Mapping emergent public engagement in societal transitions: a scoping review

Alexandra Revez*, Niall Dunphy, Clodagh Harris, Fionn Rogan, Edmond Byrne, Connor McGookin, Paul Bolger, Brian Ó Gallachóir, John Barry, Geraint Ellis, Barry O’Dwyer, Evan Boyle, Stephen Flood, James Glynn, Gerard Mullally

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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Transition discourses are gaining prominence in efforts to imagine a future that adequately addresses the urgent need to establish low carbon and climate resilient pathways. Within these discourses the ‘public’ is seen as central to the creation and implementation of appropriate interventions. The role of public engagement in societal transformation while essential, is also complex and often poorly understood. The purpose of this paper is to enhance our understanding regarding public engagement and to address the often superficial and shallow policy discourse on this topic.

Main text
The paper offers a review of evolving literature to map emergent public engagement in processes of transition and change. We adopt a pragmatic approach towards literature retrieval and analysis which enables a cross-disciplinary and cross-sectoral review. We use a scoping review process and the three spheres of transformation framework (designated as the practical, political and personal spheres) to explore trends within this complex research field. The review draws from literature from the last two decades in the Irish context and looks at emergence and evolving spaces of public engagement within various systems of change including energy, food, coastal management and flood adaptation, among others.

The results highlight the siloed and fragmented way in which public engagement in transitions is carried and we propose a more cross-sectoral and cross-disciplinary approach which depends on bringing into dialogue often contrasting theories and perspectives. The paper also illustrates some shifting engagement approaches. For instance, nexus articles between the practical and political spheres suggest deeper forms of public engagement beyond aggregated consumer behaviour to align technological delivery with institutional and societal contexts. While most articles in the practical sphere draw largely on techno-economic insights this influence and cross-disciplinarity is likely to draw in further innovations. Nexus articles between the political and personal sphere are also drawing on shifting ideas of public engagement and largely stress the need to disrupt reductive notions of engagement and agency within our institutions. Many of these articles call attention to problems with top-down public engagement structures and in various ways show how they often undermine and marginalise different groups.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2
JournalEnergy, Sustainability and Society
Publication statusPublished - 05 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This research was conducted as part of the Imagining2050 Project funded under the EPA Research Programme 2014–2020 and co-funded by SEAI. The EPA Research Programme is a Government of Ireland initiative funded by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).


  • Emergence
  • Ireland
  • Participation
  • Public engagement
  • Societal transitions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Development
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology


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