Keywords: eco-social studies, citizen participation, qualitative methods, local decision making, sustainable development, sustainability, environmental management, Aysen watershed, Chile, local communities
Analysis of the citizen's participation concept used by local decision makers: the case of the Aysen watershed in southern Chile
Citizen participation has become a commonly used term in political speeches in the last two decades, especially in relation to sustainable development and the environment. Indeed, several documents related to environmental management propose that the best alternative is through all citizens' participation. However, participation may have different meanings for different people. In this context, we analysed its meaning for local decision-makers in the southern Chilean region of Aysen and how it affects their view of local development. We interviewed key informers belonging to public services in charge of the environmental management of the Aysen watershed. Interviews were subsequently analysed through qualitative content-analysis techniques. Our results show that public services understand citizen participation as 'information'; i.e. the public is a passive receptor of information generated by the government. We propose that this understanding of participation does not allow for the integration of social actors, with negative effects on local sustainable development.