schemes), at various stages of implementation, most of which were regarded as successful examples.

The survey covered six broad themes: criteria for success and failure, framework and strategies in transport planning, the decision making process, the participation process, barriers and factors of success, and user needs for a handbook and training materials.

Key Findings

Decision-making process

Typically, stages of the decision-making process can be portrayed as linear or cyclical, with the latter providing scope for stages to feedback into previous stages. The GUIDEMAPS Inception Report proposed a six-stage process (i.e. problem identification, option generation, impact assessment, decision-making, policy implementation, and monitoring and evaluation). While the review shows this to be somewhat simplistic, on balance it suggests that this is a useful starting point for exploring transport project development and implementation.

There are also forms of model that take into account the ?role? of organisations and people in the process. The models tend to set up an ideal type of process (a normative model) from which analysis and assessment can progress. However, studies that have compared evidence of what actually happens with the models have found a wide discrepancy. Normative modes tend to be too simple and do not accurately reflect the nature of the decision-making process.

Another set of theoretical ideas, called incrementalism, has been developed to better reflect the complicated process of decision-making. There are several incrementalist theories that vary in terms of complexity and focus on different parts of the process. Essentially they try and account for the fact that people involved have different views (there is no right or wrong answer), and that there are gaps in knowledge, time pressures and disjointed decision-making processes. Other sets of theories, which take into account the complex nature of the problem, focus on institutions, politics and large organisations. An important contribution of these models is to introduce the element of uncertainty (e.g. the Contingency model).

More recently, decision-making (and participatory) processes have been affected by changing systems of governance. This is highly relevant, because of the cross-European context and the need to provided guidance appropriate to different political and organisational systems.

The survey found that there is a wide variation in the practice of decision-making between and within European countries. Findings suggest that the type of project makes a big difference to the form and content of the decision-making process. However, in general it appears that national factors are more important in explaining differences in the decision-making processes than the nature of the project being undertaken.

The participation process

The nature and extent of stakeholder involvement has a major influence on the types of issues that are addressed by a project, and on the degree of support for the proposed solution. It also raises issues about the form and extent of consultation and public participation. The literature review outlines many advantages of comprehensive consultation/participation (e.g. it is ethical and motivates public support for plans), but it also recognises problems (e.g. can be unrepresentative, raises expectations that cannot be met, usurps traditional political systems).

Two approaches to the role of consultation are identified. In ?democratic elitism? consultation and participation is not promoted. Decisions are made by elected representatives and advice is provided by professionals rather than members of the public. In ?participatory democracy? the views of members of the public are taken much more fully into account.

On the whole, the survey suggests that in the field of planning there is a trend towards ?participatory democracy? in Europe. It is evident that the process of participation is dynamic and that elements change according to the stage of the process.

There are many techniques and strategies that can be used which are crudely classed as information giving, information gathering, consultation and deliberation. Within each of these classes there are a range of separate recommendations on best practice and, in some cases, on-going studies. The experience gained from the survey indicates that there are a wide variety of participatory practices being undertaken within Europe.

All of the countries investigated have some legal regulations for participation in urban and regional transport projects, but they are sometimes very limited. There is a broad spectrum, and the variations between countries reflect different 'degrees of development' of participation, more or less related to the economic situation, the extent of the democratic process and on the emancipation of individuals from the power of government. Other influencing factors related to the local history and culture can be observed too.

Barriers and factors of success

It is evident from the survey that the identification of barriers encountered in a decision-making process and the possibilities of overcoming them is of particular interest to practitioners. GUIDEMAPS considers in detail five different types of barriers; from a more general point of view, they can be summarised into two broad categories:

1. Legal, financial, management and institutional barriers; these refer to problems in the decision-making process or between the official partners of the process. 2. Communication barriers, which are related to the participation process, even if communication problems may sometimes also arise between official partners.

Barriers of one type or another can occur at any stage in the process, from problem identification to implementation. This aspect is currently being investigated in greater detail in a series of in-depth case studies, which are providing further insights into the findings obtained from the larger survey.


Association for European Transport