The 2014 conference of the Association of European Schools of Planning addresses the questions: ‘To what degree has planning theory, practice and education progressed from technocratic to co-evolutionary understandings and methods? And to what extent is planning finding new ways to engage with complexity, uncertainty and questions of accountability in the context of fragmented governance across institutional and territorial boundaries’.
In our contribution to this conference we will present Evolutionary Governance Theory as a framework for exploring the pathways of the Dutch planning system and its potential to adapt to a continuously-changing society. The Netherlands will be used to illustrate the evolution of planning and its adaptive capacity. Planning traditionally had a strong position within the Dutch state, but in recent years this position has become subject of debate. Within the last decade the planning organisations see their influence gradually decreasing. In various policy domains the previously dominant planning perspectives and practices become challenged and contested. Planning is often considered to face a crisis and both planning professionals and theorists are looking for novel ways to conceptualise and conduct planning.
Using the concepts of path, inter and goal dependency, we explore the possibilities and limitations for the planning system to embrace new ideas and to adapt to an always-changing society. We show that and how the recurring ideologies underlying planning tend to install overoptimistic expectations about the possibilities for science to understand socio-ecological systems, define problems, and design and implement solutions. As a consequence contemporary planning organisations, procedures, policies, plans, and practices are often strongly based upon the idea that they can be used to steer and control spatial developments. The performances of success hamper reflections and create blindspot for alternative ways of thinking. We conclude that the acceptance of complexity and non-linearity demand a planning system that embraces and enhances reflexivity and flexibility as important prerequisites for adaptation and innovation.