Social learning in public participation in river basin management - Early findings from HarmoniCOP European case studies

J. Tippett, B. Searle, C. Pahl-Wostl, Y. Rees

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Whilst the value of increased stakeholder involvement in river basin management planning (RBPM) has been recognised in recent years, there is a lack of in-depth research into the processes and factors that support fruitful involvement. The concept of social learning provides useful insights into such involvement. A framework for social learning applicable to RBPM has been developed within the HarmoniCOP project, and tested in ten case studies across Europe. An exploration of emergent themes: exploring different frames, managing boundaries, making innovative use of information and communication tools and promoting two-way integration of planning across different levels of scale, is followed by a summary of preliminary findings. Key factors that support social learning include: provision of sufficient time, involving stakeholders early and careful attention to process management. Techniques can be used to help participants recognise and respect different viewpoints. Making implicit assumptions visible to different stakeholders can enable the use of this understanding to craft solutions acceptable to the involved parties. Methods that develop participants' critical capacity enable adaptation to changing circumstances. Participatory processes were highly influenced by prior experience with participation and cultural and institutional contexts. These factors should be taken into account in the implementation of participatory planning and policy processes. Following finalisation of case studies and further analysis, the practical outcomes of HarmoniCOP (Harmonizing Collaborative Planning) will be developed into a handbook, which will feed into design of guidelines for implementation of the Water Framework Directive. © 2005 Published by Elsevier Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)287-299
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2005


  • Integrated water resource management
  • Participatory planning
  • Social learning
  • Stakeholder involvement
  • Water framework directive


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