Nature4Cities studied the ways to engage citizens and stakeholders to develop strategies towards inclusive planning and implementation processes of Nature Based Solutions (NBS). We explored mechanisms that foster stakeholder participation and allow effective engagement. Furthermore, communication strategies with various stakeholders, including citizens, within different contexts are taken into consideration.
Even though NBS are considered as novel sustainable solutions to climate adaptation, their actual capacity to address urban challenges must be proven in operational environments. Therefore, due to the complexity of NBS (holistic, cross-sectoral approach), learning, monitoring and evaluation should not be done ex-post and external from the planning process but are a core element of the process, allowing for adjustments and adaptations to the local context.
Including a diversity of stakeholders means that diverse types of knowledge (including local, tacit and experiential knowledge) are recognized as valid and are included in the planning and implementation process of NBS.
Therefore, the question leading this part of Nature4Cities' work was to detremine:
How to organize the governance around NBS to guarantee a fair and equal participation of all stakeholders (including citizens), to foster an early detection of diverse benefits and negative effects of NBS projects?
The methodology to answer to this question has been the following:
Bridging the gap between ideals and the practical implementation of NBS
These past years, research and publications on the development and implementation of NBS have increased significantly. However, the practical implementation of NBS is lagging behind this increasing body of literature.
While definitions of (ideal) NBS become more and more ambitious, the gap with the messy nature of day-to-day efforts to realize these solutions in a participatory manner appears to be growing.
Therefore, we developed a practical implementation guide that can decrease this gap by supporting the participatory development and evaluation of NBS in practice.
In practice, like with other spatial interventions, the planning and implementation of green solutions does not necessarily take place in a participatory and inclusive manner.
In many countries, formal rules require stakeholder participation in spatial planning processes which often entails some form of consultation very often limited to providing information or consulting on ready-made plans. Participation early in the process is usually not formally required nor institutionalized as a standard procedure. However, there are good reasons to recognize and value such timely participatory trajectories, especially in the early planning and implementation of NBS. One reason is that considering the ideas, perspectives and (tacit) knowledge of local residents can contribute to a better project design and will improve the outcomes. In addition, tailoring the project to the needs and requirements of the local community may lead to socially just outcomes, that are supported and socially accepted.
At the same time, there is the dilemma that while the involvement of citizens and
stakeholders is regarded as a basic requirement, this provides room to participants that are not convinced that NBS is the right solution. Participation requires taking into account a diversity of voices, ideas, interests, values and requirements. These need to be carefully weighted, and inevitable tradeoffs between benefits and co-benefits will take place – which may not be accepted by all stakeholders.
Moreover, participation does not necessarily rule out negative (side-) effects such as gentrification, reduction of costs and high risks because the mid and long term effects of an intervention are not always clear. Ultimately, the question is how, for whom and under which conditions an NBS is the most desirable solution in a given context.
To make this question practical, we developed a practical guide for co-creation and co-production of Nature-based Solutions. This guide attempts to connect the conceptual, ideal concept of NBS with the institutionalised planning and decision-making structures of the real world. It offers guidance and support to practitioners responsible for NBS interventions.
The step-by-step guide for the co-creation and co-production of NBS projects created by Nature4Cities is based on two place-based approaches: Placemaking and Environmental Justice.
Placemaking proposes a method in which the ideas, values and needs of local communities become key input for shaping places and empowerment of local communities.
Environmental Justice, like Placemaking, also offers invaluable insights on how these
translation practices can be shaped, and how to involve communities in local planning in such a way that the local community benefits from it, preventing actual and potential inequities.
The Step-by-Step Guide, a useful tool to support urban planning practitioners in the co-creation and co-production of NBS projects
All the steps described in the Step-by-Step Guide were discussed according to their relevance, what they entail and on how a project lead/project organization can address the implementation process. The Guide furthermore identifies the tools and methods on the Nature4Cities platform that will be useful for particular steps in the planning process.
This guide can be used in a ‘pick-and-mix’ manner, with variations in the order and choice of steps in view of the particular local situation.
They provided case examples of participation strategies (some of which being based on their practical experiences with NBS projects) and gave feedback on the guide.
This work was enriched by a field work conducted in these four municipalities to elicit citizens’ needs and requirements regarding NBS.
The guide is user-centered and aims to support practitioners by proposing participation mechanisms and communication strategies that will inform a socially inclusive approach to the development, planning, implementation and maintenance of NBS interventions. The guide furthermore offers building blocks for a tailored communication strategy and proposes practical hands-on tools and methods to be used during the planning, implementation and maintenance of NBS projects.
The steps proposed intend to help creating a framework for dialogue, negotiation and
learning in which diverse perspectives and types of knowledge are acknowledged and recognized, where there is room to discuss the distribution of costs (including risks) and (co)benefits, and whereby an effort is done to enable and support all participants in the process to express their views.