International Institute for Innovation in Governance



Institutionalizing ideas about citizens’ initiatives in planning

This paper explores the institutionalization process regarding ideas about a more prominent role for citizens’ initiatives in planning. Citizens’ initiatives are often considered important for the transition towards sustainable urban development. Although this claim is not undisputed, many planning reforms in Western societies have promoted the inclusion of citizens in planning policies and projects. In the new Dutch Environment and Planning Act (EPA), which is expected to come into force in 2023, similar intentions are stated. The EPA claims to enhance participation of citizens, amongst other stakeholders, such as societal organizations, governmental bodies and businesses, at an early stage in decision-making processes, while in addition the planning system should become better suited to stimulate and facilitate societal initiatives. This study reveals that these ambitions have not resulted in clear rules or norms that strengthen the role for citizens’ initiatives in urban planning. The analysis of the development of the EPA shows that the institutionalization process can be characterized by 1) an emerging discrepancy between the rhetorical key message that all citizens’ initiatives will benefit from the EPA and the limited legal assurance, 2) the assumption that the myriad of forms citizens’ initiatives come in can be moulded into general participatory schemes and 3) a lack of reflections on how lenient planning rules are likely to advance market parties and governments rather than citizens’ initiatives. Because the institutionalization process continues after effectuation, in particular local governments are urged to develop additional policies to ensure a stronger position for citizens’ initiatives in planning.

Bisschops, S., Beunen, R., & Hollemans, D. (2023). Institutionalizing ideas about citizens’ initiatives in planning: Emerging discrepancies between rhetoric and assuranceLand Use Policy124, 106425.

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.

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