Conference PaperPDF Available
Narratives of Change for a Resilient Future City
Benedikt Marschuetz a, Arjan Wardekker a,b
a Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University, Utrecht, Netherlands. b Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the
Humanities, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway
Paper presented at the Utrecht Conference on Earth System Conference, Utrecht, 5-8 November 2018.
Climate change, and extreme events brought about by it, increasingly threatens an urbanizing humanity.
This imposes the need for adapting to arising challenges (limiting impacts) and for mitigating further
climate change (reducing greenhouse gas emissions) due to the limitations of adaptation 13. If measures
to reduce climate impacts are not taken, many people will potentially be affected by these. Impacts are
often magnified in cities, leading to e.g. heat-stress and urban flooding 46. Those places that are already
vulnerable are particularly affected. For example, the Netherlands are densely-populated and low-lying
and are likely to be challenged by extremes approaching from the sea, rivers and magnified by climate
change 79. To deal with such challenges, many regions and cities are developing action plans for
adaptation and mitigation. Such action plans are in principal aiming on building climate resilience towards
extremes, thus let e.g. a city cope with complex challenges in a dynamic way, withstand them, maintain
crucial functions in the city so as to make the survival of its population more likely and aid in recovery
thereafter 1012. However, such activities aiding climate resilience impact not only the way the city looks
and functions, but also people’s daily lives 2,13. To find support and enable collaboration with and among
actors and residents, measures should be rooted in people’s hopes, fears and aspirations towards a
desired future for the city and thus centered around people’s lives and aspirations for a liveable
future 14,15. Since many activities around climate action and building resilience depend on behavioral
changes and local action and support, it is crucial that citizens can identify with these measures and that
measures align with citizens’ desired futures. In this paper, we explore the use of ‘narratives of change’
as a tool to elicit perceptions of past, present and future weather and climate and changes in these, and
how that relates to people’s values, goals, desired futures, as well as possible strategies to foster climate
Narratives are stories around perceived realities and futures that people can describe, and they mediate
and organize various understandings of them since narratives let people make sense of the world they
live in 1618. They unfold around events and include key actors, relationships, values and ambitions, located
in time and space, and are therefore both backward looking, i.e. explanatory, and future-oriented as they
display aspirations and assumptions of the future 15,16,19. Narratives are also shared realities and foster
interaction among individuals through joint experiences of happenings. Consequently, narratives turn
‘matters of fact’, such as scientific observations and projections, into ‘matters of concern’ by connecting
changes to local individual and collective memories and by incorporating them into the local societal
realities. Narratives display a possible and desired future from the perspective of both society as well as
individual live-situations, and allow the design of measures to reach such 20. Thus, narratives become
central for the quest of resilience-building and future-proofing a city: they display desires of what ought
to be achieved or avoided in the future; what should be made resilient and what should be changed 21.
Such desires are power-laden and normative, and including them through narratives may aid in co-
producing urban climate resilience with a broader set of societal actors, including those voices that may
go unheard in traditional policy debates on adaptation 22,23.
We studied narratives in a case study in Dordrecht, an island-city in the South-Western Dutch Delta,
involved authorities and their public narratives as well as citizens and their ontological narratives. We
focused on stories around weather and water affecting the city. Furthermore, we collaborated with them
to explore the options for building urban climate resilience in line with the desire of citizens and
authorities. The historical port city is surrounded by rivers on all sides, located close to the sea, and
vulnerable to numerous climate-related changes. It also faces various socio-economic challenges. Due to
its vulnerable location, the city is already actively working on climate adaptation. Focusing on multi-level
safety to foster climate resilience is the city developing a multitude of measures consisting of flood-
prevention via dikes, spatial climate adaptation as well as crisis response and safety measures for times
of an expected worst-case inundation of the city affecting its population of approximately 120,000
people 2429.
We assessed the narratives of authorities and citizens, using narrative interviews, historical interviews,
document analysis, photo documentation, and site visits. Nine main narrative themes emerged. These
shed light on the historical struggle of the city with water, that is shaping its fate until today, as well as its
current exposure to water and weather, and the increasing climate-related threats for Dordrecht.
Narratives of authorities and inhabitants were partly shared and partly diverging. Both organizations and
citizens narrate richly about the city’s long history with water and those narratives display the strong
influence of history on perceptions of both present and future happenings 15,30. Particularly prevalent in
both authorities’ and citizens’ memories were the floods of 1421 (St. Elisabeth’s Flood), which led to the
formation of the “isle of Dordrecht”, as well as the North Sea Flood of 1953 (‘Watersnoodramp’), which
caused many deaths across the Netherlands. Both groups narrated that a recurrence of them ought to be
avoided 31,32. This history is well known and well embedded in the city’s cultural memory, and its influence
even manifests itself very prominently in the narratives collected in the form of an island-identity15,30,33.
However, the narrated specificities of the ongoing struggle with water and weather diverge between
authorities and citizens. Authorities focus on describing a state of vulnerability that ought to be dealt with
through adapting the city towards extremes, in a strategic, managerial approach. Citizens, on the other
hand, refer to hands-on experiences with a worsening situation around water, weather and climate
change, and holistically state the need for broad and practical climate actions, including adaptation and
mitigation. In that regard, narratives made obvious that there was a shared underlying motivator of
climate change and its effects and a desire for collaboration, embedded in both authorities and citizens
narratives 15. Consequently, a shared vision emerged for a climate resilient and safe future, even though
the ways in which authorities and citizens experience and prefer to respond to climate change diverged.
Several things can be learned from this study. Firstly, the narrative analysis elicited both shared and
diverging understandings, perceptions and desires between actors. Narratives displaying similarities in
how both organizations and citizens perceive present and future issues facilitate collaboration on tackling
them and achieving the commonly wished for resilience. This ‘common story’ helps people identify their
shared goals and interests. Narratives displaying differences indicate where people may not agree, or as
in our case, where different groups can learn from and supplement each other. They can be used to
explore differences in desired futures and reflect on trade-offs in specific measures. Secondly, elicited
stories also showed how climate change manifests itself through various events in the live-realities of
interviewed stakeholders, and what trade-offs and barriers climate action may face. Taking these onboard
can make climate resilience more likely to be achieved. Thirdly, the results showed a surprising impact of
historical events, embedded in local memory and identity, on how current and future climate change and
climate action are interpreted and acted upon. Such memory and identity perspectives are rarely taken
into account in current climate adaptation efforts, but may provide an important avenue for better local
embedding of adaptation and mitigation. Consequently, narrative analysis is a useful methodology that
can aid in co-producing both knowledge and activities fostering resilience, implement them
collaboratively, spot potential constraints and barriers, and aid in creating ownership for measures 3436.
1. IPCC. Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change.
Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment
Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
2. White, I. Water and the City: risk, resilience and planning
for a sustainable future. (Routledge, 2010).
3. Runhaar, H., Mees, H., Wardekker, A., van der Sluijs, J. &
Driessen, P. P. J. Adaptation to climate change-related risks
in Dutch urban areas: stimuli and barriers. Reg. Environ.
Chang. 12, 777790 (2012).
4. Corfee-Morlot, J. et al. Cities, Climate Change and
Multilevel Governance. (2009).
5. Ligtvoet, W. et al. Climate adaptation in the Dutch Delta.
Strategic options for a climate-proof development of the
Netherlands. (2011).
6. Rosenzweig, C., Solecki, W., Hammer, S. & Mehrotra, S.
Climate Change and Cities : First Assessment Report of the
Urban Climate Change Research Network. (Cambridge
University Press, 2011).
7. Albers, R. et al. Overview of challenges and achievements
in the climate adaptation of cities and in the Climate Proof
Cities program. Build. Environ. 83, 110 (2015).
8. Ligtvoet, W., van Minnen, J. & Franken, R. The effects of
climate change in the Netherlands: 2012. (2013).
9. OECD. Cities and Climate Change. (OECD Publishing, 2010).
10. Bruijn, K. M. De, Green, C., Johnson, C. & McFadden, L.
Flood Risk Management in Europe. Flood Risk
Management in Europe (Springer Netherlands, 2007).
11. Wardekker, A. Resilience Principles as a Tool for Exploring
Options for Urban Resilience. Solutions 9, (2018).
12. Revi, A. et al. Urban Areas. in Climate Change 2014:
Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and
Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the
Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change (Cambridge University Press, 2014).
13. Stead, D. Urban planning, water management and climate
change strategies: adaptation, mitigation and resilience
narratives in the Netherlands. Int. J. Sustain. Dev. World
Ecol. 21, 1527 (2014).
14. Adger, W. N., Barnett, J., Brown, K., Marshall, N. & O’Brien,
K. Cultural dimensions of climate change impacts and
adaptation. Nat. Clim. Chang. 3, 112117 (2012).
15. Marschütz, B. Narratives for a future-proof city: The case
of Dordrecht, The Netherlands. (Utrecht University, 2018).
16. Somers, M. R. The narrative constitution of identity: A
relational and network approach. Theory Soc. 23, 605649
17. Wiles, J. L., Rosenberg, M. W. & Kearns, R. A. Narrative
analysis as a strategy for understanding interview talk in
geographic research. Area 37, 8999 (2005).
18. Bremer, S. et al. Narrative as a Method for Eliciting Tacit
Knowledge of Climate Variability in Bangladesh. Weather.
Clim. Soc. 9, 669686 (2017).
19. Hewitson, M. Time, Narrative and Causality. in History and
Causality (Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2014).
20. Neuvonen, A. et al. Low-carbon futures and sustainable
lifestyles: A backcasting scenario approach. Futures 58,
6676 (2014).
21. Gidley, J. M., Fien, J., Smith, J.-A., Thomsen, D. C. & Smith,
T. F. Participatory futures methods: towards adaptability
and resilience in climate-vulnerable communities. Environ.
Policy Gov. 19, 427440 (2009).
22. Wardekker, A. Framing as social uncertainty in building
urban climate resilience. Presented in Nordic Adaptation
Conference 2016 (2016).
23. Cote, M. & Nightingale, A. J. Resilience thinking meets
social theory. Prog. Hum. Geogr. 36, 475489 (2012).
24. Dordrecht. Dordrecht werkt aan hoogwaterbeheer: Urban
Flood Management, MARE project, Hoogwater
wandelroute Dordrecht. (2009).
25. Hulsebosch, M. & Kelder, E. Multi Level Safety Dordrecht.
26. Hegger, D. L. T. et al. Assessing Stability and Dynamics in
Flood Risk Governance. Water Resour. Manag. 28, 4127
4142 (2014).
27. van Herk, S. et al. Gebiedspilot meerlaagsveiligheid Eiland
van Dordrecht. Concept - Tussenrapportage ter inspiratie.
28. EDUCEN. Dordrecht case study. (2018). Available at:
studies/dordrecht.html. (Accessed: 25th January 2018)
29. Hoss, F., Jonkman, S. N. & Maaskant, B. A comprehensive
assessment of multilayered safety in flood risk
management the Dordrecht case study. in 5th
International Conference on Flood Management: Floods -
From Risk to Opportunity 357, (IAHS, 2013).
30. Krauß, W. et al. Chronology and in-depth analysis of
weather-related and place-specific narratives of
change. (2018).
31. Nienhuis, P. H. Environmental History of the RhineMeuse
Delta. (Springer Netherlands, 2008). doi:10.1007/978-1-
32. Jak, M. & Kok, M. A Database of Historical Flood Events in
the Netherlands. in Flood Issues in Contemporary Water
Management 139146 (Springer Netherlands, 2000).
33. van Son, E. & van Nes, C. Beeldkwaliteitplan binnenstad.
34. Frantzeskaki, N. & Rok, A. Co-producing urban
sustainability transitions knowledge with community,
policy and science. Environ. Innov. Soc. Transitions (2018).
35. Frantzeskaki, N. & Kabisch, N. Designing a knowledge co-
production operating space for urban environmental
governanceLessons from Rotterdam, Netherlands and
Berlin, Germany. Environ. Sci. Policy 62, 9098 (2016).
36. Shaw, A. et al. Making local futures tangibleSynthesizing,
downscaling, and visualizing climate change scenarios for
participatory capacity building. Glob. Environ. Chang. 19,
447463 (2009).
... Despite their crucial role citizens are often excluded from policymaking processes. Many feel their wishes, desires and fears are neglected when climate plans are imposed while they have to live with these plans as well as bear the implementation costs [13,14]. To support citizen action and facilitate their (new) responsibilities, local authorities need to empower citizens and engage them more actively in policy processes [16]. ...
... Trust building may require (simple) efforts from project organizers prior to the exercise. For instance, Marschütz and Wardekker collaborated with a local cafe and neighourhood centre [11,13]. A year later they organized a follow-up workshop for these citizens together with local policymakers to identify effective climate adaptation plans in the neighborhood. ...
... Prior to the workshop, Marschutz and Wardekker [13] went into the neighborhood to meet citizens and hear their stories in the form of informal talks, interviews and focus groups. As such, they were able to gain a broad idea of community thoughts and desires with regards to making the neighborhood climate-resilient. ...
Full-text available
Human settlements, both urban and rural, face numerous challenges at once: adapting to the impacts of climate change, improving sustainability and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, soil subsidence, urbanisation and renewal, increasing housing demand and goals, unemployment and other economic challenges, and a need for more social cohesion. While governments have knowhow and budgets, and are now developing plans and scenarios for a climate resilience and sustainable settlements, it is the local citizens who will be living in these settlements. Consequently, they should be involved in designing, planning, and building their future environment. However, while many governments are experimenting with citizen participation, it can be difficult to set up meaningful and engaging collaboration between policymakers, citizens, and other local and regional actors. It may be particularly challenging for ‘foresight’ or ‘futures’ processes, which focus on designing future visions and scenarios. Much has been written on the technical aspects of scenario methods, but there is little practical guidance on what might make it engaging to citizens. For citizens, it may feel too technical or distant. Rather than recruiting citizens into what feels like a technical process, it should be an actual collaboration. This toolkit offers practical guidance, tools, and tips on how to set up such collaborations in thinking about and jointly developing the future. The toolkit collects and showcases some of the lessons learned from several international research programs on citizen engagement in the form of a practical exercises and advice on how to apply them. These programs include CoCliServ (Co-development of place-based climate services for Action; funded by EU JPI Climate/ERA4CS), CCAFS (Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security; funded by CGIAR global research partnership), and Utrecht University’s Water, Climate and Future Deltas program. The latter funded the development of this toolkit. In addition to playing a role in the training modules being developed by these, we envision that it may provide inspiration and guidance for other policymakers, consultants and researchers involved in collaboratively tackling local and regional future challenges.
Full-text available
Climate change and extreme events brought about by it increasingly threaten an urbanising humanity and imposes the need for adapting to arising challenges and mitigate further climate change due to the limitations of adaptation. Climate action, with many activities depending on behavioural changes, should be centred around people’s lives and aspirations for a desirable future to let people identify with these measures and thus let them become part of desired futures, which will be certainly shaped by climate change. One way to elicit such desired futures is to focus on people’s narratives, which are in principal stories and shared realities that bind people together, foster interaction among them, and let people make sense of the world they live in as narratives organize their experiences. Narratives unfold around key events, actors, activities, relations between them as well as embeddedness in time and space and are therefore holding crucial implications for future-proofing a place. Studying narratives within a case study in Dordrecht, an island in the South-Western Dutch Delta, involved authorities and citizens eliciting their narratives around weather and water affecting the city. This research unearthed nine main narrative themes shedding light on the historical struggle of the city with water that is shaping its fate until today. Exposure to water and weather causing threats for Dordrecht that are increasing in their severity due to climate change related extremes and sea-level rise, as well as the vision for a climate resilient and safe future become obvious in the elicited narratives. This study let both shared and diverging stories among authorities and citizens appear, with the shared underlying motivator of climate change employing a climate threat frame being critical for climate-proofing Dordrecht. Shared narratives involve historical struggles, outlooks for the future as well as both constraints and drivers for collective problem solving. Diverging narratives state specificities of threats and occurring measures to deal with them. Involved authorities are focusing more on water management and detailed strategies to deal with vulnerabilities arising out of climate change and its impacts, whereas inhabitants narrate more holistically on their experiences with weather, water, and mitigating climate change in order to safeguard the future of Dordrecht and its inhabitants. Finally, elicited narratives imply the need for actively involving authorities and citizens in collaborative governance arrangements focusing simultaneously on climate adaptation and climate mitigation to bridge the elicited divergence in this endeavour and act on anthropogenic climate change.
Full-text available
The world is becoming increasingly urban and cities face a constant struggle with the complex environmental, social, economic, and political challenges of the 21st century. Many international organizations have argued that cities will need to become more resilient to these challenges. However, it is not particularly clear what that really means. In practice, policies often use the concept of ‘resilience’ as a buzzword. In this regard, resilience principles – that is, defining specific mechanisms that make a city resilient – can help clarify the concept and its applicability. Several case studies provide examples of how such principles can be used as tools to brainstorm on new solutions, how they can be used to evaluate proposed policy options and overarching urban resilience plans, and how they can be compared to stakeholders’ preferences for national policy strategies. When applied in a structured way, resilience principles provide a powerful tool to move urban resilience thinking from a metaphorical talk to meaningful solutions.
Full-text available
Climate change adaptation has increasingly come to be conceptualized as a place-based social process, in large part mediated by the local cultural context. The specificity of adaptation has called for partnerships between scientific and local communities to “co-produce” knowledge of climate variability (weather) and longer-term climate change. However, this raises numerous methodological challenges, including how to elicit the representations, knowledge, and cultural meanings of weather that are tacit to people in a community, and represent them in an explicit form that can be shared in a process of “co-production”. Such work demands careful attention to the way tightly intertwined knowledge systems continuously rebuild representations of climate in a place, and how these knowledge systems are also intertwined with values and the exercise of power. This paper takes up this challenge and explores the potential offered by theories and methods of narrative. Looking at a research project “co-producing” knowledge of weather and impacts in northeast Bangladesh, this paper describes the experience of running narrative interviews with communities there, and how these narratives were analyzed along four themes to contribute to the co-production process. These themes included 1) the weather phenomena and impacts important to local communities, 2) how weather provides meaning and identity in that place, 3) how community actors produce and share weather knowledge, and 4) the climate-related narratives pervading the community. In sharing this experience, this paper seeks to fulfil a demand for more detailed practical accounts of narrative methods in climate adaptation research, particularly for knowledge co-production.
Full-text available
Challenges for a sustainable urban development are increasingly important in cities because urbanization and related land take come up with negative challenges for the environment and for city residents. Searching for successful solutions to environmental problems requires combined efforts of different scientific disciplines and an active dialogue between stakeholders from policy and society. In this paper, we present a comparative assessment of the way policy-science dialogues have achieved knowledge co-production about strategic urban environmental governance action using the cities of Berlin in Germany and Rotterdam in the Netherlands as case studies. The ecosystem services framework is applied as a lens for policy–science interaction and a ‘knowledge co-production operating space’ is introduced. We show how policy officers, urban planners, practitioners and scientists learned from each other, and highlight the impact of this knowledge co-production for governance practice. We found that the concerted collaboration and co-creation between researchers and policy officers have led to mutual learning and establishment of relationships and trust in both cities. Not only the policy-relevance of research and its policy uptake were achieved but also new insights for research blind spots were created. In our conclusions we reflect on co-production processes with two types of conditions that we introduced to be most influential in the way knowledge can be co-created. These are conditions that relate to the way knowledge co-production processes are set-up and, conditions that relate to the expected value or benefit that the co-produced knowledge will bring across society, policy and practice.
This viewpoint presents insights on designing, engaging with and researching multi-stakeholder engagement spaces based on the experience of the ARTS project (2014–2016), active in five European cities also relevant for a broader European scale. We argue that those spaces represent an important new instrument of participatory governance that can elucidate the way different actors like community initiatives relate to and employ planning and policy contexts for working towards sustainable urban futures. The multi-stakeholder engagement spaces are analyzed regarding three functions they fulfill: co-creating new knowledge for action, making sense of contemporary transitions, and, exploring how sustainable solutions impact transitions. The lessons learned focus on the roles of different actors within those spaces as well as the link between the multi-stakeholder engagement spaces and a broader local context. We name three caveats including deeply entrenched mistrust between local transition initiatives and local government representatives, existing power imbalances and inclusivity.
As the hubs of economic activity, cities drive the vast majority of the world’s energy use and are major contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions. Because they are home to major infrastructure and highly concentrated populations, cities are also vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as rising sea levels, warmer temperatures and fiercer storms. At the same time, better urban planning and policies can reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions and improve the resilience of urban infrastructure to climate change, thus shaping future trends. This book shows how city and metropolitan regional governments working in tandem with national governments can change the way we think about responding to climate change. The chapters analyse: trends in urbanisation, economic growth, energy use and climate change; the economic benefits of climate action; the role of urban policies in reducing energy demand, improving resilience to climate change and complementing global climate policies; frameworks for multilevel governance of climate change including engagement with relevant stakeholders; and the contribution of cities to "green growth", including the "greening" of fiscal policies, innovation and jobs. The book also explores policy tools and best practices from both OECD and some non-member countries. Cities and Climate Change reveals the importance of addressing climate change across all levels of government. Local involvement through "climate-conscious" urban planning and management can help achieve national climate goals and minimise tradeoffs between environmental and economic priorities at local levels. The book will be relevant to policy makers, researchers, and others with an interest in learning more about urbanisation and climate change policy.
As a vital human need, water has been absolutely critical to decisions as to where cities originate, how much they grow and the standard of living of the inhabitants. The relationship is complex however; we need both continual availability and protection from its potential impacts. Over recent decades flooding and scarcity episodes have become commonplace in even the most advanced countries – and these events cannot be disassociated from the socio-economic context within which they occur; being directly related to how we live, where we live and how we govern.