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The 12th Young Academics Conference of the Association of European Schools of Planning (AESOP) was hosted at the University of Groningen from the 26th–29th March 2018. The conference theme was “Navigating Change: Planning for societal and spatial transformation”. We welcomed 53 participants from over 30 universities and organisations from across Europe and the USA. The aim of the conference was to understand how various disciplines within planning and related to planning are dealing with change. Researchers and practitioners presented their research on dealing with environmental, technological, population and political change, and approaches to study this. Understanding these processes and exploring appropriate planning approaches became apparent in framing as a bridging concept in the need for more explicit attention to the role of planners as actors in navigating change and the practice of respectful planning.
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Navigating Change: Planning for Societal and
Spatial Transformations
Rozanne Charlotte Spijkerboer, Steven Ashley Forrest & Anne Marel Hilbers
To cite this article: Rozanne Charlotte Spijkerboer, Steven Ashley Forrest & Anne Marel Hilbers
(2018) Navigating Change: Planning for Societal and Spatial Transformations, disP - The Planning
Review, 54:4, 74-77, DOI: 10.1080/02513625.2018.1562807
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74 disP 215 · 54.4 (4/2018) AESOP Section
Navigating Change: Planning for Societal and Spatial Transformations
Debates during the 12th AESOP Young Academics Conference
Rozanne Charlotte Spijkerboer, Steven Ashley Forrest and Anne Marel Hilbers
Abstract: The 12th Young Academics Conference
of the Association of European Schools of Planning
(AESOP) was hosted at the University of Gronin-
gen from the 26th–29th March 2018. The confer-
ence theme was “Navigating Change: Planning for
societal and spatial transformation”. We welcomed
53 participants from over 30 universities and organ-
isations from across Europe and the USA. The aim
of the conference was to understand how various
disciplines within planning and related to planning
are dealing with change. Researchers and practi-
tioners presented their research on dealing with
environmental, technological, population and po-
litical change, and approaches to study this. Under-
standing these processes and exploring appropriate
planning approaches became apparent in framing
as a bridging concept in the need for more explicit
attention to the role of planners as actors in navigat-
ing change and the practice of respectful planning.
1 Introduction
The theme of the 2018 AESOP Young Academ-
1 conference at the University of Groningen was
“Navigating Change: Planning for societal and spa-
tial transformation”. We live in an era of continu-
ous changes that seem to be occurring more rapidly
than before and are manifesting themselves spa-
tially, socially and institutionally over time. These
changes may be global (e.g. the rise of political pop-
ulism) or more regionally-based (e.g. both rapid ur-
ban growth and rural decline) and can range from
slow stresses (e.g. climate change) to sudden shocks
(e.g. disasters). During the opening ceremony of the
conference, the Oxford Dictionary’s (2018) defini-
tion of “navigation” was used as a starting point: “the
process or activity of accurately ascertaining one’s
position and planning and following a route”. In
this report, we try to go beyond this rather abstract
definition and understand what navigating change
means for planning practitioners and researchers.
The outline of this report is as follows: we start
by setting the scene to conceptualise societal and
spatial change in Section 2. In Section 3, we discuss
the debates that became apparent during the track
sessions, keynotes (by Professors Maarten Hajer of
the University of Utrecht, Philip McCann of the Uni-
versity of Sheffield, and Patrick Devine-Wright of
the University of Exeter), day trip, workshops and
expert panel discussion. This report concludes with
recommendations for a future research agenda on
navigating change for planners, policymakers and
citizens in Section 4.
2 Setting the scene
Groningen and the surrounding area offer a wide
variety of challenges dealing with the dynamics of
spatial change and the impact on people and plan-
ning practices. These changes include a dichot-
omy between planning for both growth in the City
of Groningen and decline in the rural areas of the
Province of Groningen. Growth in the city has im-
plications for mobility and public space. The Mu-
nicipality of Groningen raised these issues in their
workshop, focusing on bicycle parking problems
and conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians.
These changes are further complicated by earth-
quakes caused by gas extraction and flood risks.
Workshop discussions with the Province of Gronin-
gen focused on balancing tensions between indi-
vidual and collective interests concerning the im-
pacts of these earthquakes in villages that are also
dealing with rural decline. Rijkswaterstaat and the
Wadden Academy showed a practical example of
dealing with change in Dutch water management
during an excursion to the Afsluitdijk, which is al-
most 100 years old and needs to be strengthened.
Participants learned about combining issues of wa-
ter safety with projects related to nature develop-
ment (e.g. the fish migration river) and renewable
energy (e.g. blue energy) at the Afsluitdijk.
“How can we ‘make sense’ of what is happening
and plan for the future within a dynamic and increas-
ingly complex society?” (Allmendinger 2017: 241)
This quote illustrates that on a fundamental level
most planning researchers and practitioners are
dealing with change and uncertainty. Whether fo-
cusing on issues related to changes in the environ-
ment, population, economy, society or politics, both
planning practice and research appear to deal with
two dimensions of change:
(1) the analytical dimension of change, which re-
lates to “making sense” of the societal and spatial
transformations that are observed and “ascertain-
ing one’s position” regarding these changes. Vari-
ous theories and perspectives are used by planning
scholars to “make sense” of changes in society, in-
cluding complexity theory (e.g. De Roo et al. 2012),
institutional theories (e.g. Salet et al. 2018), socio-
ecological resilience (e.g. Folke 2006) and multi-
level perspectives (e.g. Geels 2018). During the
conference, these changes and transformations in
various domains were repeatedly characterised as
“wicked problems” (Rittel, Webber 1973).
(2) the normative dimension of change, which fo-
cuses on how to act in light of the aforementioned
changes and how to “plan for the future”. Various
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disP 215 · 54.4 (4/2018) 75
AES OP Section
approaches and tools have been developed to deal
with and navigate these changes, such as collabora-
tive and participatory planning (e.g. Healey 1998),
governance networks (e.g. Hajer, Versteeg 2003),
adaptive planning (e.g. Rauws 2017), strategies and
visions (e.g. Albrechts 2004), and environmental
and social impact assessments (e.g. Slootweg et al.
According to De Roo et al. (2012), “it is the spa-
tial planner’s job to create a bridge between ‘what
is’ and ‘what could be’ (or in normative terms ‘what
should be’)” (p. 1). These theoretical discussions,
along with the conference insights that will be dis-
cussed later in this report, show that it is crucial
to take into account the widening role of plan-
ners, policymakers, and citizens in navigating these
“wicked problems”. It is important to look at who is
involved in navigating change, both in the process
of “making sense” of the changes, as well as in de-
termining potential responses to change and plan
for the future.
3 Planning for societal and spatial trans-
Throughout the conference, three important
themes relating to navigating change recurred
across the different research topics: (i) framing
change; (ii) a widening role of planners, policy-
makers and citizens relating to wicked problems;
and (iii) considerations of power relations when
navigating change.
Framing change
A central concept that seems to bridge both the an-
alytical and normative dimension is the concept
of “framing”. There was an acknowledgement that
planners were influenced by their framing of cer-
tain issues, with Viktorija Prilenska’s research us-
ing serious gaming as a way of challenging existing
perspectives held by developers on energy issues.
Framing is not only relevant for current changes,
but also future changes. In his keynote, Maarten
Hajer argued for “framing of the future” with a
greater emphasis on creativity and imagineering
for planners. However, it was cautioned that plan-
ners must remember the history of places when
looking to future options, which includes being “re-
ceptive to previous attempts by planners to create
changes – and also their mistakes” (Jos Arts, expert
panel discussion).
Research on impact assessments was presented,
which relates to both making sense of the pres-
ent and exploring future planning options (i.e.
both analytical and normative dimensions). Patrick
Patiwael’s research into Heritage Impact Assess-
ments, as part of heritage management, found
that these assessments were focused on preventing
change as opposed to navigating it. This highlighted
the need for planners to both anticipate and adapt
to changes. This point was followed up by the expert
panel discussion, focusing on the need for planners
themselves to be flexible, especially in the context
of uncertainty.
Widening role of planners, policymakers
and citizens as regards wicked problems
In navigating change, the presenters showed the
growing involvement of actors, especially citizens,
within planning processes. Multiple presentations
highlighted the need to have more inclusionary ap-
proaches with broader stakeholder engagement,
with an aim of stimulating socially anticipated out-
comes, social innovation, an empowered society and
community resourcefulness. Several presenters in-
dicated that this more inclusionary approach is re-
flected in ongoing institutional changes, with the
state decentralising responsibilities and creating a
more prominent role for citizens. This is being for-
malised in some instances, such as the new Envi-
ronmental and Planning Act 2021 in the Nether-
lands. Presenters also showed state responsibilities
being transferred to informal collaborations be-
tween market parties and citizens. Furthermore,
Sara Ozogul’s research suggested market involve-
ment as a means to help local citizen initiatives to
“jump from the local scale” and thereby influence
spatial governance systems beyond the micro-scale.
Presenters also critically discussed the concept of
decentralisation and whether transfers of responsi-
bilities to citizens were also matched by a commen-
surate transfer of power and resources.
In light of this growing citizen role in plan-
ning, it is important to realise that not only plan-
ners frame changes. Kim von Schönfeld’s presenta-
tion argued that the individuals’ own experiences
and personal backgrounds (i.e. social networks and
previous experience of engagement) shape how
they think about planning issues. Patrick Devine-
Wright and expert panel members further encour-
aged planners to be aware of people’s emotions and
to be “respectful” of their right to have emotions re-
lated to what we, as planners, are doing in their en-
Considering power relations when
navigating change
Multiple presentations analysed the dynamic inter-
relationships between proposed planning solutions
and power relations, including issues of fairness
and justice. An ongoing concern was that exist-
ing injustices were being reproduced in new ap-
proaches for navigating change. For example, Erik
Meij’s research found that introducing “exemplary”
newcomers in housing estates reinforces social dif-
ferences and can result in the empowerment of
stronger social groups.
Discussions also focused on changes with clear
“winners” and “losers”, as seen in gas extraction in
Groningen (i.e. those benefiting from gas revenue
and those experiencing earthquake damage) and
as a result of globalisation. Philip McCann posed
the question in reference to the Brexit referen-
dum decision and his research on the geographies
76 disP 215 · 54.4 (4/2018) of discontent: “how can you make policies in a way
that makes people feel like they have a stake, that
make them feel empowered again?”. Discussions
concerning this question highlighted the necessity
for experts, such as planners, to regain the trust that
a part of society appears to have lost. Without such
trust, it might be difficult to bridge the gap between
perceptions of “what is” and “what should be”.
4 Conclusion
The starting point of the conference was to gain in-
sight into the two dimensions of change in the con-
text of spatial planning. This focused our attention
on making sense of “what is” and “what could be”
or “should be”. The conference furthered the state-
ment made by De Roo et al. (2012) that it is neces-
sary to bridge the divide between these dimensions.
However, discussions from our conference show
that it is not only the planner’s responsibility, but a
result of the interaction between planners, civil so-
ciety and market actors.
Framing appears to be a “bridging concept” that
can help reflection upon societal and spatial trans-
formations in various contexts. It can shed light on
how changes are framed differently by various ac-
tors and how this relates to impacts of proposed in-
An important insight seems to be that one
should not only look at the role of planning and
plans in navigating change, but also explicitly at
the role of the planner. Planners themselves need
to show flexibility in their framing of planning is-
sues and solutions in order to navigate change, and
remain respectful of the perspectives and emotions
of various actors involved in the process. This ap-
pears to be an important dimension in experts, such
as planners, regaining the trust of society. In do-
ing so, it is necessary to further explore who is los-
ing trust and what they are specifically losing trust
in in order to provide opportunities for planners to
address this.
Insights from this conference can be used to
propose recommendations for further research and
for the development of future research agendas.
The importance of framing for both planners and
those affected by proposed interventions should be
central to this. Future research should more explic-
itly consider whether new planning approaches for
navigating change are not replicating and reinforc-
ing existing power differences. This is especially im-
portant when balancing collective and individual
interests within and between regions. In order to
overcome these power differences, more explicit at-
tention to the role of planners themselves – as actors
in navigating change and the practice of respectful
planning – is needed. This includes, for example,
a discussion on the use of terms such as “winners”
and “losers”: we encourage planners to explore the
consequences of framing certain groups or regions
in these terms and discuss potential alternatives.
To conclude, planners, civil society and mar-
ket actors should jointly frame “what is” and “what
should be” in navigating change and do so in a man-
ner that shows mutual respect and helps to regain
The conference was organised by PhD research-
ers at the Faculty of Spatial Sciences, University
of Groningen (RUG), and the AESOP Young Ac-
ademics Network. The conference was supported
by Rijkswaterstaat, Province of Groningen, Munic-
ipality of Groningen, Netherlands School of Urban
and Regional Research (NETHUR), Wadden Acad-
emy, Groningen University Fund (RUG), University
of Groningen Campus Fryslân (RUG), Sustainable
Society (RUG), Faculty of Spatial Sciences (RUG),
Department of Spatial Planning and Environment
(RUG), and the Association of European Planning
Schools (AESOP).
1 The Association of European Schools of Plan-
ning (AESOP) has over 150 member schools.
Since 2003, the Young Academics Network is a
loosely structured branch of AESOP. It provides
a platform through which young academics in
planning and related disciplines can share their
ideas in an open and inclusive environment,
challenging and supporting one another with
support of the senior AESOP members. Besides
publications, the network meets annually for
a separate free-of-charge four-day conference
organised by one of its members. The themes
of AESOP Young Academics conferences are
linked to the host cities’ and universities’ local
challenges, programmes and strengths.
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Reexamined. Environment and Planning B: Urban
Analytics and City Science, 31 (5), pp. 743–758.
Allmendinger, P. (2017): Planning Theory. 3rd edi-
tion. London: Palgrave.
De Roo, G.; Hillier, J.; Van Wezemael, J. (ed.) (2012):
Complexity and Planning: Systems, Assemblages
and Simulations. Farnharm: Ashgate.
Folke, C. (2006): Resilience: The emergence of a
perspective for social-ecological systems anal-
yses. Global Environmental Change, 16 (3),
pp. 253–267.
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transitions (to sustainability), and the multi-level
perspective. Research Policy, 39 (4), pp. 495–510.
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ernance through Networks. European Political
Science, 4 (3), pp. 340–347.
Healey, P. (1998): Building Institutional Capac-
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Selected presentations at the 12th AESOP
Young Academics Conference
Meij, E. (2018): Social street life: an ethnographic
approach to understanding everyday local social
interactions in relation to social difference.
Özogul, S. (2018): Transformative Place-making:
Experiences from Toronto.
Patiwael, P. (2018): The Heritage Impact Assess-
ment framework: Towards Sustainable Spatial
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a tool for education and exploration.
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for social innovation: moving beyond the myth.
Rozanne Charlotte Spijkerboer,
MSc BSc, is a PhD researcher
at the Department of Spatial
Planning & Environment, Faculty
of Spatial Sciences, at the
University of Groningen (NL)
since 2015. She holds a Research
Master’s in Regional Studies
from the University of Gronin-
gen. Her research focuses on
spatial integration of renewable
energy with other land-use
functions from an institutional
Rozanne C. Spijkerboera
University of Groningen
Faculty of Spatial Sciences
Department of Planning
Landleven 1
9747 AD Groningen, Netherlands
Steven Ashley Forrest, MA BSc,
is a PhD researcher at the
Department of Spatial Planning
& Environment, Faculty of
Spatial Sciences, at the University
of Groningen (NL) since 2014.
He holds a Master’s degree
in Disasters, Adaptation and
Development from King’s
College London (UK). His
research focuses on flood
resilience at the local level in
England and the Netherlands.
Steven A. Forrest
University of Groningen
Faculty of Spatial Sciences
Department of Planning
Landleven 1
9747 AD Groningen, Netherlands
Anne Marel Hilbers, MSc BSc,
is a PhD researcher at the
Department of Spatial Planning
& Environment, Faculty of
Spatial Sciences, at the University
of Groningen (NL) since 2015.
She holds a Master’s in
Socio-Spatial Planning from the
University of Groningen and has
also been affiliated with the
University of Nijmegen (NL),
Utrecht University and the
University of Pretoria (RSA).
Her research explores consen-
sus-based value assessment when
combining transport infrastruc-
ture and area development.
Anne Marel Hilbers
University of Groningen
Faculty of Spatial Sciences
Department of Planning
Landleven 1
9747 AD Groningen, Netherlands
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
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