Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 1049–1062 | Cite as

Toward design principles for joint knowledge production projects: lessons from the deepest polder of The Netherlands

  • Dries Hegger
  • Annemarie Van Zeijl-Rozema
  • Carel Dieperink
Original Article


In various countries, actors try to reconcile climate science and policy through joint knowledge production (JNP). While many conceptual analyses of JNP exist, empirical studies that actually try to assess JNP processes are rare. This paper aims to fill this gap through an empirical analysis of the ‘Hotspot Zuidplaspolder’ project in which scientists, policymakers and other actors collaboratively looked for ways to ‘climate proof’ existing plans for urban development in one of the deepest polders of the Netherlands. The analysis is done by identifying and explaining the credibility and salience of the knowledge produced as well as the perceived legitimacy of the JNP process. Seven success factors derived from existing literature were used in the analysis. Stakeholders appeared to evaluate this project as positive, but the analysis shows that criteria and thresholds regarding success differ between the actors involved. We found three underlying design principles that should be followed to enhance the success of future JNP projects. First, it is necessary to organize several instances for reflection on the project processes. Second, new reward structures are needed to stimulate actors to take new initiatives and come up with creative ideas. Third, projects and programs should provide room to make mistakes and learn from them. This first set of empirical design principles for JNP is useful but should be further refined and nuanced in order to better deal with the social complexity of climate change and other wicked problems.


Joint knowledge production Knowledge Co-production Science–policy interface Climate change adaptation Success factors Land-use planning Regional level 


Climate change adaptation is a hot topic in several Western European countries (Hanger et al. 2012; Runhaar et al. 2012). Therefore, large programs have been started, which aim to produce ‘policy-relevant’ knowledge for ‘climate-proofing-specific regions’ (Kabat et al. 2005). These programs include projects in which scientists, policymakers and other societal actors engage in joint knowledge production (JNP). Multi-actor programs such as ‘Climate changes Spatial Planning (CCSP)’ and ‘Knowledge for Climate (KfC)’ (the Netherlands) or ‘Klimzug’ (Germany) are cases in point. JNP is often endorsed, claiming ‘that it leads to better, more policy-relevant or more socially robust knowledge’ (Climate changes Spatial Planning, Arcadis, Brinkman Climate Change 2006; Climate changes Spatial Planning & Knowledge for Climate 2009).

The question of to what extent and how JNP could help to produce ‘useful’ knowledge for climate change adaptation is highly relevant. It is increasingly recognized that a well-developed science–policy interface is of key importance for connecting climate science and policy (Hanger et al. 2012; Runhaar et al. 2012). Moreover, the financial stakes in climate research programs are high,1 not to mention the long-term stakes in climate-proofing itself (ibid). The debate on the merits, opportunities and barriers of JNP connects with broader debates within the sociology of knowledge (Funtowicz and Ravetz 1993; Gibbons et al. 1994; Gieryn 1983; Nowotny et al. 2001), science and technology policy studies (Guston 2001; Hisschemöller and Hoppe 2001; Hoppe 2005; McNie 2007; Sarewitz and Pielke 2007) and environmental governance (Bäckstrand et al. 2010). These bodies of the literature discuss various factors complicating the reconciliation of supply and demand for knowledge (for overviews, see: Hegger et al. 2012; McNie 2007; Weichselgartner and Kasperson 2010). The value pluralities and uncertainties associated with global change adaptation problems make it even more difficult to fruitfully connect science and policy (Hisschemöller and Hoppe 2001; Kemp and Martens 2007).

Despite the acclaimed benefits of JNP, we lack the necessary insights into assessing if JNP actually does what its proponents claim it to do. Much literature on the topic is conceptual in nature (Hoppe 2005; Van Den Hove 2007; Van Kerkhoff and Lebel 2006). Empirical assessments do exist (e.g. Kemp and Rotmans 2009; Pohl et al. 2010; Roux et al. 2006) but these are highly fragmented in their aims and scopes. So, in a recent publication, Hegger et al. (2012) have developed an integrated analytical framework, helping us to recognize JNP, evaluate its (lack of) success, and explain the level of success. In the current paper, we will use this framework to analyze an empirical case. Our starting point will be that blueprints for ‘how to ‘do’ JNP’ do not exist (Ostrom et al. 2007) but that some generic design principles can be identified after having done a large body of empirical research.

Our empirical case, ‘Hotspot Zuidplaspolder’, is a well-known Dutch showcase for ‘climate-proofing’ regional spatial planning processes. The project (2007–2009) aimed to arrive at ‘climate proof urban development’ in the deepest polder of the Netherlands (6.7 m below sea level). This area had been assigned as one of the country’s main areas to address the need for urban expansion. However, the plans—combined with projected sea level rise due to climate change—attracted much media attention and caused political concern. The hotspot ZPP had been designed out of a wish to create scientifically and socially robust knowledge for climate-proofing the area. We see the project as exemplary for contemporary experiments involving new forms of knowledge production. Similar initiatives to bring about science–policy cooperation for regional climate change adaptation have been established within the KfC and Klimzug research programs. Another reason why Hotspot ZPP forms an interesting starting point for empirical analysis of JNP is that despite the huge challenges the project was confronted with, many societal actors deemed it ‘successful’ (Xplorelab 2008).

The paper is structured as follows. “Recognizing, evaluating and explaining joint knowledge production” introduces the main features of the theoretical framework developed by Hegger et al. (2012). This framework conceptualizes how JNP can be recognized in empirical projects and how to determine its (lack of) success. Furthermore, the framework includes seven theoretically inspired success conditions for JNP. In the next section, we explain the methodology of our empirical research. “The hotspot Zuidplaspolder (ZPP) project” sketches the background of the Zuidplaspolder case. The sections thereafter, subsequently, confront each feature of Hegger et al.’s framework with the empirical case. “Joint knowledge production in the Zuidplaspolder case” determines which knowledge was produced in the project. “The success of joint knowledge production in the Zuidplaspolder case” evaluates the project’s degree of success. In “The role of the success conditions in the Zuidplaspolder case”, we assess how the success factors have influenced its degree of success. The paper ends with lessons we draw from the case (“Lessons from the hotspot Zuidplaspolder case”) to be followed by a discussion on future research steps to be taken (“Discussion”).

Recognizing, evaluating and explaining joint knowledge production

Recognizing joint knowledge production: conceptual clarification

The debate on JNP is part of broader debates on new forms of knowledge production (e.g. Funtowicz and Ravetz 1993; Gibbons et al. 1994; Nowotny et al. 2001). In this paper, JNP is confined to direct science–policy collaboration in projects (Van Buuren and Edelenbos 2004; Edelenbos et al. 2011; Hegger et al. 2012). Similar to Hegger et al. (2012), we argue that such JNP should be seen as a form of science–policy co-production (Jasanoff 2004; Latour 1987). In many cases, the mechanisms through which this co-production takes place are hard to discern. As opposed to that, we focus on the more direct and recognizable interactions between science and policy. We use the term JNP—and not for instance ‘knowledge co-production’ as Pohl et al. (2010) do—to avoid confusion with the broader notion of co-production of science and social order (Jasanoff 2004). Our conceptualization of JNP connects to the notion of joint fact finding in the context of collaborative planning (Karl et al. 2007; Susskind et al. 1999) as the latter also concerns collaboration between scientists, policymakers and other actors in knowledge production. The literature on joint fact finding, however, seems to be a bit more normative and prescriptive. In our empirical research, we have identified what can be termed ‘jointly produced knowledge’ by asking interviewees for examples in which knowledge was developed because cooperation between actors took place. Actors would not have been capable of developing this knowledge in isolation.

Evaluating the success of joint knowledge production

As we will highlight in the empirical sections of this paper, regional climate change adaptation projects are characterized with high decision stakes, large uncertainties and contested values. In such cases, ‘objective’ evaluation of the success of JNP projects would be problematic because of participants’ differences in knowledge interests. For this reason, Hegger et al. (2012) plea for a constructivist evaluation of success, focusing on the extent to which project participants managed to reconcile their diverging knowledge interests. They conceptualized successful JNP as a process that leads to knowledge acceptable to all participating actors (extended peer community) (Ravetz 1999), focusing on these actors’ opinions on the quality of the content and the process of knowledge production.

Hegger et al. (2012: 54) have defined successful JNP as ‘a process in which the actors involved have managed to maximize synergy and minimize tradeoffs between the salience and credibility of the knowledge produced as well as the legitimacy of the process’. The notions of credibility, salience and legitimacy were originally coined by Cash et al. (2003), who found that successful science–policy collaboration entails that criteria for salience, credibility and legitimacy can be met simultaneously for all actors involved. In their conceptualization, credibility relates to the scientific adequacy of technical evidence and arguments; salience relates to the relevance of knowledge to the needs of decision-makers; while legitimacy entails that knowledge development has been respectful of stakeholders’ divergent values and beliefs, unbiased in its conduct and fair in its treatment of opposing views and interests (Cash et al. 2003: 14). With their definition of success, Hegger et al. make a case for operationalizing Cash et al.’s criteria in an actor-specific way, assuming that all actors have ideas on how credible and salient knowledge produced is for them, and how legitimate a knowledge production process has been according to them. This way of operationalizing the three criteria of success, which we will use in the current paper, differs from Cash et al.’s original formulation in which they portrayed credibility as a scientific interest, and salience and legitimacy as societal interests. It is in line, however, with recent publications in which the authors assume that all actors may hold views on criteria related to all three concepts (Roux et al. 2010; White et al. 2010). The empirical sections of this paper will be used to explore what actors’ criteria for credibility, salience and legitimacy may be in the context of regional climate change adaptation projects. As part of the exploration, we will look for tradeoffs and synergies between the three criteria.

Explaining the success of joint knowledge production

Hegger et al. (2012) have derived seven potential success conditions for regional JNP projects from the literature, which they linked to the four analytical dimensions of the policy arrangements approach (Arts et al. 2006; Van Tatenhove et al. 2000): actors, discourses, rules and resources. Within each dimension, they denominated one or more success conditions. Table 1 provides an overview of the four dimensions and the seven success conditions.
Table 1

Seven success conditions for joint knowledge production projects (from Hegger et al. 2012)


Success conditions


1. Who participates?

The success of joint knowledge production projects is enhanced in cases in which the broadest possible coalition of actors is formed, within the practical and strategic limits present. This probably entails both inclusion and exclusion of actors.


2. The process of defining ‘the problem’

The chance that joint knowledge production is successful is enhanced in cases in which participating actors deliberate on the nature and denomination of the policy problem (un-, badly , moderately or well-structured) and on the type of outcome (ideas, closure on problem definition, concepts, arguments or solutions) to be expected

3. Recognition of differences in actor perspectives

Actors in joint knowledge production projects can be expected to have diverging and implicit perspectives of the world around them. The success of joint knowledge production will be enhanced if the different perspectives of stakeholders are recognized and taken into account. In this, boundary objects can play a mediating role


4. Division of responsibilities

The chance that joint knowledge production is successful is enhanced if actors decide, consciously and reflectively, which role to pursue in a project, how to define their identity in relation to the other actors, and to make their choices known to these other actors

5. Roles of researchers and of research-based knowledge

The chance that joint knowledge production is successful is enhanced in cases in which the role of researchers and their knowledge is clear

6. Reward structures

The chance that joint knowledge production is successful could be enhanced through novel forms of reward structure, but more experience with such examples is needed


7. Specific resources

The chance that joint knowledge production is successful is enhanced through the availability of specific resources (boundary objects, organizational forms and competences)

In Table 2, Hegger et al. (2012) further specify how, theoretically the seven success conditions may contribute to success, measured in terms of the perceived credibility and salience of the knowledge produced as well as the legitimacy of the process. We conclude that the framework of Hegger et al. (2012) makes a first step toward the identification of design principles for JNP by synthesizing existing literature. However, the formulated success conditions have a fairly high level of abstraction. Empirical confrontation is therefore necessary to further specify the framework. The next section makes clear how we have tried to do this.
Table 2

Expected relationship between success conditions of JNP projects and the perceived credibility, salience and legitimacy of the knowledge produced (↑ conducive; ↓ negative influence; ↓↑ ambiguous influence) (source: Hegger et al. 2012: 61)


Expected success condition





1. Broadest possible actor coalition within limits present

↑Through inclusion of place-based knowledge in science

↑ Through inclusion of place-based knowledge in science ↓ due to large degree of complexity

↑ Through inclusion of various different perspectives in the knowledge production process

↓Due to the need to reconcile many different knowledge interests


2. Shared understanding on goals and problem definitions

↑ Within project due to the absence of fundamental epistemological differences ↓↑ outside project context: knowledge may resonate with other actor groups’ epistemologies versus presence of potential gaps with different knowledge coalitions

↑ Knowledge resonates with needs as perceived by policymakers and societal stakeholders

↑ Actors believe that the ‘right’ questions concerning the ‘right’ problem have been asked


3. Recognition of stakeholder perspectives

↑ Through inclusion of place-based knowledge in science

↑ Through inclusion of place-based knowledge in science ↓ due to large complexity

↑ Through inclusion of various different perspectives in the knowledge production process ↓ due to the need to reconcile many different knowledge interests


4. Organized reflection on division of tasks by participating actors

No straightforward relationship assumed

↑ Due to synergetic task divisions

↑ Due to mutual understanding of each others’ interests and explication of assumptions which would otherwise remain implicit

5. Role of researchers and their knowledge is clear

↑ Due to enhanced trust in researchers (absence of ‘stealth issue advocacy’)

↑ Clear what contribution of scientific knowledge could be

↑ Due to enhanced trust in researchers (absence of ‘stealth issue advocacy’)

6. Presence of innovations in reward structures

No straightforward relationship as such, but willingness of actors to engage in joint knowledge production at all is probably enhanced

↑ Since more actors are rewarded for their participation in co-production


7. Presence of specific resources such as boundary objects, facilities, organizational forms and competences

↑ Due to enhanced mutual understanding on viewpoints and interests; learning each other’s language; closer human relationships; more efficient information transfer


We have analyzed Hotspot ZPP as non-involved relative outsiders to the processes studied. As scholars interested in JNP processes in the context of climate change adaptation, we looked for a project in which we were not personally involved, to be able to maintain critical distance from the processes studied. We decided to select a single case to be able to conduct a more in-depth analysis of the JNP processes and to give a more in-depth presentation of our operationalization as well as the JNP processes studied. Hotspot ZPP seemed to be a useful case as it inspired a spin off after the project officially ended in 2009. The national government has acknowledged the project results and has made another € 24 million available for a ‘climate proof development of the Zuidplaspolder area’ ( We focused our analysis on actors’ opinion on the project’s impact.

Data were triangulated by conducting a retrospective analysis of project documents, the project’s media coverage and six semi-structured interviews with key actors2 (February 2011). The latter were selected after studying relevant project documents. These reports gave us the impression that the selected interviewees would be influential key actors that actually ‘did’ the JNP. Our interviewees agreed that our selection provided for a representative overview of the project (each interviewee knows the identity of the other interviewees). We asked all interviewees similar open-ended questions pertaining to, among other things:
  • The project’s main outputs and outcomes according to the interviewee (in terms of explicit and tacit knowledge development; reports; new networks and communities of practice; or (in)direct policy impact);

  • The interviewee’s interest in and passion for the project;

  • How the interviewee sees him/herself (as a scientist, policymaker, project/program manager);

  • The interviewee’s initial expectations regarding the project (and the degree to which these were met, or how perceptions changed);

  • Whether the interviewee considers the science–policy cooperation in Hotspot ZPP to be a fruitful one;

  • How the project relates to the interviewee’s other professional activities (similar, completely different etc.).

We continuously tried to check whether there was concordance or conflict between the interviewees’ reports and asked the interviewees to back up their claims with examples. Summaries of the interviews were cross-checked by the interviewees and analyzed using Atlas (with codes based on our theoretical framework). After our analysis of the project’s degree of success, we sent our findings to the interviewees for feedback. They all responded and unanimously confirmed that they agreed with our analysis. The next section provides some background on the ZPP case (“The hotspot Zuidplaspolder (ZPP) project”). Subsequently, we will present our findings regarding the knowledge developed within the project (“Joint knowledge production in the Zuidplaspolder case”); the project’s relative degree of success (“The success of joint knowledge production in the Zuidplaspolder case”); and our explanation for the degree of success found (“The role of the success conditions in the Zuidplaspolder case”).

The hotspot Zuidplaspolder (ZPP) project


The Zuidplaspolder area is situated in the triangle between the Dutch cities of Rotterdam, Zoetermeer and Gouda (see Fig. 1). It includes the lowest lying polder (reclaimed land) area in the Netherlands, parts of which lie 6.7 meters below sea level. The area (10,000 ha, of which 4,902 ha is actual polder area) is now relatively sparsely populated (100,000 inhabitants), caters for approximately 48,000 jobs and includes approximately 350 ha of commercial premises (Xplorelab 2008).
Figs. 1–2

Fig. 1 Location of the ZPP area in the Netherlands. Fig. 2 Main features of hotspot ZPP (adapted from Climate changes Spatial Planning and Knowledge for Climate 2009)

Mainstream planning process

In 2003, the Dutch national government designated The Zuidplaspolder (ZPP) area as one of the main locations to absorb the urban expansion demands of the Southern part of the Randstad, the Dutch West Coast urban agglomeration (Xplorelab 2008). Planned developments include the building of 15,000 homes, hundreds of hectares of commercial properties, 280 ha of greenhouse horticulture, infrastructural improvements, the development of an extra 500 ha of natural reserves, green zones and green zone links and space for water storage (Xplorelab 2008). A consortium consisting of the province of Zuid-Holland, the municipalities of Zuidplas, Waddinxveen, Gouda and Rotterdam, the regional water authority and the local authorities of Rotterdam (and neighboring municipalities) became responsible for developing the area. At the time of writing this article, the consortium is in the process of implementing the developed ideas. The plans for the ZPP area were severely criticized from the start. Politicians in the Dutch Parliament had doubts about the plan ‘to build in one of the lowest lying areas of Europe knowing that climate change (and sea level rise) will be taking place’. The release of the 4th IPCC assessment report in 2007 intensified the controversies, but fundamental changes in the plans did not occur. Responding to parliamentarians’ questions, the minister of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment mentioned that measures were being taken to make the plans for the area climate proof. Building would not take place in the deepest part of the polder. Studies by the Ministry and on the level of the Hotspot ZPP3 should result in climate proof development of the area.

The hotspot concept

The ZPP was labeled a ‘hotspot’ within the national research program CCSP4 (2005–2011). The term refers to places and regions where science, policy and practice collaborate in projects throughout the whole term of the project. The CCSP program initiated six hotspot studies. At program level, a wide range of criteria was used to select these hotspots. First, potential hotspot projects had to connect to on-going planning processes. Furthermore, climate change and climate-proofing needed to be issues of concern in the region. Moreover, projects chosen should have the potential to become a demonstration project. The main selection criterion, however, was that local stakeholders needed to express interest in becoming a hotspot, exemplified by their willingness to co-finance the project or to make other resources (e.g. facilities) available.

Characteristics of the project

Because of on-going controversies in the mainstream planning process concerning the ZPP area, employees of the Province of Zuid-Holland became interested in ‘getting studies conducted on climate resilience in regions’. They felt the need for what they termed ‘a second opinion’ on climate resilience and thought that the hotspot concept could offer this opportunity. Meanwhile, a new entity called Xplorelab was established within the province of Zuid-Holland ( Xplorelab presents itself as a ‘transdisciplinary innovation laboratory’. Employees are temporarily placed within Xplorelab to carry out collaborative projects bringing researchers, policymakers, business and societal organizations together. At the time of writing, Xplorelab has carried out various projects on spatial and environmental issues. Generally, the projects approach problems within the province (e.g. environmental degradation, flood risks, salinization of groundwater for irrigation, unused office buildings) in an innovative way, looking for win–win situations between actors and functions. Hotspot ZPP was one of Xplorelab’s first projects.

Xplorelab was charged with the responsibility for coordinating the Hotspot ZPP. As Fig. 1 illustrates, the Hotspot ZPP was designed as a parallel process linked to the ongoing planning process. The chosen approach was claimed to enhance creativity without ‘hindering’ those involved with the procedures and logic of the usual planning process (Xplorelab 2008). Some actors involved speak of a ‘bypass to the ongoing planning process’. However, the term ‘bypass’ is perhaps not the most adequate term for describing the position of Hotspot ZPP, since it may give the false impression that there were no links between the mainstream planning process and the Hotspot.

Knowledge exchange

Connections with the on-going planning process were made via two key persons. The project leader within Xplorelab looked at the embedding of the project in the mainstream planning process. For that reason, both the project leader and the chairman of the local water authority were involved in the project. The former became part of the hotspot team and played a role in what he termed ‘monitoring the relevance of Xplorelab’s activities for the ZPP area’. The latter played a role as—what some term—‘ambassador’ of the project; disseminating the project’s results to other governing people. Among others, he became responsible for reporting the results of Hotspot ZPP to the area’s steering committee (Climate changes Spatial Planning and Knowledge for Climate 2009). The Province of Zuid-Holland also organized open days on the development of ZPP at which the results were presented. Throughout the project, Xplorelab collaborated with many different parties: the project bureau of ZPP; the regional water authority; regional environmental NGOs; VU University Amsterdam; Wageningen University; Delft Technical University; and several consulting companies, architects and other commercial participants.

Project setup and results

Three subsequent project stages can be identified (Xplorelab 2008). First, six background studies into the effects of climate change on the ZPP area were conducted. Second, options for climate proof design in the area were identified. This resulted in five reports on promising climate proof demonstration projects. Finally, societal cost-benefit analyses of some of the designs were carried out (De Bruin et al. 2009).

Table 3 provides an overview of the most important official publications about the Hotspot ZPP. The overview is not meant to be exhaustive since the project yielded further written output including more commissioned research, MSc theses, reports of meetings and media coverage. Nevertheless, this list should give the reader a fair impression of the substantive issues the project dealt with. This overview will serve as a reference in the following sections, which mainly deal with the interviewees’ opinions of the knowledge produced throughout the project, the project’s degree of success and the factors explaining this degree of success.
Table 3

Official publications related to Hotspot ZPP and the program ‘Climate Changes Spatial Planning’





Nature of the report



Klimaat voor Ruimte/Arcadis/Brinkman Climate Change


Hotspots Definition Study

Report of CCSP research program, justifying the choice for the program’s six hotspots


Xplorelab, Province of Zuid-Holland


Klimaatadaptatie in de Zuidplaspolder

Final report of Hotspot ZPP, in Dutch


Xplorelab, Province of Zuid-Holland


Climate adaptation in the Zuidplaspolder

Final report of Hotspot ZPP, English translation


Research programs Climate Changes Spatial Planning and Knowledge for Climate


Climate Research Netherlands-Research Highlights

Overview publication of two Dutch climate research programs

Six background studies carried out as part of Hotspot ZPP


VU University Amsterdam/Xplorelab


Klimaatverandering, Achtergrondstudie (Climate change, background study)

1st background study




Natuur, Droogte en Bodemkansen, Achtergrondstudie (Nature, Drought and opportunities for Soil Use)

2nd background study


VU University Amsterdam/Xplorelab


Wateroverlast, Achtergrondstudie (Flooding due to extreme storm events, Background study)

3rd background study


Utrecht University/Xplorelab


Waterveiligheid en Evacuatie (Water safety and evacuation)

4th background study




Breder perspectief op waterveiligheid (broader perspective on water safety)

5th background study




Compartimentering Zuidplaspolder (compartmentalization of the Zuidplaspolder)

6th background study

Five ideas for climate proof design of Hotspot Zuidplaspolder


Bureau Opmaat, Xplorelab


Voorbeeldproject 1. Een klimaatbestendige Zuidplaspolder Noord, voorbeeldproject Zuidplas Noord (Pilot project 1: a climate proof Zuidplaspolder Noord, demonstration project Zuidplas Noord)

1st idea for climate proof design


Dura Vermeer/Xplorelab


Voorbeeldproject 2. Bouwen met kraakhelder water, voorbeeldproject Rode Waterparel (Pilot project 2. Building with clear water, pilot project ‘Rode Waterparel’)

2nd idea for climate proof design


TNO/Rijkswaterstaat/Xplorela b


Voorbeeldproject 3. Klimaatbestendig ontwerpen Nieuwerkerk Noord, voorbeeldproject Nieuwerkerk Noord (Pilot project 3. Climate proof design Nieuwerkerk Noord, pilotproject Nieuwerkerk Noord

3rd idea for climate proof design


TU Delft/Xplorelab


Voorbeeldproject 4. Moordrecht. Het 1,3 meter plan (Pilot project 4. Moordrecht, the 1,3 meter plan)

4th idea for climate proof design




Voorbeeldproject 5. Klimaatmotor Gouweknoop, voorbeeldproject Gouweknoop (Pilot project 5. Climate enginge Gouweknoop, pilot project Gouweknoop).

5th idea for climate proof design

Societal cost-benefit analyses


Wageningen University and Research Center/Xplorelab



Report on cost-benefit analysis of various adaptation options

Joint knowledge production in the Zuidplaspolder case

Our interviews revealed that the ZPP polder project has resulted in knowledge both of the content and of the process of climate change adaptation.

Jointly produced knowledge of the content of climate change adaptation

The interviewees mentioned several examples of the production of knowledge of the content of climate change adaptation. First, studies on the valuation of nature and monetization of the costs and benefits of climate change adaptation options were conducted. These were not only seen as significant results, but also confronted the researchers with the (limitations to the) practical applicability of scientific knowledge. The research into cost-benefit analyses has fueled discussions on discount rates5 and the question of whether a societal cost-benefit analysis would be a suitable tool to monetize long-term benefits. Second, scientific refinement and justification was given for the so-called ‘layer approach’ used in the planning process, in which ‘subsurface’, ‘networks’ and ‘occupation’ layers form leading principles for spatial planning. The hotspot substantiated the idea that this approach intrinsically leads to ‘climate proof’ urban development. Third, several interviewees referred to area-specific knowledge. Policymakers indicated that the project made them aware of the presence and nature of desiccation problems. They also reported that they have become more aware of the nature of the water systems in the area, especially the crucial differences between peat lands (with old and fragmented water systems combined with soil-subsidence) and polders (which, as the name suggests, can be found in most of the area). Fourth, interviewees indicated that the project has led to climate proof designs, including ideas for climate proof houses and for ‘combining clean water and living’. Fifth, it was mentioned that the project provided arguments in favor of the counter-intuitive idea ‘that building in a deep polder need not be unwise or dangerous’. The interviewees stated that these knowledge outcomes could only be reached through collaboration within Xplorelab.

Jointly produced knowledge of the process of climate change adaptation

Apart from knowledge of the content of climate change adaptation, the project has also resulted in process-related knowledge. First, several interviewees referred to the development of a general adaptation approach consisting of three stages (climate effects, designs and evaluation, see Fig. 1). This approach was portrayed as simple and rational, making it attractive to policymakers. Actors at the level of the CCSP program found the development of this approach important. These actors aimed to develop (and acquire insight into) new practices for incorporating ‘climate’ in spatial planning processes. Hotspot ZPP was seen as an important ‘test-case’ for this. The approach developed has been repeated in other more recent projects. Some of the interviewees—including the communication strategist within CCSP—talk in a depreciative way about projects that do not follow this approach.

Second, the project was said to mark the start of the development of a knowledge infrastructure for climate change adaptation. The interviewees seemed to agree ‘that the first stage of raising awareness about the importance of climate-proofing spatial plans is now over’. They emphasize that now ‘knowledge dissemination and sharing’ is important. Various participants have adopted transdisciplinary or mode-2 terminology, using such terms as ‘transdisciplinary cooperation’ or ‘getting the KOMBI6 parties around the table’. Most interviewees were positive about the quality of this knowledge infrastructure. One interviewee emphasized that the project has had an important awareness-raising function for policymakers (who now frequently attend scientific meetings). Several interviewees pointed out the importance of involving decision-makers in climate adaptation projects. One interviewee emphasized the development of tacit knowledge: ‘the main evidence (that the knowledge developed is used in practice) is that directors understand how it (water management) works, and for water-related issues, this is very special. Maybe they cannot explain it to you, but they understand it. This has been the result of the knowledge they gained in the course of the process’. There was one negative comment on the quality of the knowledge infrastructure. An interviewee is disappointed about the extent to which policymakers in other projects apply the lessons from Hotspot ZPP: ‘apparently, each one of those directly involved needs to go through an explicit to tacit knowledge transformation process’.

Third, some interviewees—those who were part of, or frequently present inside Xplorelab—refer to personal competence development and personal learning experiences. One of the researchers gained practical knowledge on water management and learned about how policymaking works. The other researcher learned about the practical applicability of her research. Both researchers indicated that knowledge interfacing and sharing with the people of Xplorelab was facilitated through their physical presence in this setting (which was deemed important by the people of Xplorelab). The researchers seem to consider themselves as passersby in the process; they were able to discuss their own research in great detail, but they indicated that they were not informed about whether or how their results were applied in the policy process. Furthermore, they learned about the importance of ‘being clear about what science can and cannot do’. The project leader of Hotspot ZPP indicates that he improved his management skills, as before the hotspot ZPP he had had no experience as project leader. He also indicated that he has become familiar with the institutional setting in which Dutch PhD researchers have to do their work.7 Parallel to the project, he was able to reflect on ‘what transdisciplinary cooperation entails’. This reflection was enhanced by his involvement in other programs.

The interviewees were able to report on the project’s main knowledge outcomes. Whether this implies that they consider the (JNP) process in the Zuidplaspolder case successful or not is an issue which will be dealt with in the next section.

The success of joint knowledge production in the Zuidplaspolder case

In line with the framework laid out in “Recognizing, evaluating and explaining joint knowledge production”, we have evaluated the degree of success of Hotspot ZPP by assessing to what extent actors’ thresholds and criteria regarding credibility and salience of the knowledge produced as well as the legitimacy of the process were met. We made this assessment by comparing interviewees’ reported interests with their reported outcomes, distinguishing between actors’ role-bound and personal interests. We asked interviewees which outcomes they were held accountable for by others, and what they perceived to be their intrinsic motivation. We re-contacted the interviewees to receive feedback on our analysis. Table 4 summarizes the findings.
Table 4

Actor-specific assessment of the credibility and salience of the knowledge produced and the legitimacy of the knowledge production process in the ZPP project


Criterion met? Explanation given?




Communication strategist of research program

Yes, this did not appear as a major issue in the interviews

Yes, climate-proofing was put on the agenda of policymakers and politicians; transferable (process- and content-related) knowledge and approaches on climate-proofing spatial planning processes were developed; network was formed; national government made 24 million Euro available for ongoing spatial planning processes

Yes, this did not appear as a major issue in the interview

Project leader within Xplorelab

Yes, this did not appear as a major issue in the interviews

Partly, the ongoing planning process was fed with knowledge and designs; transdisciplinary knowledge production was introduced within the province, but not as thoroughly as the interviewee wished; the national government made 24 million Euros available for the ongoing planning process

Partly, there was a tension between formal process requirements (interviewee was held accountable for a well-planned project) and personal conviction (that a too strict planning would not be helpful for the project)

PhD researcher

Yes, this did not appear as a major issue in the interviews

Partly, the project provided no publishable data but the researcher gained practical knowledge of Dutch water management (of later use) as well as insights into policy processes and the functioning of the media

Yes, this did not appear as a major issue in the interviews

PhD researcher

Yes, this did not appear as a major issue in the interviews

Yes, the project provided input for a journal article (role-bound requirement) and involvement in a real case (personal commitment)

Yes, this did not appear as a major issue in the interviews

Project leader of regular planning process

Yes, this did not appear as a major issue in the interviews

Yes, legitimization and scientific underpinning for the approach followed in ZPP was given; controversies were lessened; the project raised awareness for new policy issues (desiccation)

Yes, this did not appear as a major issue in the interviews

Governor of local water authority

Yes, this did not appear as a major issue in the interviews

Yes, the project provided legitimization for plans in ZPP and contributed to a more proactive role for the water authority in spatial planning

Yes, this did not appear as a major issue in the interviews

As Table 4 illustrates, in most cases, actors’ thresholds for credibility, salience and legitimacy in hotspot ZPP were met. Credibility and legitimacy generally did not appear as important issues in the interviews, while actors gave many examples of the production of salient knowledge. After re-contacting the interviewees, we could verify our impression that actors’ thresholds for legitimacy and credibility were met. Both researchers indicated that they did not feel any pressure to produce specific desirable outcomes. This was attributed to the role of Xplorelab as ‘neutral ground’ between the planning process and the scientific institutes. The project leader indicated that (the lack of) credibility and legitimacy was not an issue within the project. However, he regrets the fact that there are still outsiders who criticize the plans for developments in ZPP ‘in the face of the evidence’ and sees this as a lack of legitimacy.

In two cases, actors’ thresholds were not met. One PhD researcher did not manage to publish a journal article about the project, whereas this was expected of him in his role as a researcher. He indicated that he had to address many practical questions on regional consequences of climate change. The answers to these questions were not useful as input for a scientific publication. After addressing these practical questions, there was no time left to deal with more generic questions. On the other hand, this researcher indicated that he learned much (personally and professionally) from his participation in the project, which seems to have fulfilled a compensatory function. In the second case, the project leader indicated that he sometimes deliberately chose ‘to allow the process the time it requires’, although the regional government required him to make a strict schedule and to comply with deadlines. He indicated that he acted against these traditional role-bound expectations out of personal commitment. In both cases, the authors think that the legitimacy of the knowledge production process was compromised to some extent, since what was expected from actors differed from what they were inclined (or able) to do.

Although actors’ thresholds were met, their criteria—especially for salience—varied. The interviewees differed in the importance they attached to the level of support created for developing the ZPP area. Policymakers found this issue the most salient one, whereas the researchers involved also emphasized other problems (e.g. desiccation). Furthermore, knowledge was created which was not salient for policymakers. Several design-oriented undergraduate students involved in the project produced technically adequate, but—according to the interviewee—practically inapplicable designs for floating buildings. The interviewee saw such ‘production of less-relevant knowledge’ as an unavoidable consequence of the distance between the hotspot project and the on-going planning process (which in itself was a well-designed approach according to him), and of the setting of an open planning process. Despite the fact that the interviewees had different view on what constitutes relevant knowledge, the epistemological distance between the interviewed researchers and the policymakers within Xplorelab seemed small. Both the actors themselves and others think that the researchers have enough affinity with practice, whereas the policymakers are relatively knowledge-driven. In conclusion, the hotspot ZPP project was relatively successful according to the interviewees’ criteria. What seemed helpful for this was the relatively large quantity of knowledge produced. The project appeared to have been a rich case in which much happened, reducing the seriousness of a few instances of ‘non-salient’ knowledge. Apparently, differences between scientists, policymakers and other actors were seen as complementary rather than conflicting. The next section will deal with the question, which factors might explain this relative success of Hotspot ZPP.

The role of the success conditions in the Zuidplaspolder case

Table 5 specifies the relationship between expected success conditions and credibility, salience and legitimacy. The table shows that some factors are conducive to credibility, salience AND legitimacy. Interfacing and sharing of tacit knowledge (discourses) seems to have been beneficial for the overall quality of the communication processes. The same holds for the choice for a rational setup (rules, defined by the rational sequence of the triad of ‘analyzing climate effects, designing adaptation options and evaluating these options’). This approach fitted the preferences of both researchers and policymakers. ‘Money’ (resources) in itself does not seem to lead to credible, salient or legitimate knowledge production, but to be a necessary precondition to start JNP at all. Finally, specific resources (facilities and competences) were in place, enhancing the overall quality of the communication processes.
Table 5

Presence of the expected success conditions and their contribution to credibility, salience and legitimacy (+ positive influence; − negative influence, ± relationship possible, but not determined; 0 no influence) (See also Table 1


Expected success condition



Contributed to what?





1. Careful selection of actor network fit for the job takes place


Project was coordinated by Xplorelab, a regional governmental entity located outside formal decision making structures





2. Development of shared problem definitions takes place


Shared underlying values of actors translate as: 1) climate change adaptation is important; 2) scientific knowledge is needed to know if plans are ‘climate proof’




3. Reflection on expectations (e.g. regarding the role of knowledge in policymaking) takes place


The need for interfacing and sharing of tacit knowledge was emphasized (e.g. guided tours, researchers were asked to be physically present within Xplorelab)





4. Reflection on division of responsibilities takes place


Reflexive choice to create both distance and connections between the regular planning process and the hotspot projects




5. Reflective choices on degrees and forms of cooperation are made


Rational setup was chosen with clearly identifiable steps and sub-projects




6. New forms of social accountability and quality control are in place

To some extent

Actors felt that they had to cope with conventional reward structures for scientists and policymakers




7. General (finance) and specific resources are in place


Presence of finance from the research program; specific facilities (Xplorelab office) and boundary objects (meeting tables in the shape of a map of the province) were in place; specific competences were present (e.g. bridge-builders with expertise in science and policy)




Some factors seem to have mainly influenced the perceived salience and legitimacy, rather than the credibility of the JNP. This holds for the coordinating role assumed by Xplorelab (actors), which will have contributed to the identification of knowledge needs (salience). It is also plausible that the presence of knowledge-driven employees of the province of Zuid-Holland (bridge-builders) contributed to legitimacy. But we found no evidence that Xplorelab enhanced credibility as such. This also holds for the influence of ‘developing shared problem definitions’ (discourses). We make the same point for the role of the division of responsibilities (rules). The chosen constellation may have ensured that JNP was deemed salient and legitimate. But we do not see an a priori reason to believe that the chosen positioning of researchers vis-à-vis the policy process contributed to credible knowledge.

We attribute a negative influence to the forms of social accountability and quality control. Although an innovative entity, Xplorelab, was in place, several actors experienced instances in which they were held accountable in a conventional way. One researcher reported that he felt the pressure of producing both policy-relevant knowledge and peer-reviewed journal articles. One policymaker felt pressurized to maintain a strict schedule while he sometimes deemed this less desirable. We believe that this has compromised the legitimacy of the process to some extent.

Lessons from the hotspot Zuidplaspolder case

This specific case has shown that the framework developed by Hegger et al. (2012) provides a useful starting point for empirical analysis of JNP. Our case study has provided a further specification of the framework in Tables 4 and 5. In the ZPP project, scientific support for existing plans was developed. It is likely that the actors involved could not have developed this knowledge in isolation. Neither can the process in the ZPP be labeled as purely scientific or purely political; it was knowledge production at the science–policy interface. In dealing with wicked problems, such JNP efforts seem to be both necessary and possible. Furthermore, we saw that in the perception of the actors, salience received more attention than credibility or legitimacy (see Table 4). We do not yet know if this is because credibility and legitimacy were adequately addressed in the project or that they were simply considered less important.

Nevertheless, we also came across some potential drawbacks of JNP efforts. First, Xplorelab had been the focal point of knowledge production, whereas others outside Xplorelab learned less. Hence, there are likely limitations to the breadth and the depth of the learning outcomes of JNP efforts. Second, JNP efforts seem to display some degree of self-reinforcement. On the positive side, success (or narratives of success, see Van Assche et al. 2011) could be the start of a virtuous cycle of JNP efforts. The Hotspot ZPP project, for instance, paved the way for various forms of science–policy collaboration, including the rational-linear approach of ‘climate effects, design and evaluation’ developed in the project. In this way, the project has facilitated the future extension of the climate adaptation network. However, a potential downside of this may be that the establishment of such an approach may come at the cost of alternative approaches due to the exclusion of specific actor groups. Current narratives on climate change adaptation as developed within Xplorelab may also constrain the future entrance of actors whose storylines radically differ from the ones developed in Hotspot ZPP.

Despite these possible drawbacks, we still believe that JNP can be fruitful. However, this will only be the case if JNP projects are well designed. Reflecting on Table 5, we can deduce three underlying design principles for such JNP projects. First, reflection throughout the project is very important. The way in which success conditions one, three, four, five and seven were dealt with in the ZPP case shows that actors involved did not assume that JNP would happen automatically. One can expect that the fact that choices on how to undertake JNP were made at all has been beneficial for the process. This also resonates with the findings of Roux et al. (2010) who argue that projects benefit from specific measures to enhance such a reflection. Reflection can occur much more easier if the physical proximity between the actors is high and if specific boundary objects are used. Boundary objects are objects that are both adaptable to different viewpoints and robust enough to maintain identity between them, thereby enabling communication between different social worlds (Star and Griesemer 1989). Examples are shared concepts like climate-proofing; the introduction of GIS maps to clarify physical relations; a table in the form of a map of the ZPP within Xplorelab or even the ZPP area itself. The latter can be seen as a boundary object bringing actors together around a real-world problem. Other useful measures to enhance reflection are the recruitment of project leaders with good process management skills (as in the researched case) and to organize specific reflection workshops at milestones in the project process.

Second, reward structures and agency appeared to be relevant. As the previous section has shown, to some extent, success condition six was not met: actors felt that they had to cope with conventional reward structures for scientists and policymakers. Interviewees portrayed this as problematic, but took actions to cope with these—according to them—unfavorable reward structures. This suggests that actions of agents can make up for the perceived shortcomings of structural preconditions. This implies that within JNP projects, people are needed who are prepared to leave their comfort zone. It also suggests that, in project and program setup, incentives are needed for taking new initiatives and coming up with creative ideas.

Third, the case findings suggest that JNP processes can be modulated, but surely not managed. A certain amount of uncertainty and unpredictability will always be present. In the context of Hotspot ZPP, we can only speculate if policymakers would accept that scientists would reach unfavorable conclusions from a policymakers’ point of view (or that this option was excluded by recruiting researchers from what some (Van Buuren and Edelenbos 2004) would term ‘the same knowledge coalition’). The risk of scientization of politics or politicization of science will always be present. In terms of design principles, this implies that projects and programs should provide room to make, and learn from, mistakes. The latter will also have implications for the ways in which projects, their participants and leaders are evaluated (e.g. more formative than summative).


In the previous sections, we made a start with researching the application of Hegger et al.’s (2012) framework for analyzing JNP projects by applying it to an empirical case. In our opinion, this analysis has confirmed the usefulness of a constructivist approach focusing on actors’ opinions about process and content of knowledge production processes. Such an approach can lead to useful insights into the improvement of JNP processes. The current study has, among other things, resulted in the three design principles discussed in the previous section.

We have seen, however, that empirical analysis of JNP processes is challenging. It may run the risk of becoming biased and subjective. In our framework and its operationalization, we have taken several measures to avoid researcher bias. Our measure of ‘success’ is the interviewees’ evaluation as to whether their criteria for credibility, salience and legitimacy were met. We measured the degree to which there was a discrepancy between what participants wanted to get out of the project and what they actually got out of it. This way, we tried to take not our but our interviewees’ normative viewpoints as a starting point. Second, after our analysis of the interviews, we sent our findings to the interviewees for feedback. All interviewees responded and unanimously confirmed that they agreed with the analysis. We think that these two actions can, in general, be recommended to other scholars who intend to engage in analysis of (JNP) processes.

To refine, nuance and extend our set of design principles for JNP, further empirical analyses—through retrospective studies, participant observation, or action research—will be needed. We recommend that the empirical knowledge base includes as many different project types (ways to ‘do’ JNP) as possible, in order to distinguish context-specific factors from the more generic design principles we are interested in. A useful next step would be further empirical research in the same empirical domain. Thereafter, diversification toward other empirical domains characterized by high decision stakes, large uncertainties, many stakeholders and a need for long-term policies (e.g. the energy field) could take place. Empirical confrontation across several contexts probably enables further specification of the success conditions. We also expect it to nuance these conditions (e.g. in some cases, a specific condition may be more important than in others). Finally, we expect comparative empirical assessments to identify patterns and to allow for the development of a typology of JNP projects.

To enable an adequate selection of follow-up cases, it is necessary to determine how the knowledge production dynamics in the discussed empirical case would relate to those in other cases. In the project, we found neither major conflicts of interests nor instances of conflicting evidence. Hotspot ZPP seems to have been an example of ‘learning together’, correcting overly simplistic assumptions about the climate resilience of building in ZPP. There was relatively lots of room in the project design for knowledge production. Notwithstanding the fact that the project was clearly linked to policy, it aimed at development and ex-ante evaluation of policy measures and indirectly evaluated existing policies through the assessment of climate effects for the region. We believe that these arguments allow us to term the project a ‘learning’ case as opposed to an ‘advocacy’ case (Hoppe 2005). The latter would be a case with more value pluralities than we saw in this case. Examples include cases with a lower level of agreement on problem definitions at the start, or projects in which value pluralities become apparent in the course of the project. We therefore propose to select cases for future studies on a continuum between two extremes: projects in which primacy lies with the rationalities of scientists versus projects in which primacy lies with the rationalities of public policy. As our analysis hitherto suggests, Hotspot ZPP did not fall under either of the extremes.

What happened in Hotspot ZPP seems to have been a non-adversarial kind of boundary work, characterized—as Keulartz (2009) would term it—by ‘constructive efforts in facilitating and furthering communication, conflict management and consensus building across the fences that separate communities and their different social worlds’. This communicative process was facilitated by the chosen construction in which Xplorelab functioned as a boundary organization (Guston 2001). Based on this characterization of the position of Hotspot ZPP vis-à-vis other empirical cases, we advise and invite scholars, as a next step, to focus on comparative analyses on projects that are diverse in terms of their positioning between science and policy.


  1. 1.

    The Dutch governmental subsidies for these programs amount to €40 billion for Climate changes Spatial Planning and €50 billion for Knowledge for Climate (;, constituting less than 50% of the total budget for these programs. The partners participating in the projects finance the rest of the costs.

  2. 2.

    The key actors were as follows: the project leader of Hotspot ZPP; the communication strategist of CCSP (although she did not formally supervise the project, the project leaders closely involved her to enhance mutual learning, mainly because ZPP was the research program’s first so-called ‘Hotspot’); a PhD researcher, earth system scientist by profession (he became involved in the ZPP project because of his past experiences with other CCSP projects); a PhD researcher trained as an environmental economist (she was asked to participate following a meeting on climate change and adaptation at the VU University Amsterdam); the project leader of the on-going regional spatial planning process in the Zuidplaspolder area (he was one of the persons initiating the project the moment he heard that funding was available to study ‘climate resilience’ in regions. He hoped that the project would substantiate his impression that the planning process until then had indeed been resilient) and the governor of the regional water authority who played a key role in connecting the project to the area’s steering committee.

  3. 3.
  4. 4.

    Just like the currently running Knowledge for Climate program (2009–2014), CCSP focused on the concept of ‘climate-proofing’ (Kabat et al. 2005). The latter notion refers to developing and mainstreaming climate adaptation and mitigation measures; social innovation in risk management and coping strategies (e.g. Institutional innovation, shifts in governance, spatial planning, legislation) and other innovations (Climate changes Spatial Planning and Knowledge for Climate 2009). The programs received, respectively, 40–50 million Euros from the Economic Structure Enhancing Fund (FES), while the participating organizations and stakeholders contribute an additional 110 million Euros.

  5. 5.

    Discount rates can be seen as interest rates used to attach a lower value to future (as opposed to present) costs and benefits. In the study of De Bruin, similar to Dutch regulations for spatial planning, discount rates of 2.5 and 4 % were used.

  6. 6.

    ‘KOMBI’ is a Dutch acronym which stands for ‘knowledge, government, society, business, integration’. The acronym has been developed in the framework of Transforum, another research program funded by the Economic Structure Enhancing Fund (which was also the main funder of the CCSP).

  7. 7.

    Young researchers at Dutch universities often get a four-year appointment as a research assistant (AIO in Dutch). AIOs’ main task is to conduct research and to produce research output: a PhD thesis combined with a number of peer-reviewed journal articles. One of the interviewed AIOs managed to write a journal article on the ZPP case, whereas the other one did not.



This paper was prepared with the support of the Dutch National Partnership for Sustainable Earth Research. We thank the interviewees for their collaboration and their feedback on our analysis. We would also like to thank René Kemp, Peter Driessen, Astrid Offermans, Ron Cörvers, Jeanine Schreurs and Harro van Lente for their constructive comments on earlier versions of this paper as well as Clare Barnes and Tina Newstead for their language corrections.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dries Hegger
    • 1
  • Annemarie Van Zeijl-Rozema
    • 2
  • Carel Dieperink
    • 1
  1. 1.Utrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Maastricht UniversityMaastrichtThe Netherlands

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