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Musch, Annika-Kathrin; Streit, Anne von (2020): (Un)intended effects of participation in sustainability science: A criteria-guided comparative case study. In: Environmental Science & Policy, Vol. 104: pp. 55-66
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The impact of collaborative research approaches on science and society has been subject to much debate and speculation. However, empirically grounded analyses of the process-impact link remain the exception. That includes comparing participation planning, intended processes, expectations and implementation. This paper delivers a theoretically informed comparison between different approaches to participation that are practised. It does so by performing a criteria-guided analysis of 31 participatory sustainability studies covering different areas of study and spatial levels. This provides an understanding of how participation is translated from theory into practice, what challenges occur that contradict initial aims, and how these potentially influence expected effects. The results show stark divergences between planning and implementation: persistent normative ideals in the planning phase, echoing deliberative and emancipatory claims, contrast with an emphasis on effectiveness during implementation. This leads to a systematic over-representation of experts and an under-representation of diverse societal actors in the studies. The focus is on producing directly measurable results rather than promoting possible (long-term) societal effects. These findings facilitate a deeper discussion of which conditions and procedures could aid the design and delivery of high-impact collaboration in the future.