Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Carl G. Herndl


citizen participation, communities of practice, discourse analysis, participation mechanisms, public policy, risk assessment


When citizens participate in risk assessment and decision-making for environmental and other issues that affect members of the public, more robust decisions may be made. Public participation in policy decisions is not only more democratic, but it also enables members of the public to contribute valuable expertise to the decision-making process. However, the development of an effective forum for such participatory projects has been difficult. Participation mechanisms that foster dialogue and interactive exchange between participants have been regarded as the most beneficial, but the practical application of these mechanisms has been observed to be problematic. The goal of this study is to examine the role of talk as a contributing factor to the limited success of dialogue-based participation mechanisms. To do this, this study performs a qualitative analysis of the dialogue that takes place when a group of scientists and a group of farmers participate in a project concerning sustainable biofuels in Iowa. This analysis finds that the scientists and farmers, as members of distinct communities of practice, have different ways of talking about their work, even as they talk about the same subjects. This observation illustrates that the discourse that takes place within participatory mechanisms, and not only the mechanism forum itself, is an important contribution to the success or failure of a citizen participation project.