Monday, December 18, 2006

Stakeholders and Special Interests

An interview with Michael Romanos, professor of planning and economic development at the University of Cincinnati offers this bit of wisdom: Much is being made about the importance of ’stakeholders’ these days. What is your understanding of the role of 'stakeholders' in terms of sustainable development planning: Is the term undemocratic, revealing special interests & corruption, or an acknowledgement of how things are done since "all animals are equal but some are more equal than others"?

Professor Michael Romanos: The whole idea of sustainable development is to create a synergy among environmental, economic and social goals. Environmental and social justice are at the heart of sustainable development, so the concept, far from being undemocratic, is a vehicle to achieve more participatory democracy and more democratic planning and development.

In this sense, then, stakeholders are the beneficiaries of the plans and the development programs, and since these plans and programs advocate resource conservation, resource management, controlled growth, conservation of land, nature-friendly life styles, and several other similar principles, their interests are not ”special” interests, but rather those of society as a whole.

Now, special interests may intervene in the sustainable development/planning process in order to insert their own goals and priorities, but these are external agents, and the plans would not be partial to their concerns. If the process is carried out fairly, sustainable development planning will not favour these special interests but rather the stakeholders that who constitute the communities for which the plan is produced. It is up to the special interests to join the ranks of community stakeholders or not.

In the Santorini plan, for example, most of the professional organizations participated in the planning process as stakeholders. But some special interests objected to the direction of the plans, because they
[the plans] were advocating limits to rampant growth, management of the land and other natural resources, protection of the landscape, and regulations for construction. These special interests could join the ranks of stakeholders, and be part of the planning decision process, but in this case they felt that their personal and business interests deviated from those of the rest of the community.

The interview can be found here.

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