Acceptance for transformation projects through public participation? A plea for more realism

In this article in the eNewsletter Netzwerk Bürgerbeteiligung, Tobias Escher, Katharina Holec and Laura Mark make the argument for a more realistic view of the role of citizen participation in the sustainability transformation. Based on four theses, they explain that conflict resolution – even though this is often associated with participation – does not do justice to the role of public consultations, but that consultations are nevertheless indispensable in the political shaping of transformation.


The article puts forward a total of four theses, each of which is supported by findings from the research of the CIMT project. These are as follows:

  • Thesis 1: Citizen participation can lead to mutual understanding, but generally not to a consensus on fundamental conflicts of interest.
  • Thesis 2: Citizen participation provides an insight into existing interests and concerns, but not a representative impression of public opinion
  • Thesis 3: The results of participation do not guarantee support for sustainable transformation measures.
  • Thesis 4: Citizen participation is a support, but not a substitute for political decisions.

However, this does not imply that citizen participation can be dispensed with! Instead, good participation can provide support by giving information and thus, for example, overcome resistance that is primarily based on a lack of knowledge. It also uses local knowledge to recognise problems and develop new ideas where necessary. Finally, it provides a forum in which wishes and concerns can be expressed and arguments exchanged. This can lead to less protest. It can help to identify lines of conflict more clearly and to better understand the causes of conflicts. Citizen participation can thus contribute to dealing with the conflicts inherent in the transformation, but it will not usually resolve them. Last but not least, citizen participation remains a democratic imperative, as citizens should be able to shape far-reaching decisions.


Escher, Tobias; Holec, Katharina; Mark, Laura (2024): Akzeptanz für Transformationsprojekte durch Bürgerbeteiligung? Ein Plädoyer für mehr Realismus. Hg. v. Stiftung Mitarbeit. Bonn (eNewsletter Netzwerk Bürgerbeteiligung, 02/2024). Online verfügbar hier.