Role determination in area planning processes: summary of Vitens Tailored Research project results

In order to safeguard groundwater abstraction into the future, it is very important that water companies position themselves externally in a conscious and well-considered manner. Vitens wanted to determine the nature and shape of its future role, and dispose of a set of realistic options. The company therefore asked us to conduct research, within the BTO’s Tailored Research programme, into the possible roles it could play, and to identify relevant external trends and developments in different (policy) areas. We also took both these elements and translated them to Vitens’ specific context, by means of a ‘serious game’ among others. The objective was to characterise the ideal-type roles, identify the key trends and developments, and reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of each of the roles in light of the trends identified.

Game board of serious game ‘Roles in area planning processes’

Game board of serious game ‘Roles in area planning processes’

Information from interviews and literature applied in analysis

To present Vitens with tested and realistic options, which offer the company a base to determine its role in area planning processes regarding its (3D) recharge and abstraction areas, we conducted literature and source research and 12 interviews with experts. We used this information to:

  • Define and validate possible roles that Vitens can play in area planning processes regarding its (3D-) recharge and abstraction areas.
  • Signal and analyse trends and developments in the external environment that might impact its playing of possible roles.
  • Test the feasibility and workability of the four possible roles by confronting them with the external environment.

Four ideal-type roles, dominant trends and a serious game

The four ideal-type roles we identified in this research are: the ethnocentric actor, the water interactor, the entrepreneur and the opportunist. This allows Vitens, in specific cases, to make targeted choices for its future position with regard to other stakeholders. There is no clear preferred role; depending on the different cross-disciplinary dominant characteristics, each role offers both opportunities and drawbacks.

We also analysed the key trends and developments in the external environment in which Vitens operates. We identified six over-arching, cross-disciplinary themes as being dominant and influential in this environment: intensification, decentralisation/deregulation, intertwining, marketing, acceleration and individualisation. We also observed that these themes, despite their distinct character, can also be interconnected, mutually-reinforcing and/or -neutralising.

To support Vitens in formulating a (context-dependent) preferred position, we brought the roles and the characterisation of the external environment together and transposed them to a ‘serious game’. This strategic tool offers Vitens an opportunity to reflect, gain awareness and identify building blocks for its external positioning.