International Institute for Innovation in Governance



Speculation, Planning, and Resilience: Case studies from resource-based communities in Western Canada

This paper investigates the linkages between speculation and resilience in resource-based communities (boomtowns) susceptible to economic swings (boom/bust) and reflect on the actual and possible roles of spatial planning to stabilize communities under conditions of boom, bust and speculation. The findings are based on a nested case study method, where the Western Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia are investigated more in detail through semi-structured interviews (N = 145) in 12 case communities. The paper shows that spatial planning must be understood broadly to discern its effects on community resiliency, with resiliency understood as the coordination of spatial organization. Planning, then, is crucial at two stages of development: in the choice of a settlement model and afterwards in the spatial embodiment of that model. The paper further highlights the importance of expectations and managing expectations in understanding and re-thinking the linkages between speculation and resilience, and the importance of associated ideologies in risk assessment and conceptualizations of resilience.

Deacon, L., Van Assche, K., Papineau, J., & Gruezmacher, M. (2018). Speculation, Planning, and Resilience: Case studies from resource-based communities in Western CanadaFutures.


The difficulties in co-creating institutional change in urban planning

This paper analyzes the institutional work that underlies the attempt to institutionalize a more active role of citizens in urban planning. It draws on a case in which a group of citizens aims to redevelop a brownfield site into a vital urban area. This citizens’ initiative is co-creating a new form of urban planning with the municipality, private organizations and individual citizens. The study shows how citizens’ initiatives can be a driver for institutional change, but that uncertainties about new institutions tend to reinforce the maintenance of existing ones. This paradox explains why even if the ambition for a new form of planning is widely shared, actually realizing institutional change can still be difficult and time-consuming.

Bisschops, S., & Beunen, R. (2018). A new role for citizens’ initiatives: the difficulties in co-creating institutional change in urban planningJournal of Environmental Planning and Management, 1-16.

Land for food or power?

This paper uses the concepts of riskscapes and risk governance to analyze the tensions between land use for food (farms) and energy (dams) in South West Ethiopia. It analyzes the linkages between risk perception, risk assessment and risk management for local and non-local actors. The paper distinguishes, after empirical analysis, as main riskscapes the riskscapes of landlessness, food and energy insecurity and siltation. For the Ethiopian case, and more generally, it reflects on the potential of spatial planning as a site of risk governance, where risk perception, assessment and management can be discussed in their linkages, where different actor-related and topical riskscapes can encounter, can be deliberated and result in policy integration. Finally it reflect on the ethical implications of its perspective and reconsiders the idea of social cost.

Legese, G., Van Assche, K., Stelmacher, T., Tekleworld, H., & Kelboro, G. (2018). Land for food or power? Risk governance of dams and family farms in Southwest EthiopiaLand Use Policy75, 50-59.

A coevolutionary perspective on the adoption of sustainable land use practices

Cotton export substantially contributes to Uzbekistan’s economy. To produce cotton, the state imposes output targets on farmers which results in intensified cotton production practices, and consequently in land degradation. Improving degraded croplands via afforestation is an option explored through research experiments in the region, yet is currently not practiced by farmers. Using the example of the Amu Darya River lowlands of Uzbekistan, we analyze afforestation and its implementation constraints, by developing a coevolutionary socio-ecological systems framework that leans on evolutionary economics and evolutionary governance theories. Our study shows that farmers’ perceptions and rationalities, in close association with governance configurations of actors, institutions and knowledges, make them unreceptive towards afforestation. Altering relations between agricultural institutions and actors that are currently present in the cotton-centric configuration is difficult given the path-, inter- and goal dependencies. To change rural sustainable development paths, we conclude that the adoption of innovations requires a tailoring of knowledge and technology fitting local situation, as well as the reassembling of relations between actors, institutions and knowledge.

Djanibekov, U. , Van Assche, K., Boezeman, D., Villamor, G.B. & Djanibekov, N. (2018) A coevolutionary perspective on the adoption of sustainable land use practices: The case of afforestation on degraded croplands in Uzbekistan. Journal of Rural Studies 59: 1-9

Institutions and Urban Space

This paper develops an historical institutionalist approach to municipal governance, infrastructure, and property institutions, suggesting that the dense matrices of institutions in cities are co-evolutionary and path dependent. Property, infrastructure, and governance institutions play a central role in regulating capital investment in cities, structure urban change, protect and structure property’s meaning and value, and demonstrate enduringly different approaches between jurisdictions. The institutions in place when land is urbanized have profound impacts on the institutionalization and forms of urban property and the accompanying infrastructure created. The primary positive feedback that contributes to path dependence in cities flows from existing sets of property in any given jurisdiction. Cities from this perspective are path dependent landscapes of property that are differentiated primarily by the enduring imprint of the institutions that produce them.

Sorensen, A. (2017). Institutions and Urban Space: Land, Infrastructure, and Governance in the Production of Urban PropertyPlanning Theory & Practice, 1-18.

Natural capital and the political economy of wetland governance in Alberta

The legitimacy of wetland decisions depends on how science and values are integrated and reflected in wetland management decisions. Natural capital and ecosystem services (ES) have become integral to how we think about ecosystem management however there is no consensus on how these concepts should be applied in management. Through the example of Alberta’s wetland policy, we show how policies designed to mainstream natural capital and ES in decision-making are aligned with liberal governance arrangements that emerged in the nineteenth century. There is a governance gap between individual wetland decisions and collective ecological outcomes. The Alberta wetland policy highlights three challenges to embracing the natural capital metaphor in a liberal government context: lack of consensus on policy objectives; case by case enforcement of policy leading to continued wetland drainage; and minimal consequences for non-compliance. The combination of norms about what is fair in terms of government intervention in land use decisions and scientific uncertainty about wetland ecosystem function makes it difficult to achieve consensus on limits to wetland loss contributing to continued loss of wetland ecological function. The discussion highlights the necessity of renewed political discourse about freedom, power, and justice in relation to collective economic and ecological security.

Weber, M., Krogman, M., Foote, L. & Rooney, R. (2017) Natural capital and the political economy of wetland governance in Alberta. Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning. Online first.

A community survival guide to turbulent times


IN PLANNING has published a new book by Kristof Van Assche et al, a community survival guide to turbulent times. The book presents a wide range of planning strategies communities can use to deal with uncertain futures and to adapt to ever changing boom and bust cycles in the local economy. The book offers an interesting read for planning and governance scholars, students, and professionals, as well as all those who are in some way involved in community development and planning. It describes the struggles that many communities in western Canada are going to, the challenges they face, and many enlightening examples. Furthermore it offers theoretical reflections on the diversity of strategies and practices, as well as practical recommendation on how to develop context-sensitive strategies.

And the best thing: the e-book is freely available.


A typology of material events

Many of contemporary issues, like urban development, climate change, biodiversity conservation, or food security, demand for interdisciplinary approaches that bring together scientist with different ideas about reality and the nature of knowledge. Whereas some focus on the material reality of our world, other focus on the social structures through which humans construct an understanding of that world. This paper presents a framework for going beyond the traditional dichotomy between discourse and materiality. Drawing on the work of one of the most influential sociologists, Niklas Luhmann, it explores the different ways in which materiality can relate to discursive dynamics. Five different events are distinguished: silent, whispering, vigorous, fading and deadly events. These events constitute the spectrum in which changes in the environment affect communication and action. This typology helps to better understand the diversity of societal responses to an ever changing environment.

Duineveld, M., Van Assche, K., & Beunen, R. (2017). Re-conceptualising political landscapes after the material turn: a typology of material events. Landscape Research, 1-10.

Spatial planning in cross-border regions: A systems-theoretical perspective


Most scholarship in spatial planning presupposes an established institutional setting, where a specific legal framework is in place, one is accustomed to certain procedures and routines, and planning has a certain (national) history. In cross-border regions, however, this becomes problematic as different institutional settings clash. Combining systems and organizational theory, this article constructs a theoretical perspective on planning, explicitly conceptualizing differences, that is, boundaries, in institutional settings. This sheds new light on the prospects and realities of spatial planning across national borders. National borders double the complexity of spatial planning, and organizations working in cross-border spatial planning need to take this into account by acknowledging their own and others’ organizational boundaries as well.

Jacobs, J. (2016) Spatial planning in cross-border regions: A systems-theoretical perspective. Planning Theory 15(1): 68-90.



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