Beyond traditional stakeholder engagement: Public participation roles in California's statewide marine protected area planning process
Public participation was one of the hallmarks of the California Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative, a planning process to support the redesign of California's system of marine protected areas (MPAs). The MLPA Initiative implemented innovative and unconventional public outreach and engagement strategies to assist local communities share relevant knowledge and data, and provide timely and targeted contributions to MPA planning discussions. This collaborative model helped broaden traditional forms of participation to ensure public input received and integrated into MPA planning legitimately reflected the interests and priorities of California's coastal communities. A number of considerations were critical to the success of this collaborative approach, including: understanding the needs and limitations of public audiences; working directly with communities to identify appropriate outreach and engagement strategies; prioritizing strategies that supported a multi-directional exchange of information; adapting strategies based on public feedback and internal lessons learned; and hiring professional public engagement specialists. Strategies evolved over time and increased the level and quality of public participation over this multi-stage planning process. Experiences gained from the MLPA Initiative can be used to encourage consideration of collaborative participation in other environmental planning and decision-making processes.
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