Trust gaps in energy transitions: Japan’s National Deliberative Poll after Fukushima
A global decline in public trust has created a strong need for governments worldwide to engage citizens in order to enhance policy legitimacy and ensure effective post-Fukushima energy transitions. Deliberative policy-making – an advanced form of participatory policy-making that emphasises dialogue and debate – is widely regarded as an intervention that can enhance trust and subsequently legitimacy of energy transitions policies. However, the potential and limits of deliberative policy-making remain the subject of debate. This paper contributes to this debate by exploring deliberative policy-making from a trust perspective. We develop a trust-based systems framework of deliberative policy-making in the energy transitions context to understand, examine, and conceptualise the quality of such policy-making processes. Our framework is tested and applied to a case study of a national deliberative poll (DP) on energy held in Japan in 2012. This study draws on qualitative and quantitative data derived from the DP, in particular from a two-day deliberative forum involving 285 citizens. The findings indicate that the existence of a trust gap may jeopardise the quality of deliberative processes where citizen participation is considered as an input and enhanced policy legitimacy as an output of a policy-making system. We also show that the trust gap is a complicated concept consisting of three dimensions (trust in information, motives, and competence) and three types of directional dynamics (vertical, horizontal, and temporal). Our study identifies the context of public distrust as well as the broader political environment as two critical contextual conditions that may inhibit the closure of the trust gap. Our study contains rich insights on deliberative policy-making in the energy context, arguing that it carries no guarantee of enhanced policy legitimacy. Policy-makers in the energy transitions field need to focus attention on creating the conditions to build public trust in order to enhance policy legitimacy and thus realise the potential benefits of deliberative practices of policy-making.