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Barriers to Dutch Infrastructural Project Planning

Interactive planning of Dutch infrastructural project

A case-description of Mainport Schiphol and the A12 national expressway

Interactive Planning of Sustainability

1. Introduction

Since the beginning of the ‘90s, the implementation of new infrastructural projects in The Netherlands became increasingly problematic. Related environmental issues had a lot of societal attention. The Dutch Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management, responsible for maintaining a high quality of mobility in the Netherlands, identified three major problems with earlier attempts to solve the infrastructural problems; little social acceptance for new projects, procedures for realizing new projects took too long, and the proposed solutions were not really original and often ‘more of the same’. For solving these problems, this Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management proposed a change from top-down decision making to a more open and interactive form of policy making for planning, developing, and implementing new infrastructure (Enthoven and de Rooij, 1996). With interactive policy making, the main goal is to make more creative and effective plans, by involving all stakeholders like citizens, (local and/or national) governments and experts.

For this paper, 2 cases are selected, related to a Dutch infrastructure issue and dealt with on an interactive way; Mainport Schiphol near Amsterdam and the A12 national expressway near The Hague. The first one is selected because of its elaborated description in Susskind et al. (1999), its high degree of complexness and the fact the outcomes were fairly positive, the second one is selected also because of its suitable description in Glasbergen en Driessen (2005), but with a more straight-forward problem definition and its positive outcomes. Discussing these two Dutch cases, we will focus on four critical issues, related to interactive planning and often discussed in literature: Participant selection, Power and Access, Roles of facilitators, and Use of knowledge. Although more critical issues can be defined, like Roles op participants, Modes of evaluation and Use of outcomes by policy makers, only these four are chosen because of the fact that these are clearly discussed in the selected case-descriptions and these seemed to be crucial for the success of these cases.

Chapter 2 will discuss each critical issue shortly. Chapter 3 will discuss the two cases in the light of the four different critical issues, and chapter 4 will give a conclusion.

To structure this research the following research question is formulated:

How do the four critical issues (Participant selection, Power and Access, Roles of facilitators, and Use of knowledge) contribute to the rate of success of 2 infrastructural cases in The Netherlands (the Schiphol case and the A12 national expressway)?

2. Critical Issues

This chapter will elaborate a bit more about what is actually meant with the four different critical issues: Participant selection, Power and Access, Roles of facilitators, and Use of knowledge.

2.1 Participant selection

The question of which parties to involve is answered by a set of four considerations that should be taken into account when selecting the participants (De Bruijn et al., 2002). Firstly, parties with blocking power in the decision-making are important. Involving these parties in the process may keep them from using their blocking power in ways that are unforeseen. Secondly, parties with productive power should be part of the process. These parties will actually have to implement the decisions that are taken, and can influence the decision making with their control over the productive resources. Thirdly, parties that have an interest in the decision-making should be considered. These are parties that do not have substantial power in the decision making process (like blocking power or resources), but nevertheless are confronted with the outcomes of the group process and therefore can provide important information and moral considerations. Finally, this moral aspect of decision-making can by a reason to invite certain parties to join the process. Moral and ethical considerations can be important to embody the voice of those who are affected by the potential decision, but are not invited to the process for different reasons (De Bruin, 2002).

2.2 Power and access

One of the key goals of interactive policy making is that it should reduce the influence of dominant elites and enable the less powerful groups to give input. Those parties or actors, who do not have access to formal decision-making processes or who cannot exert enough influence by the way of discussion and negotiation are more likely to initiate legal proceedings. Public’s ability to participate in decisions can be assessed according to three elements (as defined at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992): access to information, access to the decision-making process, and access to redress or change decision. These three elements will shortly be explained below.

‘Access to information’ can be seen as the first foundation of access and also one of the most passive forms of access seen from the perspective of the public. With access to information is meant the ability the public has to easily get access to forms of relevant information in which they are directly or indirectly involved, such as environmental impact assessments, reports from industries about their emissions etc. But one also can think about getting informed about potential relevant activities, which possibly can affect the public’s environment.

‘Access to the decision-making processes’ wants to give the public a more active role. Once this form of access is attained, one can even speak of a certain form of power. One must not focus on only the opportunity to provide input on specific subjects, but also the ability to influence more general decisions, such as the making of new laws or national policies.

‘Access to redress or change a certain decision’ is also related to a form of power, since the ability to change a certain decision gives a citizen the power to influence the decision-making process. This form of access can be translated into making judicial or administrative remedies accessible to the public, when officials fail to do their work in a proper manner (Mock et al., 2003).

2.3 Roles of facilitators

The roles that a facilitator can play in group decision processes constitute of consistent packages of specific tasks within the group process combined with a more general ‘attitude’ towards the group members and the process. In literature, three major roles of a facilitator are commonly distinguished: a role as process architect or process manager, a mediating role and a convening role.

As a process architect, the facilitator lays down the backbone of the group process. The process should be structured in such a way that all relevant insights from the participants will play a role in the process. Four core principles for designing a group process can be discriminated: openness, protection of core values, speed and substance (De Bruijn et al., 2002). These four ‘core elements of process design’ should be included and safeguarded in any process design in order to satisfy all the participants. The facilitator focuses on the process so that group members can focus on the substance and can suggest different ways of discussing problems, ensuring that all group members can freely express there comments and are free of any abuses of power or personal attack (Susskind et al., 1999).

Especially in environmental issues, the interests, values and problem perceptions of different parties may often be far apart form each other. With such large contrasts of interest within the group, a facilitator often is faced with disputes and conflicts within the group process, that are hard to solve with mere changes in the structure of the process. In such case, the role of the facilitator can be very closely related with a mediating role in which the facilitator is mediating between parties, even to establish a general structure of the process. In addition, an external mediator can be asked to solve the conflicts. An external mediator is a neutral person that specializes in solving disputes between different participants in the group process, often using a variety of negotiation techniques and (psychological) methods of reframing problems and solutions (Acland, 1995).

In a convening role, the facilitator has a say in which parties should be involved in the group process, and at what roles they will have. The convening role of a facilitator is sometimes not far apart from the role that a facilitator has as a process designer.

Proper management of a group decisions process clearly has a very import influence on the effectiveness of that process. The facilitator can influence that process to quit a large extent. The consensus of all group members on the final decision depends for a large part on the level of agreement within the group with the approach that facilitators takes in structuring and managing the process.

2.4 Role of knowledge

Knowledge is a crucial ingredient of interactive planning. However, the significance of the use of knowledge depends on one’s view. Over the years, the view on the role of knowledge has changed. The rational actor model has gradually been replaced by adaptive decision and learning strategies interacting with the environment. Before, planning would be perceived as proceeding in an orderly and linear fashion (Friend & Hickling, 2005). Today some authors state that knowledge is a result of collective social processes. This implies that knowledge is a social construct, rather than an objective entity. In the new approach, linear progression of the process is seen as unrealistic. Instead, the uniqueness, ambiguity and unpredictability of real world processes are emphasized. With the recognition that planning is an interactive and communicative process, the notion of the interrelationship between expert and experiential knowledge has become more and more crucial. Interactive planning is now seen as ‘organized rituals’ where ‘deliberating participants’ listen to one another, search for new options and learn to find new ways of going on together (Khakee et al., 2000).

3. Case description

For a complete description of each of the two cases, see appendix 1 and 2. This section will only discuss the previously mentioned four critical issues related to interactive policy making (Participant selection, Power and Access, Roles of facilitators, and Use of knowledge), related to the experiences of these two cases.

3.1 Mainport Schiphol

Schiphol Airport is situated in a highly urbanized area, and deals with national, continental and intercontinental air traffic. Although its presence is causing many ‘stress’ on its environmental surroundings, the Dutch government wants it to expand, so it can act as a hub for continental and intercontinental air traffic. With this expansion there are two interests at stake: on national level an economic one (because an enlarged Schiphol would increase economic activities), and on regional level an environmental one (because a bigger Schiphol will cause an increase of nuisances of noise, pollution, and safety). These two opposite interests caused a stalemate to occur since the 1950s. In the 1980s, one of the government authorities took the initiative to change the ‘common way of working’ and activated the policy network, to address the issues (Driessen, 1999).

3.1.1 Participant selection

The most important actor in this case was the Dutch Government, who made the prefigured decision to expand the airport into an international hub. All other participants had to find their ‘win-win’ outcomes within this context of developmental growth. From the beginning, various government organisations have been involved in the development of Schiphol Airport. The main players are three ministries. The ministry of Transport and Public Works is by far the most important actor, responsible for the economic development of the airport as well as the abatement of noise nuisance. Second, the Ministry of Housing, Physical Planning and Environment is also involved, responsible for physical planning in The Netherlands and implementing policies regarding the rest of the environmental effects of the activities of the airline industries, namely air pollution, stench and hazard. Finally, the Ministry of Economic Affairs plays and important role, pursuing further economic development in the region of Schiphol (Driessen, 1999).

Lower tiers of governments involved were the province of North Holland, responsible for environmental policy and planning for the region, and the municipalities surrounding the airport, both benefiting (by increased employment and tax-incomes) and enduring the aggravation (caused by noise, stench, air pollution, and other activities that degrade the environment) of having the airport close by. The municipality of Haarlemmermeer is a special case, because this municipality is authorized to create a land use plan for the airfield. Additionally, two enterprises play a crucial role: NV Luchthaven Schiphol (operating the airport and completely state owned) and KLM (the major Dutch carrier and partly owned by the state) (Driessen, 1999).

Because the Ministry of Transport and Public Works occupied a pivotal position, being both responsible for the economic development of Schiphol and the abatement of noise nuisance, it was agreed that noise regulation would be regulated by the Aviation Act, which was under the responsibility of the Ministry of Transport and Public Works. Nevertheless, little actions were made to reduce noise nuisance, because all participants believed that technical solutions would solve all noise-problems in the near future. Because no agreement could be made between these participants on how much the airport should be allowed to grow, or how to tackle the environmental problems, the Dutch government asked the Ministry of Housing, Physical Planning and Environment to make an integral plan for the Schiphol region, ensuring both economic development as well as environmental improvements. In the following process, a project group and a steering committee were established. The steering committee was composed out of all above-mentioned parties, while the project group contained all interest groups. Any party with interest in the case could join the project group (Driessen, 1999).

Based on the case-description and related to the four considerations described in section 2.1, it must be concluded that parties with blocking and productive power were strongly involved in the interactive planning process, by joining the steering committee. Other parties with interest were also involved, by joining the project group, but their influence was relatively small. If parties were involved, based on moral considerations, does not become clear from this case-description.

3.1.2 Power and access

The three different Governmental agencies (the ministry of Transport and Public Works, the Ministry of Housing, Physical Planning and Environment, and the Ministry of Economic Affairs) with jurisdictional authority over airport expansion, had accepted the mandate for airport expansion, but each with more at stake than achieving this outcome. Interagency rivalry and power played a critical part in the positions the ministries adopted and the coalitions they build during negotiations. The creation of a project group composed of all interest groups and of a steering committee of essential power brokers gave much power to the steering committee alone. From the case description, it does not become clear that the members of the steering committee, who were eventually excluded from the decision-making, were those who could not benefit in a ‘win-win’ situation, or were simply not powerful enough to block or advance progress. Nevertheless, the exclusion of interests cannot lead to a ‘win-win’ solution and has encountered difficulties building consensus and achieving compliance (Driessen, 1999).

Based on the case-description and related to the three elements described in section 2.2, it must be concluded that ‘Access to information’ does not form an obstacle. Perhaps the overload on information and the opposed and contradicting information gave bigger problems. The public was given some access to the decision-making process when they joint the project group, by commenting the ideas of the steering committee. However, the steering committee made all final decisions, so there was certainly no access to redress or change a decision.

3.1.3 Roles of facilitator

After the developed deadlock between the initially participants, the Ministry of Housing, Physical Planning and Environment was made primary responsible for the task of making an integral plan for the Schiphol region, ensuring both economic development as well as environmental improvements. The fact that this ministry had a strong affiliation with environmental issues raised initial suspicion among the other governmental bodies. They wondered whether this ministry would be able to take a neutral position in the ensuing discussions. However, their initial wariness soon gave way to a realistic attitude, and actively joined the process (Driessen, 1999).

The Ministry of Housing, Physical Planning and Environment designed an organizational framework for the discussion whereby the coordinated approach would be given a concrete form by activating the policy network. With this, the ministry acquired a dual function in the project, because it was the convenor, chair and facilitator of the planning process, and had to secure the input of environmental interest in the decision-making (Driessen, 1999).

In the initial stage, the strategy of the project leaders of the Ministry of Housing, Physical Planning and Environment was to bring the various parties closer together by conducting investigations and exchanging information, assuming that this might contribute to a better understanding and more appreciation for each different standpoint. The was no need for a professional facilitator, because all information was being collected, analyzed, and disseminated in an orderly way, although a professional facilitator could have helped structuring the problem. At the end of this stage, the project leaders formulated a plan, which could not be released because of the rain of criticism it caused (Driessen, 1999).

Because of this setback, the project leaders decided to recruit a professional facilitator, with the task not to increase the supply of information, but to let parties sought to digest what they had and to arrive at a decision. From the case-description, it does not become clear if this facilitator had staff support and whether he/she had analytical, problem solving skills. The approach taken by the facilitator was aimed at bringing the main bottlenecks to the fore, in order to reach agreements at least on key points. The approach was characterized by the creation of a strong interaction between the project group and the steering committee. The later reviewed the issues that the project group had pared down in size, and either approved the solutions offered by the project group or send them back to the project group for reconsideration (Driessen, 1999).

After this process, the facilitator presented the choices made by the project group and the steering committee to the public. The central aim of this was, to gain social and political legitimacy; the plan was opened up to the public discussion and the reactions were taken into account in the final version. Unfortunately, the public was hardly informed about the process preceding the plan and therefore it was generally received with great suspicion. Adding to this, the public discussion did not proceeded in a coordinated fashion, but each government resorted to its own method of public discussion. At the same time of these public hearings, the facilitator had to focus on the steering committee, because each party could take criticism of the plan as a lever to reopen discussion on subjects already discussed. At the end, the facilitator wrote the final text of the plan, shaping the final agreements also including the difficult topics of a reduction of noise nuisance and hazard (Driessen, 1999).

From this description of the facilitator, it becomes clear that the facilitator had both the role of process architect, and mediator. The facilitator designed the entire framework of decision-making and mediated when problems occurred. If the facilitator also had a convening role is unclear. Which stakeholders could join the steering committee was already decided before the facilitator got involved. How actually the project group was formed, stays unclear from this case-description.

3.1.4 Role of knowledge

Especially in issues related to airfield, experts disagree on numerous crucial uncertainties. This makes the role of knowledge both important but not of the same tenor. Research plays a key role in these controversies. This relates to research on, for instance, the need to build a new airport or expand the existing one, it may concern the most desirable infrastructure in and around the airport, it may deal with the profitability of operation, it may investigate the economic impact of the airport, or it may consider possible negative effects on the environment. However, this research must never be judged as ‘objective’ and will always play a role in the conflict of interest, expressed in this case, in the frequency of requested ‘second opinions’ (Driessen, 1999).

In the case of noise nuisance, it took long time to be acknowledged as a problem and to find a way of calculating the level of distress. In the mid-1960s, a system was developed to measure noise nuisance, but no agreement could be made on how it should be applied. For instance, there was discussion about how to determine the threshold value for maximum admissible noise nuisance. Furthermore, options differ on setting a specific norm for night flights. The disagreement revolves around the degree to which departing and arriving airplanes disturb the sleep of nearby residents, and whether such disruption is detrimental to public health. There was also uncertainty about, the rate air traffic would increase, and the degree to which technical developments in aeronautics could help reduce noise levels by changing the aircrafts design (Driessen, 1999).

Therefore, as also stated in section 2.4, knowledge is very important in decision-making processes, but as these processes get more interaction with a broad scale of actors, knowledge becomes more a result of collective social processes and loses its objective entity. From this case-description, it does not become explicitly clear if the decisions were based on knowledge provided by ‘experts’ or that it was formed in an interactive learning process. Implicitly, one could state that the agreement on noise nuisances could only have been established, when such interactive knowledge development occurred.

3.2 A12 national expressway

The ease of accessibility of The Hague depends to a large extent on the A12 national expressway. Its final 30 km stretch is marked by many access and exit ramps, and the intensity of traffic in this area has increased dramatically in recent decades. This is partly thanks to the enormous increase in the volume of vehicular traffic, and partly to the proliferation of new urban development locations around The Hague. Much of the traffic is ‘destination traffic’ which enters the city in the morning and leaves at night. As a result of the higher volumes, congestion became a big problem (Glasbergen and Driessen, 2005).

3.2.1 Participant selection

The planning agency initially saw itself as the owner of the problem at stake and formulated a classical solution of road widening. This approach failed because of public resistance and of a budget problem at the Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management. Because of this, the ministry stepped back, which un-deliberately created opportunities for other parties to take initiative. The government authorities of The Hague took the initiative to develop a new architecture for interaction among the different stakeholders. They organized a public dialog and a series of workshops involving local politicians and private businesses from the region, resulting in a new definition of the problem, focussing on the underutilization of existing capacity. The role of the planning agency changed from orchestrator of the infrastructure project to a partner in the wider regional consultation on issues of mobility and livability. They also made subsidies available to the business community, enabling them to work out individual, sometimes innovative, mobility plans (Glasbergen and Driessen, 2005).

Before concluding the analysis of participant selection in this case, the fact that there were no objections to the planes made by this interactive planning-process is probably the best evidence that all relevant stakeholders were included in the process. Nevertheless, from the case-description and related to the four considerations described in section 2.1, it does not become clear how all relevant stakeholders were defined, if all parties with blocking and productive power were added to the process, or if parties with moral and ethical considerations were included.

3.2.2 Power and access

This case can bee described as a restricted interactive process, because it was intended to promote the cooperation of public authorities with the private sector. Civic organizations and individual citizens were kept informed through a public relations center. The governmental authorities of The Hague decided which stakeholders were included in the process. Despite this fact, no opposition to this project did arise (Glasbergen and Driessen, 2005).

The access to information was well looked after, in the form of the public relations center. They kept civic organizations and individual citizens informed about the plans and progress. More power was not given to the public in this case.

3.2.3 Roles of facilitator

In order to link the government agencies (where the plans were developed), and the business community, a ‘godfather’ was appointed. This honour was given to the director of the public transport company in the region, and he served as a contact between the project and the private sector. He kept all relevant firms informed about the development of the project and called these firms to task with respect to their responsibilities for the region’s accessibility, by reminding them that they might be lagging behind other firms in the development of their mobility plans (Glasbergen and Driessen, 2005).

From the case-description, it must be concluded that the government authorities of The Hague acted as a convener, initially selecting the different stakeholders. Facilitating the process and mediating in conflicts were partly done by the ‘godfather’ and partly by the government authorities of The Hague. The precise division of responsibilities does not become clear from the case-description.

3.2.4 Role of knowledge

According to this case-description, it was the government agencies of The Hague who decided what knowledge was used in the decision process. The only organization consulted for information was the planning agency, also participating in the planning process (Glasbergen and Driessen, 2005).

Although knowledge is crucial in interactive planning (see section 2.4), the role of knowledge in this case is not very big. This probably has two reasons. One is the relative simple problem at stake (congestion) and secondly the fact that all parties agreed on the content of the relevant knowledge. Nevertheless, the fact that only one party provided the relevant knowledge could potentially have caused major problems afterwards.

4. Conclusion

This research started with the question: How do the four critical issues (Participant selection, Power and Access, Roles of facilitators, and Use of knowledge) contribute to the rate of success of 2 infrastructural cases in The Netherlands (the Schiphol case and the A12 national expressway)? How each criterion added to the success of the case is described at the end of each subsection in chapter 3. Overall, it can be concluded that the success of interactive planning depends on the care each criterion is taken care of. If one of these criteria is neglected, it will be reflected in the outcomes. If, for example, participants are forgotten, power is not distributed evenly, facilitators are not adequate, or knowledge is not as objective as possible, the process will take much longer time and the change of good end-results and thus consensus will diminish. Both cases make clear that solutions were impossible to reach in the traditional way of policy making and that interactive policy making contributed to good end results. Nevertheless, in future comparable processes, more attention should be given to the four discussed critical issues, and probably to the seven mentioned in the introduction. Only than, the rate of success of these kind of processes will increase.


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  • Appendix 1 – Case sheet Mainport Schiphol
  • (Driessen, 1999)
  • 1. Position
  • Initiative: several governmental ministries
  • Time period: 1980-present
  • Level of used policy process: regional/national
  • Phase in policy process: in process

2. Background

This case is about plans to expand Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport and the disputes related to it. Schiphol Airport is situated in a highly urbanized area, and deals with national, continental and intercontinental air traffic. Although its presence is causing many ‘stress’ on its environmental surroundings, the Dutch government wants it to expand, so it can act as a hub for continental and intercontinental air traffic. With this expansion there are two interests at stake: on national level an economic one (because an enlarged Schiphol Airport would increase economic activities), and on regional level an environmental one (because a bigger Schiphol Airport will caus

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