In this paper, we critically explore the contention of green political theorists that public engagement initiatives can act as a tool to foster “environmental citizenship”, a normative concept framing the rights and obligations of citizens in a framework of large-scale social change aimed at environmental sustainability.

There are few empirical accounts of what environmental citizenship looks like in practice. We respond to this gap through a case study of the Canadian arm of a global public consultation called World Wide Views on Global Warming (WWViews), which involved approximately 4000 citizens from 38 countries worldwide.

The public participation literature documents many factors that influence the trajectory of participatory events, from the way the issue is framed for discussion to the kinds of information given to participants to the timing of the engagement in relation to policymaking cycles. These same factors also enable and constrain expressions of environmental citizenship within participatory events.

Through a review of WWViews project documents, our study first examines the design choices made by the Canadian organizers and how they enabled and constrained particular roles for “environmental citizens”. We focus our study, however, on how the participants ultimately inhabited (or rejected) the roles ascribed to them, an aspect of participatory initiatives receiving much less attention in the literature, but having strong implications for enacting citizenship. Through pre/post questionnaires and semi-structured interviews with participants six months following the event, we explore how our participants understood, and acted on, their ideas of citizenship in the context of WWViews. Did they situate themselves as environmental citizens? Did they see WWViews as contributing to shifts in their attitudes/behaviours in line with environmental citizenship practices? How did they perceive the ideal role for citizens in the governance of climate change?

The analysis suggests caution in making universal claims about public engagement contributing to large-scale social change and the expression of environmental citizenship. Though many participants were supportive of environmental citizenship in principle, they pointed to elements of the Canadian context in tension with these principles and that acted as barriers for them in putting them into practice.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Enacting citizenship through public engagement
The case of wwviews canada

Jennifer Medlock   University of Calgary

Gwendolyn Blue   University of Calgary

In this paper, we critically explore the contention of green political theorists that public engagement initiatives can act as a tool to foster “environmental citizenship”, a normative concept framing the rights and obligations of citizens in a framework of large-scale social change aimed at environmental sustainability.

There are few empirical accounts of what environmental citizenship looks like in practice. We respond to this gap through a case study of the Canadian arm of a global public consultation called World Wide Views on Global Warming (WWViews), which involved approximately 4000 citizens from 38 countries worldwide.

The public participation literature documents many factors that influence the trajectory of participatory events, from the way the issue is framed for discussion to the kinds of information given to participants to the timing of the engagement in relation to policymaking cycles. These same factors also enable and constrain expressions of environmental citizenship within participatory events.

Through a review of WWViews project documents, our study first examines the design choices made by the Canadian organizers and how they enabled and constrained particular roles for “environmental citizens”. We focus our study, however, on how the participants ultimately inhabited (or rejected) the roles ascribed to them, an aspect of participatory initiatives receiving much less attention in the literature, but having strong implications for enacting citizenship. Through pre/post questionnaires and semi-structured interviews with participants six months following the event, we explore how our participants understood, and acted on, their ideas of citizenship in the context of WWViews. Did they situate themselves as environmental citizens? Did they see WWViews as contributing to shifts in their attitudes/behaviours in line with environmental citizenship practices? How did they perceive the ideal role for citizens in the governance of climate change?

The analysis suggests caution in making universal claims about public engagement contributing to large-scale social change and the expression of environmental citizenship. Though many participants were supportive of environmental citizenship in principle, they pointed to elements of the Canadian context in tension with these principles and that acted as barriers for them in putting them into practice.

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