Accepted Paper:

Critical challenges to theorising public engagement with the design and deployment of hybrid forums: empirical evidence from Waste-to-Energy contestation in Wales  


Nick Hacking (Cardiff University)

Paper short abstract:

Energy-from-Waste governance is highly contested with particular concerns over technologies and health risk. A comparative analysis of two highly constrained hybrid forums offers new explanations for the gulf between aspirations for public engagement and the reality of outcomes on the ground.

Paper long abstract:

The democratization of knowledge production in terms of science, technology, the environment and other objects of governmental action is a major societal challenge. Efforts have focused on breaking down divisions between specialists and laypersons and institutional representatives and ordinary citizens through a variety of deliberative approaches involving different degrees of public engagement. Hybrid forums were developed as a normative framework in which proponents hope that professional expertise can be put aside and more open dialogue can take place. New ways of thinking, seeing, and acting should be developed, pooled, and made available. In this study, we critically examine these aspirations through an investigation of two highly contested hybrid forums for Energy-from-Waste incineration plants (in South Wales, UK). 'Liaison Committees' were created and run by the Environment Agency so communities could meet with the plants' operators. Our approach is distinctive because we use longitudinal mixed methods to contextualise local conflicts to better understand how those then shape the potentialities for hybrid forums. By combining 20 interviews with social network analysis (SNA) we reveal shifting asymmetric power relations between actor networks that undermine meaningful public engagement. In our analysis, these Liaison Committees have not been able to act as hybrid forums because participants are rooted in complex social settings which shape the content and conduct of meetings. We argue that at a theoretical level more attention should be given to the ways in which politics and power prevent meaningful engagement and how pursuing more responsible energy innovation involves upstream public technical deliberation.

Panel D02
Challenging formal arrangements and decision-making in the energy sector