Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Tapping the pulse of society on tough topics

Decision making regarding contentious issues such as nuclear energy can fall victim to narrow framing of the topic by key players at the outset. Scientists used a novel participatory framework to encourage public dialogue and greater understanding.
Tapping the pulse of society on tough topics
When making important decisions affecting the public, technical experts can fail to take into account broader societal perspectives and opinions. Sometimes sociologists take a softer view on interpretation rather than including hard facts. Either of these situations can lead to obstacles in decision making and/or adaptation of decisions.

The 'Implementing public participation approaches in radioactive waste disposal' (IPPA) project was initiated to field test the creation of 'safe spaces' for stakeholder dialogue. Discussions were geared toward increasing participants' understanding of relevant issues and providing a forum to exchange ideas and opinions.

A model developed by the earlier RISCOM initiative was used to guide participants through arguments within a trustworthy decision-making process. The RISCOM model and other approaches to public involvement were implemented in five radioactive waste management programmes. The focus was on central and eastern European countries (Czech Republic, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia).

IPPA's user-friendly website hosts its Participation Tool Box that organisations or groups can use in stakeholder engagement activities. The Tool Box has participation tools, methods and processes described according to a variety of descriptive criteria related to the target group, including what the objectives of the activity are. Users can compare up to five tools, methods and processes to aid in selection.

Since the ideas may be new to many outside the realm of the social sciences, the Tool Box comes with guiding principles to help stakeholders identify what they are hoping to achieve through the participation process. A Help page provides more detailed information on how the Tool Box works.

Project findings showed that the radioactive waste management sector requires a systematic and comprehensive approach to understanding societal decision-making processes. Some stakeholders hesitated to take part in activities despite the creation of safe places. This requires serious consideration in order for any public participation process to be successful and sustainable.

IPPA responded to the social and political challenges facing the successful implementation of a radioactive waste repository programme by using new approaches to public participation and transparency. The project's results point the way to enhancing the decision-making process by taking into account the broader societal perspective.

Related information


Nuclear Fission


Decision making, nuclear energy, public participation, radioactive waste, waste disposal
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