Do strategic delta plans get implemented? The case of the Mekong Delta Plan

Abstract

A strategic delta plan can alter the course of delta management. Implementation of such a plan essentially involves a change of minds about delta management priorities and strategies for sustainable livelihoods. Such a change of minds, or “soft implementation”, must come before material, or “hard”, implementation can take off. To explore the influence of strategic delta plans in bringing about a change of minds among the actors involved, we examined four features of soft implementation: prospects for change, new mental models, consent and decision-making. We then applied these features to analyse implementation of the Mekong Delta Plan (MDP). The MDP envisions agro-industrialisation in the Mekong Delta, with dynamic land use, high-value commodities and enhanced interprovincial collaboration. We found that 3 years after its completion, the MDP has indeed been influential in introducing new ways of thinking about both delta problems and transformative strategies for agribusiness development. Minds have changed at all levels of the planning system, though change at the local level remains most limited. Implementation is fragile, however, as a small though influential group actively promotes and subscribes to the MDP’s precepts. The plan has influenced national policies, provincial project proposals and donor loans. We found the four features to provide a valuable entry point for assessing the influence and effectiveness of the strategic delta plan. They might prove useful to planners, investors and researchers too in designing and evaluating strategic planning processes for more sustainable land and water resources management.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    The Mekong Delta Plan attracted an initial US$310 million loan from the World Bank. Second and third instalments of similar amounts are expected towards 2030. The Dutch Delta Programme commands a budget of some €15 billion up to 2028. The Bangladesh Delta Plan seeks to earmark $70 billion up to 2050.

  2. 2.

    Master planning in Vietnam is done by line ministries, which set targets for development towards 2030. Recently, approved master plans cover agriculture (Decision 124/QD-TT), aquaculture (Decision 1445/QD-TT) and industrial development (Decision 879/QD-TTg).

  3. 3.

    Initially, this led to semantic confusions around the English and Vietnamese meanings of delta plan. For some policy and bureaucratic stakeholders, the very word plan brought expectations of an investment programme in the traditional master plan style. Establishing the MDP as a visionary document integrating, the myriad of sector plans was thus a change of minds process itself.

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Acknowledgments

Our special gratitude goes to the interviewees for sharing their insights on Mekong Delta planning with us. A special thanks goes to Dr. Long of Tra Vinh University for on-the-ground support for the interviews and field trips. We are grateful to Prof. Nhan and Assoc. Prof. Vu of Can Tho University for creating and sharing the Mekong Delta land use map. We also thank the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on this manuscript.

Funding

This research was funded by the Urbanising Deltas of the World Programme of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) under Project No. W 07.69.106.

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Seijger, C., Hoang, V.T.M., van Halsema, G. et al. Do strategic delta plans get implemented? The case of the Mekong Delta Plan. Reg Environ Change 19, 1131–1145 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10113-019-01464-0

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Keywords

  • Strategic planning
  • Transitions
  • Social learning
  • Governance
  • Soft implementation
  • Mekong Delta