A complex decision-making process bogged down in deadlock and delay. It's an all too common occurrence. A range of disciplines inputs knowledge; there's no consensus on the validity of that knowledge; and the negotiators have their doubts about the quality of the preceding research. What's more, the solutions or the directions in which to seek them are often numerous.

Consequence: the decision-making drags on and no one is really happy with the comprises reached finally, if at all. An administrative deadlock like this, wasting time, money and trust, has afflicted such projects as the extension of the A4 between Delft and Schiedam, the construction of wind farms, drilling in the Wadden Sea and the subsurface storage of CO2.

Mediation in controversial land-use plan

Mediation, as a way of resolving a conflict, is nothing new. In the field of controversial – often politically sensitive – development projects, however, mediation is not yet a tool that is typically used.

A mediator gets the various stakeholders talking to one another and creates a climate in which together they can build a knowledge basis endorsed by everyone. This increases the likelihood of long-term and constructive consultation and the need to bicker about knowledge is removed. As an independent knowledge mediator, TNO supervises controversial land-use planning projects. It does this by setting up systematic processes and in this way enabling government bodies, stakeholders and the public to integrate their perspectives and ideas in an accepted and practical solution. All the involved parties draw on their own knowledge and the knowledge of experts. In so doing, account is taken with:

  • the policy context of the controversial project;
  • the administrative relations between the various government bodies;
  • the preconditions that all the involved parties impose on the process and the outcomes.

Example from the field: Arnemuiden

In a period of administrative reforms in the 1990s, the city of Middelburg presented ambitious plans for its future. The land-use plans affected the outskirts of the new city neighbourhood of Arnemuiden and ran up against strong resistance from Arnemuiden residents who did not appreciate plans to flood agricultural ground and homes. The decision-making was subsequently mothballed for ten years. All the while the need to give the area a boost grew, due in part to the decline in tourism. In close cooperation with government partners, TNO led a mediation process with residents, farmers and companies in Arnemuiden. To give the quality of the area a boost, and with the help of experts, they developed scenarios dealing with the area's land use and organisation. These scenarios were offered as advice to local administrators and have since been adopted in Middelburg's land-use plans.