Area planning process systems

Space is scarce in the Netherlands and the responsibilities for the management of public space are often decentralised. This means that area planning processes – i.e., reaching agreements on the use of public space – involve many different stakeholders. We refer to these stakeholders as the ‘planning-area stakeholders’. Drinking water companies are planning-area stakeholders in numerous area planning processes: they need space to realise their objectives – for example, to protect their water sources. For this reason, within the joint research programme for the water companies (BTO), a new conceptual model has been developed to assist them in better structuring their stakeholder management (that is, the way in which they handle area planning processes).

The model focuses on four key components of stakeholder management:

  1. Internal organisation: philosophy, policy and structure
  2. Context analysis: process investigation and own role selection
  3. Acting in the environment: establishing and maintaining contacts, sharing experience
  4. Reflection on actions, philosophy and learning capability, to improve stakeholder management

A structured approach for area planning processes

Click on the numbers in the illustration for information on the component. More extensive information is available in the research report.

A structured approach for area planning processes

1. Internal organisation

Organisations, such as drinking water companies, have complete control over their internal operational management and can determine the form their stakeholder management takes. They are therefore in a position to establish a long-term approach. This involves two key components:

1. Overarching philosophy

Stakeholder management affects many different layers in an organisation, from project planning and implementation to administration and communication. By developing an overarching stakeholder management philosophy, drinking water companies can give direction to the various stakeholder activities within their organisation. Moreover, a philosophy helps drinking water companies to speak with a single voice when participating in area planning processes in the outside world. Suitable stakeholder management philosophies include strategic stakeholder management (early and structural development of cooperative relationships), the self-learning organisation (structuring stakeholder management on the basis of what ‘works’ in practice), and coordinated action (the development of a single central vision and of core values on stakeholder management).

1. Internal policy and structure

Based on the chosen overarching philosophy, a drinking water company can design its internal policy and company structure. A specific stakeholder management policy calls for the necessary staff, financial and knowledge resources. Good stakeholder management also requires the establishment of good relations between the different departments involved.

2. Context analysis

A drinking water company needs to determine a strategy for each area planning process. This requires a context analysis: a preliminary investigation of the area planning process and a determination of the role that the drinking water company wants to play in the particular process. The context analysis can be incorporated as a fixed step in the stakeholder policy, but the details of what this involves will vary with the type of planning process: complex processes demand a more extensive preliminary investigation than simple ones.

2. Preliminary investigation

A preliminary investigation will outline the context of the area planning process. What is the origin of the process? Was it the initiative of the water company or of another stakeholder? What is the priority of the process: does it affect a primary or secondary asset of the drinking water company? Who are the planning-area stakeholders and what are their interests? In this way a picture is created of the extent and complexity of the process.

2. Role determination

Based on the preliminary investigation, the water company can decide what role it wants to play in the area planning process. In a previous project (BTO 2014.064), four roles were distinguished: the ethnocentrist (minimalistic and risk-averse), the opportunist (participation in ongoing processes if opportunities arise), the water interactor (process leader in promising projects) and the entrepreneur (active search for opportunities).

3. Acting in the environment

How the drinking water company, or its stakeholder manager, acts during an area planning process cannot be defined in advance, because this behaviour needs to constantly adjust to the changing circumstances and the contacts with the planning-area stakeholders. This is how individual stakeholder managers build up their knowledge and experience. It is important that they record and maintain the contacts they have made, and share the experience they have built up within their own company, so that the experience can be used to better structure future area planning processes.

3. Record contacts

In order to build upon existing area planning contacts, the contact details can be entered into a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. This demands considerable investments – primarily in time, but also financial – but offers the benefit of insight into the current relationship with planning-area stakeholders and the possibility of effectively harmonising one’s own actions in their regard.

3. Maintain contacts

The relationship with ‘fixed’ planning-area stakeholders (stakeholders who the drinking water company frequently encounters in area planning processes) can also be maintained ‘beyond the context of area planning processes’. Planning-area stakeholders can thus remain informed about each other’s interests, and conflicts and collaboration opportunities can be identified and responded to at an early stage. For instance, each stakeholder manager can maintain a number of fixed contacts; another option is to establish ongoing consultation structures with (specific) planning-area stakeholders.

3. Collect experiences

A drinking water company can collect its experiences in stakeholder management as a means of better structuring its actions in area planning processes. These experiences can be written out (e.g., in a stakeholder management manual, with do’s and don’ts) or be shared and discussed orally (e.g., as a permanent agenda item in meetings).

4. Reflection on actions

Area planning processes are dynamic and can vary widely in terms of time, extent and focus. It is a good idea, during and/or after an area planning process, to look back on one’s own actions and to draw lessons for the future. This reflection can occur at three levels: actions taken in area planning processes, the philosophy chosen and the organisation’s learning capability. It is important to make use of the conclusions of the reflections to strengthen one’s stakeholder management.

4. Reflection on actions in area planning processes

The reflection on actions in area planning processes is concentrated on problem solving. This form of reflection is especially important when the ‘normal’ behaviour of a drinking water company in an area planning process no longer suffices to achieve the goals the drinking water company has set for itself. On the basis of this reflection, a stakeholder manager can adjust his or her own actions, for example, by using the Deming Cycle (Plan, Do, Check, Act). This tool can also be used to reflect on the chosen role and strategy development.

4. Reflection on the philosophy

The reflection on the philosophy revolves around the assumptions and objectives underlying the chosen stakeholder management philosophy and strategy. To what extent is the philosophy still appropriate given the area planning processes the drinking water company is dealing with? Are the personnel policy and the internal organisational structure still suitable?

4. Reflection on learning capability

The reflection on the learning capability refers to optimising the learning capability within the drinking water company. How can one ensure that reflection and learning are a permanent and structural component of the company’s stakeholder management?