With the promulgation of the EC Water Framework Directive (WFD), stakeholders’ involvement in water management planning and public consultation has become mandatory for member states. This paper investigates the case of France, where water management has been based on a distinctive form of “participatory democracy” for over 40 years. It first analyses how public participation and expert opinion fit into the water-management planning procedure and compares this to what occurs elsewhere in Europe and the United States. It then proposes an operational method for initiating the participatory process with an analysis of the stakeholders' viewpoint at the watershed level. The method, which relies on interviews, is applied to two watersheds located in southern France. The results of the two case studies illustrate how the stakeholders' viewpoint analysis can give access to practical knowledge and experience and to a wider range of perspectives and options. The case studies highlight the idea that the mobilisation of non-scientific (or lay) knowledge, values and preferences can improve the quality of the identification of the issues at stake, the formulation of a generally complex and unstructured problem and the identification of a large panel of alternative solutions. The paper then proposes some recommendations for implementing the provisions of the WFD.

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