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Strategic decision making in infrastructure sectors:Participatory foresight and strategic planning for sustainable sanitation


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Strategic decision making in infrastructure sectors. Participatory foresight and strategic planning for sustainable sanitation Infrastructure sectors in general, and urban water management in particular, have developed over the past couple of decades within the confines of a rather narrow and stable socio-technical regime. Nowadays, these infrastructures are increasingly confronted with uncertain context conditions, a broadened spectrum of technological alternatives and an increasing heterogeneity of value positions. As a consequence, the longterm sustainability of these sectors has been questioned by many commentators. Of particular importance is the way strategic decisions are made. Current approaches tend to block important opportunities for sustainable transformation. It is argued here that a more reflex ive, discursive and participative approach to strategic planning is needed. The paper introduces «Regional Infrastructure Foresight» (RIF) as a method which combines foresight on regional framework conditions with a stakeholder assessment of a broad range of system options. The paper presents the methodology in some detail and discusses the main lessons learned through three empirical applications in the Swiss sanitation sector. Based on these experiences, it is argued that strategic decision making in infrastructures is of high relevance for regional policy and therefore warrants more attention in future research in economic and political geography.
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Strategic decision making in infrastructure sectors Eckhard Störmer, Bernhard Truffer 73
Eckhard Störmer, Bernhard Truffer, Dübendorf
1 Introduction
Infrastructure sectors in general and utility services
in particular, are often considered by economic geog-
raphers as rather unexciting exemplars of the «old»
regional policy paradigm. Infrastructures are perceived
as necessary basic services which have to be provided
in a non-discriminatory way to all citizens and firms
in a national territory in order to provide good condi-
tions on which further economic and societal devel-
opment can build. Associated with this «Fordist» goal
orientation, a rather narrow and strongly aligned
socio-technical regime emerged consisting of physi-
cal components with long lifespans and correspond-
ingly «hard wired» institutional structures. As a con-
sequence, infrastructure investment is considered by
economic geographers as having lost its legitimacy as
a topic of research.
The societal consensus about this development trajec-
tory, however, has been increasingly questioned since
the late 1980s: neo-liberal movements, for instance,
demanded a stronger orientation towards efficiency
goals and promoted deregulation, privatization and
liberalization initiatives worldwide. Development
agencies questioned the transferability of dominant
regime structures to developing countries. New tech-
nologies allowed for radically new system configura-
tions concerning the provision of utility services. All
of these changes increase pressure on the established
regime and call for a broader analysis of potentially
more sustainable systems of infrastructure service pro-
vision in the future.
The present paper exemplifies the dynamics and chal-
lenges faced by the sanitation sector in more detail.
Given the long lifespan of most of its technological
components, and the splintered organizational struc-
tures that are responsible for managing these systems,
the sanitation sector is a particularly interesting field
of research. In order to better understand how the
dominant socio-technical regime is reproduced, the
«core» of the sector’s decision structures is analyzed in
more detail. Particular attention is paid to the proce-
dures established for strategic planning. Given the long
lifespans of the material components, the basic layout
of the infrastructure system need only be focused on
at critical periods of time. For a waste water treatment
plant, for example, this critical period would be at the
end of its lifespan, i.e. typically after thirty years of
operation. At these points, the range of possible future
configurations is diverse. Once decisions are taken and
implemented, however, the system configuration will
be locked-in for about another thirty years. It is argued
here that the process of strategic planning today favors
the perpetuation of the dominant regime, even though
alternatives based on sustainability criteria are avail-
able. As an alternative, the authors propose Regional
Infrastructure Foresight (RIF) as a decision support
tool. By using RIF, uncertainties in context condi-
tions, ranges of options and diverging value positions
are explicitly addressed. The method allows for more
reflexivity in the decision making process, thereby
improving the likelihood of the process to take into
account upcoming challenges in these sectors. As a
consequence, it is argued that infrastructures might
once again become a legitimate topic for research in
economic and political geography.
In the following section, the sustainability challenges
of sanitation infrastructures in industrialized coun-
tries, and in Switzerland in particular, are character-
ized. This is followed by an introduction to the concept
of a socio-technical regime as a means to analyze path
dependencies in infrastructures systems. Furthermore,
established procedures in strategic planning are ana-
lyzed and starting points for developing a more reflex-
ive approach to planning are derived. Section four out-
lines the «Regional Infrastructure Foresight» method
in some detail. Implications from the application of
the method, as well as an outlook for future research
on infrastructure development in geography are pre-
sented in the final section.
2 The challenges of sanitation
Sanitation infrastructure has been built up as a gen-
eral public service in most industrialized countries
over the past 50 years. This was a largely undisputed
process which guaranteed hygienic living conditions
and improved water quality for the population at
large. The connection rate in Switzerland grew from
below 15% in 1965 to 97% in 2005. The improvement
to water quality has to be judged as a huge success
in environmental policy implementation. During this
build-up phase, a very narrowly aligned socio-techni-
cal regime emerged. The material basis of the infra-
structure sector consists of concrete sewerages with a
Strategic decision making in infrastructure sectors
Participatory foresight and strategic planning for sustainable sanitation
74 Geographica Helvetica Jg. 64 2009/Heft 2
lifespan of about 80 years and centralized waste water
treatment plants with a lifespan of 30 years. These key
technological components exhibit strong economies of
scale at the level of the individual plant, which leads
to a centralizing logic in the system layout (the more
water users are connected, the lower the per capita
costs). In line with the material requirements of this
technology, investment and operation decisions were
delegated to public organizations controlled or owned
by local communities.
Despite the very obvious success story of the diffu-
sion of this sanitation regime, scholars have recently
started to raise doubts about its long-term sustainabil-
ity (Larsen & Gujer 2001; Wilderer 2004). The main
reasons given are that the continuation of the estab-
lished regime will be challenged by increasing uncer-
tainties in the context conditions under which sanita-
tion will have to operate in the future. Infrastructures
are strongly vulnerable to these framework conditions
because long-term investments are limited in their flex-
ibility to respond to changes in performance requests
(e.g. changes in population and industrial activity, new
pollutants, changes in local hydrology). The need to
adapt is increasing and changes induced could prove
to be excessively costly.
In the 1960s and 1970s, when this socio-technical regime
was developed and implemented nationwide, growth
rates of population and industry in the catchment area
were considered constant, the emerging technological
paradigm remained largely unchallenged and goals
by which performance should be assessed were suf-
ficiently clear (elimination of nutrients, un-discrimi-
nated access to sanitation service, relative unimpor-
tance of costs and tariffs and the provision of these
services by public institutions). Over the past decade,
however, many of these established certainties have
been challenged by new regulatory frameworks (e.g.
privatized ownership of utilities), reduced financial
stability of communities, risks from new pollutants or
contagious diseases, new technologies (e.g. household
centered water treatment), regional population and
industry dynamics and new hydrological conditions
associated with a changing climate. All of these con-
ditions raise doubts as to whether a simple continua-
tion of the socio-technical regime will still be optimal
in the mid-term. The example of shrinking regions in
Eastern Germany shows the impediments of a too
narrow planning approach (Moss 2008): In the early
1990s, significant overcapacities in urban water man-
agement infrastructure were planned, based on overly
optimistic scenarios of economic development. Today,
these lead to pressing operating problems. Rising costs
of utility services ultimately impact negatively the
attractiveness of the region for new businesses and
3 The transformation of socio-technical regimes
In order to understand how socio-technical regimes
narrow the potential development paths of a sector
and how strategic planning might influence these path
dependencies, a closer look is taken here at recent lit-
erature in these areas.
3.1 Infrastructure sectors as socio-technical regimes
The interaction between material artifacts and social
processes has gained considerable interest in the
interdisciplinary field of science and technology stud-
ies (see Truffer 2008). Several concepts have been
developed that emphasize the mutually structuring
role between these two spheres which until then were
treated as essentially separated and independent. One
of the first concepts developed in reference to infra-
structure sectors draws attention to Large Technical
Systems (LTS) (Hughes 1987, 1998). Strong interde-
pendencies are postulated to exist between technical
components, infrastructures, institutions, power rela-
tions, organizational practices and patterns of use.
This interdependency leads on the one hand to a high
degree of malleability of technical structures relative
to their social contexts. On the other hand, once estab-
lished, these socio-technical systems exhibit a high
degree of stability and inertia (Coutard 1999; Joerges
1988; Summerton 1994). More recently, the potential
for sustainable transformation of socio-technical sys-
tems has been analyzed in the literature. This line of
thought states that historically, extended periods of
dominating matching technical and institutional con-
figurations (so-called socio-technical regimes) may be
identified that developed along very narrow trajecto-
ries. Fundamental reconfigurations will only take place
if major shifts in context conditions (landscape forces)
allow new socio-technical configurations (here called
niches) to mature and supplant the formerly dominant
regimes (see Geels 2004; Geels & Schot 2007; Rip &
Kemp 1998).
Applied to the Swiss sanitation sector, the currently
dominant regime structures would be the material
infrastructures and artifacts in the sanitation system
which strongly follow a civil engineering logic. On the
whole, the material components consist of concrete-
lined pipes structures in the ground, supplemented
by chemical and biological engineering processes for
treating the polluted water. Performance conditions
are defined by environmental law. Communities are
responsible for constructing, operating and partly also
controlling the performance of these structures. In line
with the material necessities and technological para-
digms favored by civil engineers, increasing degrees
of centralization were strongly favored. This drive for
larger structures is somewhat counterbalanced, how-
ever, by the political powers that decide about the
74 Geographica Helvetica Jg. 64 2009/Heft 2
Strategic decision making in infrastructure sectors Eckhard Störmer, Bernhard Truffer 75
financing of the projects. The latter are mostly located
at community level and consist of lay people, favor-
ing community wide structures that guarantee a larger
degree of political control. Caught between these
different logics, development trajectories currently
observable in urban water management have had a
very low degree of variation.
In order to break up these path dependencies, it will
not suffice to present some new and promising tech-
nological alternatives to the responsible authorities.
Rather, a conscious process has to be established
which is able to deal with the interrelated nature of
the socio-technical regimes in order to identify options
for more fundamental reconfigurations. One recent
proposal on how such multifaceted transformation
policies could be conceived runs under the heading of
Transition Management (Rotmans et al. 2001). Here,
long-term goal formulation is combined with shorter
term experimentation (niche development) for explor-
ing potentially feasible (and more preferable) alterna-
tives (Hoogma et al. 2002). The results of such experi-
ments may be evaluated in the context of participatory
visioning exercises (Wiek et al. 2006) and thus gener-
ate the context for a long-term reflexive management
approach (Loorbach 2007; Truffer et al. 2008; Voss et
al. 2006). However, before a decision procedure con-
ceived along these lines may be proposed, it is neces-
sary to carefully analyze strategic planning processes
currently prevailing in the urban water management
3.2 Conventional planning and transition oriented
Conventional strategic infrastructure planning aims
at defining a long-term development corridor for the
system as a whole. It should be based on sound pre-
dictions of future context conditions and a thorough
performance analysis of technical and organizational
options (Mugabi et al. 2007). The planning proc-
ess is usually run by technical experts commissioned
by municipal authorities. Currently, solutions are
restricted to specific segments, like the waste water
treatment plant, and do not refer to the sanitation
system as a whole. Suggestions for alternatives are
mostly restricted to minor variations of the prevailing
configurations. Costs are considered to be the evalua-
tion criterion of overriding importance (see Tab. 1).
This approach is characterized by various limitations
which can be analyzed in order to define requirements
for more future oriented strategic planning approaches
(see Albrechts 2006 regarding strategic spatial plan-
ning). Firstly, sound predictions on future develop-
ments are often not available for the long-term. In
situations of high uncertainties of system interactions
and long time scales, foresight approaches (Ringland
2002) – i.e. the discursive elaboration of possible con-
text developments leading to plausible and coherent
scenarios – may be considered to be more appropri-
ate. With regard to environmental decision making,
scenario planning has been recently advocated by
scholars as a coordination device in interdisciplinary
research contexts (Dominguez et al. 2009; Lienert et
al. 2006; Truffer et al. 2008; Wiek et al. 2006).
Secondly, the search for piecemeal optimizations tends
to blind out interdependencies within the system. Stra-
tegic planning has to generate an integrated vision for
the infrastructure system as a whole. The vision has to
consider the entire process chain from the water user
to the effluent in order to avoid inconsistent solutions
leading to performance bottlenecks. Furthermore, the
range of alternative system configurations has to be
broadened as far as possible.
Thirdly, the focus on cost efficiency at fixed environ-
mental standards neglects alternative assessment cri-
teria and value positions that have to be considered
in order to reach more sustainable solutions. Solutions
should be selected respecting the rationality of differ-
ent sets of values and interests (Flyvbjerg 2001). This
implies the involvement of stakeholders and allows
reaching a higher degree of reflexivity.
Finally, delegating the definition of the development
goal to technical experts clouds the actual «political»
responsibilities of local authorities. This kind of del-
egation still belongs to a kind of trust in experts often
found under conditions of «simple modernity». In «late
modernity», active trust has to be won by transparent
processes involving autonomous, reflexive individuals
(Giddens 1994). As a consequence, divisions of tasks
between decision makers, experts and stakeholders
have to be handled explicitly throughout the whole
process in order to guarantee legitimacy of the final
4 RIF – Participatory Foresight for Infrastructure
Based on the criticism of conventional planning prac-
tice and recent lessons from Transition Management,
the Regional Infrastructure Foresight (RIF) meth-
odology has been developed as a strategic planning
process at the local/regional level focusing on existing
waste water organizations as a starting point. The core
elements of a strategic planning process are systemati-
cally analyzed with regard to their potential scope of
variation (Störmer et al. forthcoming).
RIF is conceived as a nine month analysis and assess-
ment process. It is carried out at three levels of partici-
pation intensity (see Fig. 1). Firstly, a core team of four
76 Geographica Helvetica Jg. 64 2009/Heft 2
to seven decision makers participates in the whole
planning process consisting of about seven half day
working sessions. Further, eight to sixteen stakeholder
representatives are involved in two one-day work-
shops that aim at creating regional development sce-
narios and at assessing system alternatives. The actual
local decision making body reflects on these results
and decides upon the implications for the future plan-
ning process. In the development phase, three to five
researchers – including the two authors – take the
role of process facilitators who organize, structure and
moderate the planning process.
The RIF method is structured as follows (described in
detail in Störmer et al. 2008):
(i) Uncertainties concerning changing context con-
ditions are analyzed for a time horizon of about 25
years. In the first stakeholder workshop, three to four
scenarios of regional and policy development are con-
structed. A typical set of scenarios might look like the
following: (a) income-strong region with high quality
life style, (b) economically booming region with low
willingness to pay for environmental services, and (c)
shrinking region with a low ability to pay for environ-
mental services.
(ii) The range of alternative system configurations is
open to include the full range of conceivable organi-
zational and technical alternatives. In particular, con-
ventional system boundaries (or established regime
delimitations) are questioned both with regard to
their thematic boundaries (sanitation, integrated
water services, multi utility) and their spatial delimi-
tations (e.g. address catchment level processes). The
options’ advantages and risks are assessed in light of
the context conditions defined by the scenarios. The
core team develops three to four technical and organi-
zational alternatives for the entire sanitation system:
(a) The option «core competence» asks the existing
Tab. 1: Conventional versus transition oriented planning
Konventionelle und transitionsorientierte Planung im Vergleich
Planification conventionnelle par rapport à une planification orientée vers la transition
Involved a ctors
Core asp ects
consid ered
Outpu t
Decisi on mode
Involved a ctors
Core asp ects
consid ered
Outpu t
Decisi on mode
Ident ification of contex t conditions and
(Factual unc ertainties)
Conventional approach
Consultancy engineers and delegates of
technical commission
Uncer tainties minim ized
Options aligned with pred ominant socio -
technical paradigm
Variant proposal with detailed technical and
financial aspects
Technical- expertocr atic, based on technolo-
gical know-how exclusively
Time reference short to medium term
Transitio n oriented approach
Core team
Systemati c analysis of contex t uncertainties
Elaboration of conceivable option range s
Context sc enarios
Generic options
Specif ication of unc ertaintie s
Creative – c ompetence base d
Time reference medium to lon g term
Consid eration of i nterests
(Value uncertainties)
Political representatives
Implicit representation of values
Focus on cost
Selecti on of «best» variant depending on
(available) cost and (implicit, cur rent) interest
Political-exper tocratic, bas ed on formalize d
party representati ons in technical commissions
Systemati cally sampled stakeholders
Consideration of systematic value tree
Evaluations based on future interest positions
Comparison with «balanc ed» goal weights
Ranking of generic options relative to contex t
and value unc ertaintie s
Identif ication of sust ainability deficits
Specif ication of feasibility studies and
technolo gical variant assessment
Represent ative of interest positions in
participatory sta keholder workshops
development Assessment
of strategy
Situation +
Decisio n
0 5 7 9
Core team s ession
Final Presentation
76 Geographica Helvetica Jg. 64 2009/Heft 2
Strategic decision making in infrastructure sectors Eckhard Störmer, Bernhard Truffer 77
Fig. 1: Regional Infrastructure Foresight process
Der Prozess des «Regional Infrastructure Foresight»
Processus prospectif du «Regional Infrastructure Fore-
Graphics: Y. Lehnhard
sanitation organizations to fulfill their tasks by opti-
mizing their internal structures and outsourcing those
processes that create specific problems; (b) «Multi util-
ity» describes an organizational structure that aims at
integrating all sanitation related tasks within a region
(potentially expanding their business into the provi-
sion of other utility services); (c) The option «technical
or organizational merger» increases professionalism
by expanding the geographical range of the organiza-
tion; (d) «Decentralization» describes a system con-
figuration which builds strongly on on-site waste water
treatment technologies, due to rising costs as a conse-
quence of postponed sewer maintenance.
(iii) The whole bundle of sustainability goals is taken
into account to assess the sanitation system alterna-
tives systematically. The goals considered should be
as encompassing as possible. This may be achieved by
relying on a decision analysis tool like a value tree of
sustainable infrastructure goals (for an adaptation on
water issues of the Swiss MONET sustainability cri-
teria catalogue, see Bundesamt für Statistik (BFS)
et al. 2003). By integrating the scenarios, options and
goals, the core team identifies the pros and cons of
each option in the context of each scenario by trying
to apply a balanced weighting of the different sustain-
ability goals.
(iv) By involving a broad range of stakeholder per-
spectives, it is possible to consider a wider range of
knowledge stocks and value positions. In the second
workshop, the stakeholders carry out the same assess-
ments of the options as the core team but take into
account specific weightings of the goal tree that cor-
respond to specific interest positions. Thereby, possible
conflict lines and corresponding preferences may be
(v) This overall assessment is synthesized by the core
team in a strategy report that defines a long-term vision
of the future sanitation system, a list of critical context
conditions that are decisive for its future sustainability
and a plan for intermediary steps to reach this long-
term goal. The strategy report serves as a guideline on
which future technical and organizational decisions
can be based. The strategy report is presented to the
official decision making bodies and the participants of
the workshops for implementation.
After developing the conceptual framework of the
method, the research team issued a call for participation
on the RIF pilot study. The selection of the candidates
was based on a typology of the Swiss sanitation system
(Maurer & Herlyn 2006) and reflects differences with
regard to the centrality of the region, current position
in the lifespan of the sanitation infrastructure and dif-
ferent forms and sizes of organization. The selection
process resulted in the choice of the following three
locations: Klettgau (predominantly rural), Kiesental
(periurban area), and Dübendorf (suburban agglom-
eration). The case studies were carried out from the
end of 2006 to early 2008.
5 Strategic decision making in infrastructure and
regional development
Based on the lessons learned from the case studies
in Switzerland, conclusions can be drawn about the
possible merits of this kind of approach for decision
making in spatial contexts.
One central element of the RIF process is the system-
atic consideration of future social and economic con-
ditions in the region driven by external «landscape»
factors like globalization and climate change, as well
as internal regional development capacities. During
this step, awareness of uncertainties is raised and a
«thinking ahead» concerning unforeseen develop-
ments is promoted. The consideration of the whole
range of sustainability criteria allows systematic analy-
sis of impacts of different system configurations for the
provision of public services. The study of a broad set
of value positions allows generation of an awareness
of different communities’ and stakeholders’ interests
in regional policy making. Furthermore, an improve-
ment in the range of alternatives for sanitation system
configurations helps to overcome the path-reinforcing
logic of conventional planning.
development Assessment
of strategy
Situation +
0 5 7 9
sessio n
Final Presentation
78 Geographica Helvetica Jg. 64 2009/Heft 2
In the Klettgau pilot case, for example, a conventional
planning process preceded the application of the RIF
method. It produced a recommendation to incre-
mentally refurbish the prevailing waste water treat-
ment plant. Both the technological configurations as
well as the organizational and governance structure
were largely left unchanged. The RIF process, in con-
trast, led to a radically different solution, namely the
decommissioning of the local waste water plant and
an organizational merger with an institution across the
border in Germany, a solution that had not seriously
been taken into account before.
One of the core strengths of RIF lies in its inclusion
of the dynamic interaction between regional condi-
tions and infrastructure challenges. The stipulation to
investigate the regional status of appropriate infra-
structures as well as the reverse effect of infrastructure
performance on the regional development potential
consequently leads to infrastructure no longer being
seen solely as a powerful enabler for regional devel-
opment. Rather, limitations in future infrastructures
– e.g. too large, too small, too expensive, expansion too
slow – can be taken better into account.
Several expansions of the RIF method suggest further
research and development needs:
(i) While RIF is developed and tested for strategy
development of one or some community-based organ-
izations, regional water management agencies could
use a similar strategic tool to develop coordinated
water protection strategies. Multi-level infrastructure
planning could ensure catchment wide development
plans with corresponding actions at the regional level.
Furthermore, a federal or national Infrastructure
Foresight would deliver a guideline for federal and
national infrastructure policy initiatives as a continu-
ous strategy tool.
(ii) Furthermore, regional infrastructure planning has
to be embedded in broader reflections of regional
development. However, today’s regional policy is
mostly focused on improving regional competitiveness
by emphasizing growth strategies of business sectors
and their regional networks (see, for instance, regional
foresight initiatives in Koschatzky 2005 or Gertler &
Wolfe 2004). In contrast, the RIF approach allows an
opening up of the «black box» of material and insti-
tutional background generally taken for granted, an
aspect which only becomes evident when the services
are lacking or failing (Amin 2006). The application
domain of the RIF method should, thus, be expanded
to other public services that lie in the responsibility of
communities, like water supply, waste management,
public schools, child care, healthcare or others. If, as is
claimed here, context conditions and strategic alterna-
tives become more uncertain, participative, reflexive
approaches to planning will ultimately have a strong
bearing in the definition of general regional develop-
ment strategies. As may be seen in the example above,
even a mundane activity, such as sanitation planning,
forces citizens to actively reflect on their municipali-
ties’ futures in the context of wider regional develop-
ment. In this sense, regional infrastructure foresight
may become an important area for regional learning
and communication, with particular relevance for the
everyday lives of citizens and, thus, may offer a starting
point on which more encompassing foresight exercises
could build.
This paper briefly presented basic arguments for an
interaction of strategic planning for sustainable infra-
structures with regional planning. It thereby elevates
the topic of infrastructure from an «unexciting» basic
service to a core element of future oriented regional
development strategy. It is time for geography to
rediscover infrastructures as a legitimate topic of
The authors would like to thank the Swiss National
Science Foundation for funding the project «Regional
Infrastructure Foresight» within the National Research
Programme 54 «Sustainable Development of the Built
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Abstract: Strategic decision making in infrastructure
sectors. Participatory foresight and strategic planning
for sustainable sanitation
Infrastructure sectors in general, and urban water
management in particular, have developed over the
past couple of decades within the confines of a rather
narrow and stable socio-technical regime. Nowadays,
these infrastructures are increasingly confronted with
uncertain context conditions, a broadened spectrum of
technological alternatives and an increasing heteroge-
neity of value positions. As a consequence, the long-
term sustainability of these sectors has been questioned
by many commentators. Of particular importance is the
way strategic decisions are made. Current approaches
tend to block important opportunities for sustainable
transformation. It is argued here that a more reflex-
80 Geographica Helvetica Jg. 64 2009/Heft 2
ive, discursive and participative approach to strategic
planning is needed. The paper introduces «Regional
Infrastructure Foresight» (RIF) as a method which
combines foresight on regional framework conditions
with a stakeholder assessment of a broad range of
system options. The paper presents the methodology
in some detail and discusses the main lessons learned
through three empirical applications in the Swiss sani-
tation sector. Based on these experiences, it is argued
that strategic decision making in infrastructures is of
high relevance for regional policy and therefore war-
rants more attention in future research in economic
and political geography.
Keywords: infrastructure, sanitation, transition man-
agement, strategic planning, foresight
Zusammenfassung: Strategische Entscheidungs-
findung in Infrastruktursektoren. Partizipative
Vorausschau und strategische Planung nachhaltiger
Infrastrukturen im Allgemeinen und die Siedlungs-
wasserwirtschaft im Besonderen haben sich über die
letzten Jahrzehnte innerhalb eines eng begrenzten,
stabilen sozio-technischen Regimes entwickelt. Heute
sind diese Infrastrukturen jedoch gekennzeichnet
durch zunehmend unsichere Rahmenbedingungen, ein
breiteres Spektrum an technischen Alternativen und
deutlich heterogenere Werthaltungen. Daher wird die
langfristige Nachhaltigkeit dieser Sektoren von Vielen
hinterfragt. Besonders wichtig ist die Art der Entschei-
dungsfindung. Die vorherrschenden Methoden neigen
dazu, bedeutende Möglichkeiten einer nachhaltigen
Transformation der Infrastrukturen auszublenden.
Der vorliegende Artikel argumentiert, dass ein stär-
ker reflexiver, diskursiver und partizipativer Ansatz in
der strategischen Planung notwendig ist. Die Methode
«Regional Infrastructure Foresight» wird eingeführt,
die Vorausschau der regionalen Rahmenbedingun-
gen, verknüpft mit einer Stakeholder-Bewertung
eines breiten Spektrums von Systemoptionen. Der
Artikel führt in die Methode ein und diskutiert die
Kernergebnisse aus drei Pilotprozessen der Schwei-
zer Siedlungswasserwirtschaft. Basierend auf diesen
Erkenntnissen argumentieren die Autoren, dass stra-
tegische Entscheidungsfindung für Infrastrukturen ein
hoch relevantes Feld für die Regionalpolitik darstellt,
woraus sich vielfältiger, zukünftiger Forschungsbedarf
für die Wirtschafts- und Politische Geographie ablei-
ten lässt.
Schlüsselwörter: Infrastruktur, Abwasserwirtschaft,
Transition Management, strategische Planung,
Résumé: Prise de décision stratégique dans le secteur
des infrastructures. Une approche prospective partici-
pative pour la planification stratégique d’un assainis-
sement durable
Au cours des dernières décennies, le secteur des infra-
structures en général et celui de l’assainissement
urbain en particulier ont évolué dans un régime stable
et plutôt étroit. Aujourd’hui, ces secteurs sont de plus
en plus confrontés aux incertitudes de l’évolution du
contexte général, à l’accroissement des alternatives
techniques disponibles et à l’hétérogénéité grandis-
sante des positionnements de valeur. Leur durabilité
est par conséquent remise en question par de nom-
breux critiques. Mais c’est surtout la manière dont
les décisions stratégiques sont prises qui est capitale.
Les approches courantes ont tendance à ignorer les
opportunités permettant une transformation dura-
ble des infrastructures. Cet article met en évidence
l’importance d’une approche plus réflexive, discur-
sive et participative dans la planification stratégique
des infrastructures. Il introduit la méthode dite du
«Regional Infrastructure Foresight» (RIF) qui com-
bine une approche prospective du contexte régional
avec l’évaluation par les acteurs d’une large gamme
de solutions systémiques. Après une présentation
détaillée de la méthode, l’article discute des principaux
enseignements tirés de trois applications pilotes dans
le secteur de l’assainissement en Suisse. Ces expé-
riences montrent l’utilité, pour la politique régionale,
d’une démarche stratégique liée à la prise de décision
dans le secteur des infrastructures. Elles appellent à
approfondir la recherche en géographie économique
et politique sur ce thème.
Mots-clés: infrastructure, épuration des eaux usées,
gestion de transitions, planification stratégique, pro-
Dr. Eckhard Störmer, PD Dr. Bernhard Truffer,
Eawag, Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science
and Technology, Cirus, Innovation Research in Utility
Sectors, Überlandstrasse 133, P.O. Box 611, CH-8600
Dübendorf, Switzerland.
Manuskripteingang/received/manuscrit entré le
Annahme zum Druck/accepted for publication/accepté
pour l’impression: 17.5.2009
... Reflexivity is the recognition of the social contingency or subjective framing on which a governance regime is based (Stirling 2006). A reflexive process explicitly addresses various uncertainties informed by divergent worldviews, options, and contexts (Störmer and Truffer 2009). Reflectiveness is the degree to which a decision process considers the full range of choices available and the probabilities of all bias and error associated with each choice (Stirling 2006 ...
... The conventional paradigm of water infrastructure decision making that has traditionally dominated the water sector is a centralized, civil engineering paradigm (Störmer and Truffer 2009;Lienert et al. 2015;Lebel, Garden, and Imamura 2005) based on the goal of technical and economic optimisation and scientific rationality leading to a singular optimal strategy (Stakhiv 2011;Salet et al. 2013;Arkesteijn et al. 2015;Stapelberg 2010). This conventional paradigm focuses on minimizing risk assuming a stationary risk environment (Ranger et al. 2013) and using safety margins to account for unknowns (Kalra et al. 2014;Stakhiv 2011). ...
... This conventional paradigm focuses on minimizing risk assuming a stationary risk environment (Ranger et al. 2013) and using safety margins to account for unknowns (Kalra et al. 2014;Stakhiv 2011). This paradigm has continued to dominate decision making in recent decades (Störmer and Truffer 2009). These methods combined with the long life-span of water infrastructure have built a system characterised by path dependencies, self-reinforcing lock in (Wardekker et al. 2010), and a perpetuating dominant socio-technical regime (Störmer and Truffer 2009;Arkesteijn et al. 2015). ...
Full-text available
The Orange-Senqu River Basin provides critical resources to Lesotho, South Africa, Namibia and Botswana, but uncertain climate projections, multiple possible development futures, and a financing gap create challenges for water infrastructure decision making. In contrast to conventional predict-plan-act methods, an emerging decision paradigm based on socio-ecological resilience supports decisions that are appropriate for uncertainty and leverage social, ecological and economic multifunctionality. Concurrently, the financial sector plays a powerful role in sustainable infrastructure development but remains disconnected from discourse in socio-ecological resilience. At the time of research, a project to transfer water from Lesotho to Botswana through South Africa was at pre-feasibility stage. This case was analysed through documents and interviews to investigate how uncertainty and multifunctionality are conceptualised and considered in decisions for the resilience of water infrastructure and to explore bridging concepts to finance. Stakeholders conceptualised uncertainty as risk, ambiguity and ignorance and multifunctionality as politically-motivated shared benefits. Numerous efforts to adopt emerging decision methods that consider these terms were in use but required compromises to accommodate the persistent, conventional decision paradigm, though a range of future opportunities were identified. Bridging these findings to finance revealed opportunities to consider a more comprehensive scope of risk, leverage risk mitigation measures, diffuse risks and benefits over space, time and to diverse actor groups, and to clarify roles to achieve multiple objectives for resilience. In addition to insights into how multiple decision paradigms interact in real-world decision contexts, the research highlights untapped potential at the juncture between socio-ecological resilience and finance.
... Depending on the scale and ambitions of the project, public participation can range from tens of participants [4,12] to thousands [69], and despite a historical record that reaches back decades, it remains an under-utilized methodological format [64]. With regard to agendasetting and planning exercises, participatory foresight has been slowly gaining momentum as an approach [16,25,38,51,65,71,83]. A recent analysis of results from participatory visioning projects speaks to their ability to generate meaningful consensus around specific topics [57]-the basis of which could be mission writing, goal setting, or policies planning. ...
Full-text available
The urgency of current social challenges is driving new approaches to framing and funding research, development, and innovation. The “mission-oriented” approach framing the EU’s New Horizons funding program is the latest institutional response to the pressing needs of large system transformations we are facing. We view the likely targets of mission-oriented programs as dynamic entities requiring both adaptive, inclusive responses, and anticipatory exploration. We demonstrate how participatory foresight methods provide an essential forum and process for the expression of plural, socio-technological imaginaries. As citizens and other stakeholder groups have demonstrated their myriad capacities to contribute to research and innovation agenda-setting processes in future-oriented citizen dialogs, we argue that such methods are the essential compliment to the mission-oriented framework coming into play. Participatory foresight engages citizens in critical thinking and creative activities to articulate the evolution of socio-technological issues over an extended time horizon, seeking diverse perspectives on what goals and priorities will come to define “missions.” Utilizing outputs from two recent projects, we argue that participatory foresight methods can play an essential role in bridging citizen needs with policy requirements, and will increase the reflexivity of innovation systems that invest the needed time and resources into exploring the depth of multi-actor interests and intersections. Finally, we outline possible impact pathways demonstrating how these “bottom-up” contributions could be integrated into the development of challenge-led innovation priorities.
Decision makers are under pressure to make strategic water infrastructure investments under climatic uncertainty. While governments are responding with investments in climate resilient infrastructure, the increasingly complex and unpredictable dynamics of the Anthropocene demand attention to the broader paradigm of resilience, which asks decision makers to situate investments in the dynamics of complex social-ecological systems. Doing so requires more explicit consideration of irreducible uncertainties beyond climate change and infrastructure functions and interdependencies beyond direct water supply. However, the path dependence of prevailing predict-and-control approaches limits transitions to resilience, and the established practices of different actors enable or constrain this transition in different ways. At the time of research, a large-scale climate resilient infrastructure project involving multiple countries in the Orange-Senqu River Basin was at pre-feasibility stage. Our research investigated this transboundary decision context to 1) understand how concepts indicative of a transition from a predict-and-control to resilience-oriented decision paradigm (i.e., uncertainty and multifunctionality) were conceptualized and integrated into a complex decision context and 2) explore how a group of actors with significant decision-making influence – project finance – could enable or constrain this transition. We showed that interviewees identified a wide range of uncertainties and efforts to explicitly consider them were underway. Still, the impact of these efforts was mediated by a continued reliance on established, predict-and-control decision approaches. Additionally, multifunctionality was primarily considered as direct economic benefits to various parties. Our exploratory analysis of the role of project finance actors uncovered several opportunities to enable transitions to resilience, such as expanding capacities to consider a more comprehensive scope of risk and leverage available risk mitigation measures. We conclude with a future research agenda, both to further investigate how multiple decision paradigms interact in real-world decision making and to leverage opportunities for finance actors to enable transitions to resilience.
Current planning situations in Europe and China include upgrading or replacing of existing WWTPs (mainly in Europe) and the construction of new WWTPs (mainly in China). Both planning situations are increasingly confronted with future uncertainties due to high system complexity and rapidly changing conditions. In contrast to this, the long service life of over 30 years and the high capital commitments required lead to entrenched wastewater treatment concepts fixed over decades by the first design decision. In order to complement established WWTP planning methods, a methodology of future-oriented strategic planning focusing on WWTPs is presented in this chapter. The main purpose of this methodology is to define, simulate and evaluate potential long-term technological strategies for a WWTP. The basic steps of the methodology include (i) defining long-term technology concepts and (ii) corresponding transformation paths of a WWTP under different future scenarios. Finally, the methodology allows (iii) an ongoing control of scenario assumptions and (iv) an early support to start adapting the defined long-term technological concepts to current conditions. By this, the methodology will support the finding of robust and economic transformation paths and evaluated construction steps.
Finding regional solutions for water infrastructure and other environmental management challenges requires coordination, communication, and a shared understanding among different stakeholders. To develop a more versatile and collaborative decision-making process for nutrient management in the San Francisco Bay Area, we used a mixed-methods approach consisting of stakeholder analysis with cluster analysis, multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA), and scenario planning. These methods allowed us to identify agreements and disagreements in stakeholder objectives and preferences, clarify ways in which different options could meet the goals of diverse stakeholders, and elucidate how scientific uncertainty about technical performance and future conditions could affect management strategies. Results of the analysis indicate that several non-conventional nutrient management options like constructed wetlands and increased water recycling for irrigation met the goals of many stakeholders under a variety of future scenarios. A comparison of MCDA results with a more traditional ‘cost-efficiency’ measure (i.e., optimizing for the lowest cost per mass of nutrients removed) revealed little correlation between the two methods for stakeholders who expressed a preference for co-benefits of management options such as increased water supply and nutrient recovery for fertilizer use. The method also allowed us to identify key areas of disagreement (e.g., the relative importance of constructing infrastructure that would not be affected by sea level rise) that should find regulatory or professional consensus before advancing with decision-making. This mixed-methods approach is time-consuming and requires specific expertise that is not always available to stakeholders. The development of more efficient preference elicitation and interaction procedures would increase the likelihood that decision-makers would make the extra effort required to use this potentially powerful method. Nonetheless, the mixed-methods approach had several important advantages over more traditional strategic planning methods including its ability to stimulate discussions amongst stakeholders who do not regularly interact, support collaborative planning, and encourage multi-benefit solutions.
Sustainability transitions have repeatedly been demanded in various economic sectors to confront global environmental problems. The present paper analyses the role of strategic planning processes for improving the prospects of achieving sustainable transitions in infrastructure sectors. Current planning approaches in these sectors tend to perpetuate the established socio-technical confi gurations by neglecting context uncertainties, by ignoring radical system alternatives and by focusing on narrow value considerations. In order to improve the prospects for sustainable transitions, more refl exive and discursive strategic planning methods are needed. We present the 'Regional Infrastructure Foresight' method-ology as a specifi c procedural proposal and analyse results from its application to a case study in the Swiss sanitation sector.
Full-text available
Technological change is a central feature of modern societies and a powerful source for social change. There is an urgent task to direct these new technologies towards sustainability, but society lacks perspectives, instruments and policies to accomplish this. There is no blueprint for a sustainable future, and it is necessary to experiment with alternative paths that seem promising. Various new transport technologies promise to bring sustainability benefits. But as this book shows, important lessons are often overlooked because the experiments are not designed to challenge the basic assumptions about established patterns of transport choices. Learning how to organise the process of innovation implementation is essential if the maximum impact is to be achieved - it is here that strategic niche management offers new perspectives. The book uses a series of eight recent experiments with electric vehicles, carsharing schemes, bicycle pools and fleet management to illustrate the means by which technological change must be closely linked to social change if successful implementation is to take place. The basic divide between proponents of technological fixes and those in favour of behavioural change needs to be bridged, perhaps indicating a third way. © 2002 Remco Hoogma, René Kemp, Johan Schot and Bernhard Truffer.
In order to cope with arising challenges in infrastructure sectors, utility organizations must develop new strategic, organizational, and technological capabilities. Public utility service providers have often been seen as lacking the capacity to identify and/or implement the needed transformation processes. Instead, privatization has been proposed as a panacea to remedy this deficit. However, privatization projects are often not realized because they encounter strong political opposition. This article presents the results of strategic planning projects in three public wastewater organizations in Switzerland. This study suggests that if appropriate processes are implemented, public utility organizations are able to overcome their limitations in identifying the relevant capability deficits and select adequate strategies to compensate for the deficits. While these strategies may deviate substantially across utilities due to differences in the goals pursued, the widespread adoption of strategic planning methods by public utilities represents a viable alternative to privatization.
Introduction - the systems approach to understanding technological change, Jane Ummerton. Part 1 Combining old and new technologies to reshape systems: recombining large technical systems - the case of European organ transplantation, Ingo Braun and Bernward Joerges changing embedded systems - the economics and politics of innovation in American railroad signalling, 1876-1914, Steven W. Usselman integrating supple technologies into utility power systems - possibilities for reconfiguration, Alexandra Suchard the normal accident of July 1914, Arden Bucholz. Part 2 Crossing borders reconfigures systems: transformation through integration - the unification of German telecommunications, Tobias Robischon multinationals in transition - global technical integration and the role of corporate telecommunication networks, Volker Schneider the Australian electric power industry and the politics of radical reconfiguration, Stephen M. Salsbury economics of changing grid systems - competition in the electricity supply industry, Olivier Coutard. Part 3 Confronting incompatibilities between changing systems and their cultures: the Internet challenge - conflict and compromise in computer networking, Jane Abbate broken plowshare - system failure and the nuclear power industry, Gene I. Rochlin. Part 4 Controlling the car - will the system change?: car traffic at the crossroads - new technologies for cars, traffic systems and their interaction, Reiner Grundmann rethinking road traffic as social interaction, Oskar Juhlin. Part 5 The logic of systemic technology: four notes on systemic technology, Svante Beckman. Part 6 Concluding comments: conclusion, Jane Summerton.
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Expectations held by different actor groups are of key importance for the shaping of socio-technical transformation processes. Foresight activities may be interpreted as a means to elicit, aggregate, modulate and contextualize expectations held by different actors. The paper proposes a conceptual framework that allows assessing and reflecting expectations in foresight initiatives that focus on sustainable sector transformations. For this purpose it draws on the recent literature on socio-technical system transformations and social expectation dynamics. The application of the framework is illustrated by experiences gained with the Sustainability Foresight method developed for the case of sustainable utility sector futures in Germany. The process was conceived as a series of participative scenario and strategy workshops involving about 120 stakeholders from the provision, use and governance of utility services.
The sustainable transformation of infrastructure sectors represents a challenge of prime importance worldwide. Due to long life times of infrastructures, strategic decision making has to explicitly consider uncertainties in context conditions, value considerations and available technological alternatives. However currently, strategic infrastructure planning is often carried out in a very narrow perspective. The present paper argues that foresight informed strategic planning, allows addressing trade-offs related to context uncertainties, value conflicts and sustainability deficits in a structured way. The paper introduces a specific procedural proposal, the Regional Infrastructure Foresight method (RIF) and illustrates its potential virtues through an application to urban water management planning in a Swiss region (Kiesental).