PVE as a participatory tool

Participatory Value Evaluation (PVE) is, on the one hand, a method that tries to identify the social costs and benefits of government policy in the best possible way. On the other hand, PVE is a concrete method for facilitating public participation. Civic participation is an important theme in government policy, such as the Climate Agreement and the Environment Act.

Operationalisation of participation

A problem, however, is that documents such as the Climate Agreement provide hardly any concrete instructions as to how participation should be implemented. See, for example, the following passage from the Climate Agreement:

"Participation is made to measure. That is why the Environment Act does not prescribe how participation should take place. The Act gives the competent authority and the initiator the freedom to make their own choices for the organisation of the participation process. However, it is important that everyone who wishes to do so is given the opportunity to participate. After all, the location, the type of decision, the environment and the parties involved are different every time. The moment at which participation starts also varies from time to time."

PVE is a method that has been designed on the basis of a number of strict principles:

1) The PVE is an operationalisation of a strong theory: Welfare theory. This solid theoretical basis provides a clear interpretation of the results of a PVE (see also the page: 'PVE as an evaluation tool'). The theoretical basis also provides concrete guidelines for the design of a PVE experiment. For example, it is important to make all financial flows transparent in the experiment. It is not possible to allow citizens to choose between two government projects that require a different government investment without showing what happens to the money if the cheapest project is chosen;

2) all citizens have an equal voice (one-person-one-vote). The voice of rich citizens or informed citizens does not count for more than the voice of poor or poorly informed citizens;

3) The method is (until now) non-paternalistic. Citizens are not instructed to make a choice from a certain perspective (such as the general interest or their own interest);

4) The instrument is based on a pluralistic democracy model.  There is no goal to reach a consensus.  Citizens are not explicitly encouraged to debate with other citizens before they arrive at an opinion.

Low participation threshold

Guides and agreements do not give concrete, substantive instructions about the way in which participation processes are designed, but in practice a choice has to be made. Offline forms of participation, such as sounding board groups and residents' evenings, are often chosen. However, these are forms of participation that are strongly geared to a particular group of citizens. Namely, people with a lot of time, citizens with major interests, people who like to participate or like to speak in public and citizens who know their way around the government. Various studies show that older highly educated white men are overrepresented in these kinds of offline participation methods. A problem with these methods is that the participation threshold is very high. People with little time cannot participate and for the silent majority (people with relatively small interests) a residents' evening is too much time investment. Also for people who do not like to speak in public or do not feel at home with the group of people who do participate, these participation processes are less accessible. There is therefore a risk that these people will not feel heard. Another risk is that it is difficult for politicians to assess to what extent the opinion of the small group of participating citizens represents the preferences of the entire population.

Mass participation

A strong point of PVE is that the threshold for participation is very low. Citizens can participate in public decision-making by completing the PVE on their computers. Participation in a PVE takes an average of 20 to 30 minutes. They can participate wherever and whenever they want. The PVE also offers citizens who do not like to give their preference in the presence of other citizens the opportunity to participate anonymously. The low barrier to participation in PVEs makes participation accessible to a larger group of citizens. The PVE for the Amsterdam Transport Region was completed by 2,500 citizens and the PVE for the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management was completed by 2,900 Dutch citizens. The participation of a large group of citizens can also ensure that the outcome of a participatory process reflects the preferences of a broad group of citizens, thus broadening the scope of this outcome.

PVE does justice to dimensions of justice

We expect that the implementation of PVEs will also increase public support for government policy. PVE does justice to the three dimensions of justice that play an important role in the acceptance of government policy: procedural justice, distributive justice and justice as recognition. Procedural justice is satisfied when citizens consider the quality and fairness of the decision-making process to be high. A characteristic of a good decision-making process according to citizens is that they are given a serious voice in the decision-making process. PVE is a means of giving citizens a serious voice. The importance of procedural justice has also been highlighted in economic literature. A research result of studies by various economists is that people derive benefit both from the results of a process and from the process itself. The latter is called process utility. Individuals, for example, prefer to receive a relatively low salary if they are satisfied with the way in which this salary has been established, compared to a situation in which a relatively high salary has been established through a frustrating process. A PVE can also increase transparency in the use of public funds. This can lead to an improvement in confidence in the government. Distributional justice' is deemed to have been met if the costs and benefits of a specific government project or government policy are distributed fairly in the eyes of the public. In a PVE, citizens are given the opportunity to express their preferences about the distribution of the benefits and burdens of government projects. Justice as Recognition' is met if specific considerations and local preferences of citizens are recognised in the evaluation and/or decision-making on a government project. PVE mobilises local knowledge and respects local preferences of citizens. In addition to the information they receive in the experiment, citizens can also take other considerations and effects into account in their choice.

Good way to participate

Citizens who participated in previous PVEs found it a nice way to participate in public decision-making, because they are seriously involved in the decision-making process. They are not only able to respond to a plan by experts or the government, but are also able to make a choice from the same position as policymakers. PVE is also a cost-efficient form of participation. Relatively few resources are needed to carry out a PVE and both citizens and policymakers spend little energy/time. This prevents participation fatigue among citizens and policymakers.


Many participants indicate that they see PVE as a useful awareness-raising method. PVE can therefore also be used as a means of communication with citizens and thus as an awareness-raising method. By participating in a PVE, citizens become aware of the tasks facing the government, the choices that have to be made and the advantages and disadvantages of the various options. Citizens may also become more aware of the fact that the government has to make choices in a situation of scarcity (if one project goes ahead, this means that the other project cannot go ahead). Suppose that a group of citizens were asked whether it would be better to place Windmills near the coast or far from the coast. It is very likely that in this case many citizens will say that it is better to place the Windmills far away from the coast in order to minimize the impact on the view. Even though they see that this is a much more expensive option. In a PVE on this issue, participants see that the 'far from the coast' variant entails much higher costs and that all kinds of other government policies cannot go ahead if the 'far from the coast' variant is chosen. In such a PVE, citizens should indicate which government policy should no longer be pursued in order to be able to place the wind turbines far from the coast. Perhaps as a result of this, citizens will still opt for the variant close to the coast. A PVE presents citizens, as it were, with the issue/dilemma that politicians also advocate. This can increase citizens' understanding of the choices politicians (have to) make. A good example of a PVE avant la lettre is Frits Bolkestein's speech to demonstrating artists. With his speech, Bolkestein wanted to give the artists the insight that savings would have to be made elsewhere if more money were to be spent on art and culture. He explicitly asked the artists whether more money should be spent on art if this meant cutting back on development cooperation. PVE also makes participation more constructive. If citizens do not like a particular policy option, they should indicate which policy option they do like. If citizens want a particular project to be carried out, they should also indicate which project should be sacrificed.