Social learning from public engagement: dreaming the impossible?

RJ Bull, Judith Petts, J Evans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

74 Citations (Scopus)


Learning that transcends participation processes is critical if public engagement is to translate into a legacy of enhanced environmental citizenship. However, a lack of empirical evidence has limited discussion to date to largely 'aspirational' claims. This paper offers the first rigorous examination of whether public participation does generate beyond-process social learning. Initially we review the literature on public participation and environmental citizenship to identify the key dimensions of social learning. We then re-visit a well-worked case study of an innovative public engagement process on the Hampshire waste strategy from the 1990s. Approximately one third of the original participants have been interviewed to identify whether and how the experience had a lasting effect on them. Key methodological difficulties are discussed, not least the analytical difficulties of attributing learning to a process that happened ten years previously. However, we argue that there is evidence that both instrumental and communicative learning have taken place, and conclude by identifying key areas that require further research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)701-716
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Environmental Planning and Management
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2008


  • public engagement
  • waste management
  • social learning
  • deliberation
  • environmental citizenship


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