International Institute for Innovation in Governance

Comparative Learning in and for Planning Systems

This thematic issue of the journal Urban Planning explores the ways in which comparative studies of planning systems can be useful for gaining a deeper understanding of learning processes and learning capacity in spatial planning systems. In contemporary planning systems the pressures towards learning and continuous self-transformation are high. On the one hand more and more planning is needed in terms of integration of expertise, policy, local knowledge, and response to long term environmental challenges, while on the other hand the value of planning systems is increasingly questioned and many places witness an erosion of planning institutions. The issue brings together a diversity of contributions that explore different forms of comparative learning and their value for any attempt at reorganization, adaptation and improvement of planning systems.

All papers are open access

Learning from Other Places and Their Plans: Comparative Learning in and for Planning Systems
Kristof Van Assche, Raoul Beunen and Stefan Verweij

Rethinking Planning Systems: A Plea for Self-Assessment and Comparative Learning
Frank J. D’Hondt, Kristof van Assche and Barend Julius Wind

Comparative Planning Research, Learning, and Governance: The Benefits and Limitations of Learning Policy by Comparison
Kristof van Assche, Raoul Beunen and Stefan Verweij

Diverging Ambitions and Instruments for Citizen Participation across Different Stages in Green Infrastructure Projects
Jannes J. Willems, Astrid Molenveld, William Voorberg and Geert Brinkman

Building Adaptive Capacity through Learning in Project-Oriented Organisations in Infrastructure Planning
Bert de Groot, Wim Leendertse and Jos Arts

Public Design of Urban Sprawl: Governments and the Extension of the Urban Fabric in Flanders and the Netherlands
Edwin Buitelaar and Hans Leinfelder                       

A Pattern Language Approach to Learning in Planning
Remon Rooij and Machiel van Dorst

Mitigating boom & bust cycles: the roles of land policy and planning

A special issue of Land Use Policy, edited by Kristof Van Assche, Monica Gruezmacher, Leith Deacon

The focus of this special issue is on the struggle by communities in many parts of the world to manage radical ups and downs. The cycles of ‘boom and bust’ are diverse, transcending the often referenced dependency on a dominant resource, and many different responses can be observed.

The special issue presents a global collection of experts who have diverse experiences with, and perspectives on boom and bust. The articles emphasize land use tools (e.g. policies and plans) as means to mitigate the consequences of boom and bust on impacted stakeholders, communities, and regions. The articles present a wide variety of responses to boom and bust, some coordinated into strategy, others less so. In some cases, cycles are anticipated, in others, a community aims at reinvention after a dramatic downturn. 

Taming the boom and the bust? Land use tools for mitigating ups and downs in communities
Kristof Van Assche, Monica Gruezmacher, Leith Deacon

Land use tools for tempering boom and bust: Strategy and capacity building in governance
Kristof Van Assche, Monica Gruezmacher, Leith Deacon

Long run agricultural land expansion, booms and busts
Edward B. Barbier

Dealing with the bust in Vorkuta, Russia
Nikolay Shiklomanov, Dmitry Streletskiy, Luis Suter, Robert Orttung, Nadezhda Zamyatina

Mining towns and urban sprawl in South Africa
Lochner Marais, Stuart Denoon-Stevens, Jan Cloete

The social impact management plan as a tool for local planning: Case study: Mining in Northern Finland
Leena Suopajärvi, Anna Kantola

Evolutionary governance in mining: Boom and bust in peripheral communities in Sweden
Simon Haikola, Jonas Anshelm

Long distance commuting: A tool to mitigate the impacts of the resources industries boom and bust cycle?
Fiona Haslam McKenzie

Regional economic transformation: Changing land and resource access on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island
Etienne Nel, Sean Connelly

Planning strategies for dealing with population decline: Experiences from the Netherlands
Raoul Beunen, Marlies Meijer, Jasper de Vries

Problem-Based solutions from the classroom to the Community: Transformative approaches to mitigate the impacts of boom-and-bust in declining urban communities
Jesus J. Lara

Urban expansion, the politics of land, and occupation as infrastructure in Kinshasa
Filip De Boeck

Futures Special Issue: Linking strategy, long term perspectives and policy domains in governance

Collective visions and expectations for the long- term future shape and influence what kind of governance strategies are used, while the latter encode, perform and transform what is meant by ‘long-term’ governance challenges and perspectives. The unique character of linkages between long term perspectives and strategies per institutionalized policy domain is something deserving investigation: water governance and pension policy each envision a long term, but these are different, and the translation into strategy follows different paths.

This investigation can shed a light on the possibilities and limits of strategies which link policy domains, which transcend their topical or geographical boundaries. Such strategies in some cases can materialize an imagined future for a community, the community associated with the governance system, a community which to a certain extent is always imagined but can nevertheless transform and be transformed by governance. Climate change policy can address an imagined world community, attempt to both create and change that community by strategy which aims to coordinate states and many policy domains within them. Locally, a comprehensive plan can aim to guide the development of a city, an pursue policy coordination through a spatial frame.

In this issue, we intend to bring together an interdisciplinary group of authors to investigate the relations between long term perspectives and strategies in governance. We would like to invite contributions from diverse disciplines, including but not limited to policy studies, environmental studies, public administration, planning, sociology, geography, cultural studies, political science, management studies. We are open to studies of all domains of governance, each marked by their own temporalities, forms of looking forward, remembering and coordinating, each with their own relations to other policy domains.

We argue that a more thorough understanding of the linkages between long term perspective, strategies and particular policy domains [and their values, narratives, strategies] in governance helps to grasp anew the possibilities and limitations of strategy in governance. One can speak of a reassessment of the possibilities of steering, of pursuing public goods at larger scales. Another contribution of this collection can be new insight in the possibilities and mechanics of so-called place based development, here not restricted to local, participatory, ‘community based’ development, but understood as development articulated in and pursued by governance in a particular spatial frame, either inside or beyond the sphere of local/regional/national government.

More information:

The limits of transparency

The paper explores the implications of Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s general systems theory for the current debates on the nature of organizational transparency as an element of good governance. If transparency implies the exchange of information, then it may be taken, at a metaphorical level, to constitute a dimension of metabolism theorized by Bertalanffy’s open systems model. Yet, the model likewise lays bare some of the limits of transparency idea. Bertalanffy’s work on the nature of emergent properties, his critique of the stimulus–response scheme, and his perspectivistic account of the systemic perception of the environment all point in the direction of the impossibility of full transparency. Later systems‐theoretic work on operational closure and self‐referentiality has reinforced and even radicalized these insights, which are shown to resonate with some of the key arguments in the contemporary economics, sociology of knowledge, and business ethics.

Valentinov, V., Verschraegen, G., & Van Assche, K. (2019). The limits of transparency: A systems theory view. Systems Research and Behavioral Science.

Coral reefs and the slow emergence of institutional structures for a glocal land- and sea-based collective dilemma

Coral reefs are subject to multiple stressors. Global stressors include climate change and ocean acidification, while local stressors include overfishing and eutrophication. Some stressors stem from land-based activities, like intensive agriculture or sewage production, while others are sea-based, like fishing or diving. Processes that aim to tackle coral degradation are transpiring on different levels. These include the UNDP’s Sustainable Development Goal 14, and the Coral Triangle Initiative, which foresees the installation of marine protected areas and conservation planning. This paper uses Evolutionary Governance Theory (EGT) to understand the current processes of changes in governance influencing coral reef health. EGT sees the change of governance as an evolutionary process. It emphasises that discourses play a crucial role in understanding governance evolution. Power, in particular power-knowledge in the Foucaultian sense, plays a crucial role as a driving factor. Governance does not change in a vacuum, but according to EGT is shaped by path, inter- and goal dependencies. Of late, the role of materiality – ecological and technological conditions – has been stressed as an important driver of governance change. The paper considers the main threats to corals identified in the literature and analyses how those factors mentioned by EGT help us to understand the observed governance changes. The case of coral reefs was chosen as it represents an example of extremely diverse processes of institutional changes. Therefore, it is well suited to learn if EGT helps in understanding governance changes observed in the marine sector.

Schlüter, A., Vance, C., & Ferse, S. (2019). Coral reefs and the slow emergence of institutional structures for a glocal land-and sea-based collective dilemmaMarine Policy, 103505.

The social, the ecological, and the adaptive.

Based on biological insights, Ludwig von Bertalanffy coined general systems theory (GST) and later expanded his perspective, exploring what GST could mean for other disciplines and other types of systems. We make a case for the relevance, or rather, the importance, of GST for coming to a new understanding of the resilience of social‐ecological systems and the possible forms of adaptive governance that might increase such resilience. After analyzing the conceptual structure of the resilience paradigm and of GST, we identify concepts in resilience thinking where GST provides new confirmation or modifies the perspective: complexity, evolution, self‐organization, and adaptation. We discuss post‐Bertalanffy developments in the interdisciplinary and twinned fields of systems theory and complexity studies that can provide bridging concepts between GST and resilience thinking. In conclusion, we emphasize the need for both cognitive and institutional resilience to foster adaptive governance. We highlight the management of couplings between systems and the switching between forms of understanding and forms of organization, where self‐organization and more centralized forms of steering can alternate and combine.

Van Assche, K., Verschraegen, G., Valentinov, V., & Gruezmacher, M. (2019). The social, the ecological, and the adaptive. Von Bertalanffy’s general systems theory and the adaptive governance of social‐ecological systems. Systems Research and Behavioral Science.

The overlooked role of discourse in breaking carbon lock-in

Over the last 15 years, research on carbon lock‐in has investigated why decarbonization evolves so slowly in Western industrialized countries. In this paper, we argue that the role of discourses has been overlooked in the literature on carbon lock‐in. We argue that discourses are both part of lock‐in mechanisms and, using the concept of discursive turning points, important factors in explaining change. This implies that we need to carefully investigate the dominant discourses that constitute and justify the very technologies, institutions and behaviors of the status quo. For the case of the German energy transition, we demonstrate the importance of discursive turning points for overcoming carbon lock‐in, based on a literature review. Germany’s long‐standing lock‐in of fossil fuels and nuclear power was undermined by the rise of the energy transition discourse. This discourse transitioned from a very marginal position to dominance through a number of factors, winning against the energy mix discourse. Over time the energy transition discourse became de‐radicalized. Coal has been able to defend its role in the German energy mix in the name of affordability and energy security. While renewables continue to grow, this happens alongside a remaining carbon lock‐in. We conclude that discursive lock‐in and discursive turning points are useful analytical tools that help to explain how the transition to renewable energies unfolds. In future research, the interaction between discursive lock‐ins and other types of lock‐in should be investigated.

Buschmann, P., & Oels, A. (2019). The overlooked role of discourse in breaking carbon lock‐in: The case of the German energy transitionWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, e574.

The risky business of planning reform

In many countries throughout the EU recent planning reforms have reduced the possibilities for comprehensive and long-term planning. This paper explores the factors that explain why one of these countries, Poland, lost many of its tools for coordinating the policies and practices affecting spatial organization at the local level. The study, based on the discourses of spatial planners, traces the institutionalisation of local spatial planning in Poland since the 1920s identifying dominant policy paradigms and internal and external determinants leading to the reform in the early 1990s. It shows that the planning reform was driven by attempts to adapt planning institutions to changing political and legal environments after 1989. The new institutional framework that emerged from the reform failed to introduce alternative and effective forms of local spatial planning. Once options for planning were reduced, it became difficult to revive them. The case of Poland shows that a revision of long-term planning institutions might have unexpected outcomes and that it might be difficult to restore particular instruments and planning approaches once they have been removed from the toolbox of the planning system institutionalisation of local spatial planning in Poland since the 1920s identifying dominant policy paradigms and internal and external determinants leading to the reform in the early 1990s. It shows that the planning reform was driven by attempts to adapt planning institutions to changing political and legal environments after 1989. The new institutional framework that emerged from the reform failed to introduce alternative and effective forms of local spatial planning. Once options for planning were reduced, it became difficult to revive them. The case of Poland shows that a revision of long-term planning institutions might have unexpected outcomes and that it might be difficult to restore particular instruments and planning approaches once they have been removed from the toolbox of the planning system.

Niedziałkowski, K., & Beunen, R. (2019). The risky business of planning reform–The evolution of local spatial planning in Poland. Land Use Policy, 85, 11-20.

Advancing Post-Structural Institutionalism: Discourses, Subjects, Power Asymmetries, and Institutional Change

Colin Hay’s and Vivien Schmidt’s responses to my previous critical engagement with their respective versions of neo-institutionalism raise the issue of how scholars may account for the ideational power of political processes and how ideas may generate both stability and change. Even though Hay, Schmidt, and I share a common philosophical ground in many respects, we nevertheless diverge in our views about how to account for ideational power and for actors’ ability to navigate a social reality that is saturated with structures and meaning. There continues to be a need for an analytical framework that incorporates discourse and a constitutive logic based upon the power in ideas. Post-structural institutionalism (PSI) analyzes discourse as knowledge claims by means of the concept of a constitutive causality, analytically identified in respect to institutions, such that the substantive content of ideas/discourse provides ideational power and generates immanent change.

Larsson, O. (2019). Advancing Post-Structural Institutionalism: Discourses, Subjects, Power Asymmetries, and Institutional ChangeCritical Review, 1-22.

Blog at

Up ↑