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Journal of Environmental Planning and Management
ISSN: 0964-0568 (Print) 1360-0559 (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cjep20
Collaborative planning through dialogue models:
situated practices, the pursuit of transferability
and the role of leadership
Jenny Palm & Daniela Lazoroska
To cite this article: Jenny Palm & Daniela Lazoroska (2020): Collaborative planning through
dialogue models: situated practices, the pursuit of transferability and the role of leadership, Journal
of Environmental Planning and Management, DOI: 10.1080/09640568.2020.1756758
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/09640568.2020.1756758
© 2020 The Author(s). Published by Informa
UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis
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Collaborative planning through dialogue models: situated practices,
the pursuit of transferability and the role of leadership
Jenny Palmand Daniela Lazoroska
International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics (IIIEE), Lund University,
(Received 27 August 2019; revised 7 April 2020; final version received 8 April 2020)
Sweden is considered an environmental sustainability pioneer, targeting a 50%
reduction in energy use in buildings by 2050. This ambitious goal requires the
active engagement of municipal actors and the building sector. Dialogue processes
have been identified as a way to mobilize such engagement, but in earlier research,
there has been a lack of studies where dialogue practices are analyzed in real-time
and on location and where the role of leadership has been scrutinized. Taking two
cases in Malm€
o as a starting point, the aim of this paper is to analyze the
interconnections between dialogue models and the local context and to examine
how the role of process leadership affects exchanges between included actors. The
results show that it is difficult to create guidelines useful in the local context and
that learning was embedded in the doing and was transferred through the
Keywords: dialogue; sustainable city district; collaborative planning; sustainable
In the EU, 35% of the buildings are over 50 years old and 75% are energy inefficient
(European Commission 2018). These staggering numbers call for a response. Sweden
is considered a pioneer in environmental sustainability, and the Swedish parliament
has targeted a 50% reduction of energy use in buildings by 2050 through replacing
existing buildings with new ones or through renovating existing buildings to attain the
same energy performance as that of new buildings (Gluch, Johansson, and R€
2013; Government Bill 2005/06). Accordingly, several municipalities have received
grants from the national government to conduct locally based sustainability and cli-
mate-related investment programmes in collaboration with private actors, other munici-
palities, and regional and national public authorities (Granberg and Elander 2007). In
the effort to achieve sustainability goals, the building sector has been identified as a
productive locus of intervention, as buildings have a higher energy saving potential
than do other sectors of the economy (Kivimaa and Martiskainen 2018; Kivimaa et al.
2019). However, this sector has been slow to implement energy efficiency measures
Corresponding author. Email: Jenny.firstname.lastname@example.org
ß2020 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives
License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and
reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in
Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 2020
(Kivimaa and Martiskainen 2018; Palm and Reindl 2018). There is lack of engagement
by property owners and property developers in investing in the environmental, social,
and economic sustainability of their housing stock. Inertia has been encountered as an
internal barrier, and lack of knowledge, resources, and solutions as external ones
(Jensen and Maslesa 2015; Palm and Reindl 2018). The building sector appears to
have a conservative culture in which the established actor roles require renewal and
there is a lack of interest in environmental issues (Kivimaa et al.2019), challenging
policy makers and practitioners alike.
In this article, we examine how dialogues between property owners or property
developers and the city of Malm€
o are used with the aim of contributing to the imple-
mentation of environmental goals in residential areas. The dialogue models we
describe take place within the paradigm of collaborative, or communicative planning.
The premise of this approach is the inclusion of stakeholders in the process, as they
are expected to impact the plans produced. Collaborative planning is concerned with
the democratic management and control of urban and regional environments and the
design of less oppressive planning mechanisms (Harris 2002; Healey 1997). Recent
decades’developments illustrate the benefits of applying collaborative approaches
(Fenton et al.2015; Healey 1997; Innes and Booher 2003). Collective action among
actors on multiple levels of society is viewed as a potential solution for attaining a sus-
tainable future (Linnenluecke et al.2017). Collaborative planning has been credited
for enabling collective action (Rydin 2014). Collective action, in its own turn, is
enabled by the creation of common identity and purpose, by encouraging participation,
by making collective action enjoyable, and by the creation of channels for communica-
tion that ease the flow of communication (Rydin 2014). Dialogue-based models of
stakeholder engagement have become central instruments in these processes.
The city of Malm€
o, Sweden’s third largest, has engaged in intensive collaborative
processes to support sustainable development since the turn of the 21st century.
Property owners and property developers are essential actors to be engaged in sustain-
able urban planning for ambitious sustainability programmes to be implemented,
because they own much of the physical space in municipalities. As Swedish municipal-
ities do not have the authority to regulate the technical properties of buildings,
“strategic housing dialogues”with the city’s property owners and developers are the
o has been using for promoting voluntary action, and for boosting sustain-
able housing construction (Malm€
o stad 2018). Dialogue between different actors is
believed to promote the exchange of perspectives and yield new knowledge, which is
often an important prerequisite for understanding and addressing complex
In the existing research on dialogues we have identified a lack of practice-based
approaches, that would enable dialogue practices to be analysed in real time and on
location. Dialogues are conceptually based on the work of American pragmatists, as
well as on Habermas’notion of communicative rationality (Innes and Booher 2010).
Habermas' work urges for the creation of ideal speech situations, where all parties
have equal rights to express themselves and engage the expression of others
(Habermas 1984). This approach has been criticized for disregarding cultural diversity,
power discrepancies and the potential of individual agency to transform structures
(Healey 1997), issues which arise in the day-to-day practices of urban planning.
Taking on a practice-based approach could surpass the abstraction of models. The goal
of this endeavour is not to discard dialogues as a tool of collaborative planning, but to
2J. Palm and D. Lazoroska
question the terms under which their transfer from one location to another could occur,
and identify aspects that have the potential to optimize the process. Research that has
approached dialogues as they unfold in practice has mentioned leadership as having
this potential (Millar, Hind, and Magala 2012; Mart
ıla 2018). Nonetheless,
while being mentioned, the importance of effective leadership for approaching chal-
lenges such as cultural difference, power discrepancy and agency has not been
explored in greater length (Lazoroska and Palm 2019). Thus, this article aims to fill
these two interconnected research gaps. Through an empirical examination of the col-
laborative practices between municipal representatives and building actors, the contri-
bution of this research is to provide increased understanding of dialogues as tools of
collaborative planning, and what facilitates or hinders such processes.
Following Reimer’s(2013) argument that planning has taken an all too unproblem-
atic turn towards new rationales, such as collaborative planning, we will outline the
limitations of the collaborative in the dialogue processes we describe. A part of the cri-
tique towards collaborative planning is that it only involves a minority of the popula-
tion, as the tools used by planners are designed for small groups (Proli 2019;
Allmendinger and Tewdwr-Jones 2002). While this is a limitation of collaborative
planning in general, it is likewise a limitation of this study, as the actors engaged in
the dialogue were not diverse. The collaborative planning process can be understood
as an invitation for the levelling of hierarchies between the planners and stakeholders.
In the cases we describe, however, stakeholders are property owners and property
developers. According to Reimer (2013), planning needs to deal with the ever-rising
power of economic actors and their interests and strategies. In relative terms, these
actors already have a substantial amount of economic power at their disposal.
Knowledge is constructed by power relationships between groups. The group with
power influences how knowledge is communicated, how it is understood and the lan-
guage on which it is based (Proli 2019). This implies that the power wielded by these
actors has been reinforced. Including these actors was, however, the modus operandi
of the dialogues. A key concept in collaborative planning is strategy (Healey 1997;
Harris 2002). Our cases, although limited examples of collaborative planning, are prod-
ucts of strategic inclusion of actors that have been hard to mobilize.
In line with these challenges and the approaches for addressing them, this paper
examines the implementation of dialogue processes with property owners and property
developers in Malm€
o through two case studies. The aim is to analyse the interconnec-
tions between dialogue models and the local context, asking how these connections
affect the transferability of models and how the role of process leadership affects
exchanges between actors when high stakes and complex power structures
2. Theory: dialogue as a situated practice
This article approaches dialogue models as ways to induce sustainability transitions
among property owners and property developers. Given the nature of the qualitative
data we gathered, we do not examine outcomes in terms of sustainability. We postulate
that dialogues merit study as they can help mobilize and invoke collective action to
advance sustainable development in the building sector. From a general perspective,
dialogue has been described as a community of inquiry (Innes and Booher 2010). We
define dialogue as the process by which actors engage with one another in a respectful
Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 3
and trusting manner to exchange knowledge and experience in the interest of produc-
ing sustainable urban transitions (Lazoroska and Palm 2019). The stakeholders
engaged in dialogue strive to negotiate their positions and perspectives to create shared
meaning and innovative means of action (Lazoroska and Palm 2019). Indeed, as we
will show, this definition captures the ideal towards which practitioners worked
towards, but it did not always tally with the daily experiences of collaboration.
To study the dialogue processes as they played out in our case studies, and to see
what was situated and contextual about the cases, we applied a practice-based frame-
work. Practice-based research postulates that the subjects and objects of knowledge are
co-constituted, and that research including human subjects benefits from studying the
context and social relationships in which those subjects are active (Gherardi 2008;
Nardi 1996). Nonetheless, contemporary urban planning is a complex process, involv-
ing many different stakeholders. Thus, we argue that issues such as trust, learning and
leadership need to be accounted for in order for that complexity to be accommodated.
We now go on to address the theoretical foundations of these concepts as they are
used in our research.
Trust is important because when it flows among the participants, the outcomes of
the process will be relevant to the values of those involved, and there is potential for
those relationships to endure over time (Gherardi 2008). Trust, as well as reflection
and learning, are processual outcomes, constituted reciprocally in the interaction
between subjects and objects (Gherardi 2008). When stakeholders come from different
communities, attention is required to the communicative practices through which trust
and understanding develop (Healey 1997). Trust can be created and fostered by utili-
tarian calculations and predictability, personal relations and feelings, institutions and
knowledge about norms, or abstract qualities of an “external object”(Talvitie 2012),
or as we will go on to show, by a combination of some of these conditions.
Learning and knowing are understood as dynamic activities that take place in situ-
ated contexts and practices (Gluch, Johansson, and R€
anen 2013). Knowledge is
embedded in the process, methods and tools of a practice, as well as the people that
perform it (Gluch, Johansson, and R€
anen 2013). Transferability of models is tied
into matters of knowledge and learning, as it is essentially about drawing lessons or
policy transfer from other cities. The concept of transferability is based on the idea
that new lessons are necessary when routines stop providing solutions (Rose 1991;
Baumann and White 2011). Researchers who have dealt with transferability have
postulated that responses from one place can, to a certain extent, be transferred to
others (Rose 1991; Baumann and White 2011). In this research, we take a slightly
sceptical approach, and examine aspects of dialogues that are not as easily transferable,
and the lessons to be learned from those difficulties.
Another aspect of dialogues that will be examined in this research is leadership.
Leadership is here understood as the process through which resources are mobilized
and power is shared between stakeholders with collaboration goals (Fahmi et al.
2016). Indeed, in the studies on collaborative planning, leadership and mediation have
been examined for their role in catalysing the nature and quality of the exchanges
between stakeholders (Ansell and Gash 2007; Baumann and White 2015; Mart
ıla 2018; Millar, Hind, and Magala 2012). When all parties engage in exchange
with each other, it can increase network power (Booher and Innes 2002). Successful
leadership is expected to encourage participation and overcome conflicts between
stakeholders, and transform these into practical working relationships (Crosby and
4J. Palm and D. Lazoroska
Bryson 2005). Leaders are likewise central to trust and critical to successful planning
(Talvitie 2012). Dialogues have been criticized for their roots in Habermas’work on
communicative rationality and its reliance on ideal-type communicative situations,
which would make them difficult to apply to real-life situations. But, as leadership has
the potential to address power discrepancies, difference and agency, it could hold the
key to optimizing dialogue processes (Fahmi et al.2016). Leadership theories have
differing perspectives on what makes a good leader. There are perspectives that high-
light personal traits (Bolden et al.2003), those that require a leader to adapt to specific
environments (Fahmi et al.2016), and those that accentuate the role of leaders in con-
structing common vision (Rondinelli and Heffron 2009). While these different leaders
base their powers on different sources, be it their personality, their adaptability, or
their capacity to bring people together, they all require a skill set. According to
ıla (2018), dialogue leaders need to accrue and develop social skills, most
relevantly those of facilitation and engagement to optimally engage with the dialogue
actors and the local environment. How to manage leading a dialogue, while making
the most of one’s personality, adaptability, sociability or skills, will be fur-
This article is the product of practice-based research, which has implications for the
methodology applied. This approach affects the duration of the research, draws atten-
tion to broad patterns of activity rather than episodic fragments, and requires varied
data collection techniques as well as commitment to understanding participants’view-
points (Nardi 1996). Qualitative methods were accordingly used to gather research
data. The primary methods were semi-structured interviews and participant observation
during events, workshops, seminars, and planning meetings with the actors studied.
Two researchers gathered the data in two areas of Malm€
o, Sweden, one working in
Sege Park and the other in Sofielund. The researcher in Sege Park participated in 20
data-gathering interactions, while the researcher in Sofielund participated in five. Field
notes were written on these interactions. These qualitative data were complemented
with desktop research, including grey literature research, gathering and analysing docu-
ments produced by the City of Malm€
o, property owners, and property developers con-
cerning their sustainability efforts. We also followed developments on these
Fifteen interviews were conducted in Sege Park and ten in Sofielund. We promised
our interviewees anonymity, so the quotations do not use their names or specify their
roles. The interviews lasted between one and two hours and were audio recorded with
interviewee consent. The Sege Park interviewees were selected based on their roles as
property developers or process leaders in the ongoing development project; those in
Sofielund were chosen from the list of property owners engaged in the association that
is the focus of study, and from the municipal civil servants they identified as their con-
tacts. In Sege Park, all 13 property developers were interviewed, as well as two muni-
cipal civil servants. In Sofielund, six property developers were interviewed, as well as
one chairperson, one municipal civil servant, one development leader, and
The interviewees were asked to begin by introducing their professional background
and current professional role, before the interview continued by addressing the
Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 5
interview themes. The first theme was the concept of dialogue: how familiar the inter-
viewees were with it, and how it was, or was not, related to the work processes in
Sege Park or Sofielund. The second theme concerned the interviewees’practical expe-
riences with dialogue processes to promote sustainability, the extent of their involve-
ment in such processes in the two areas, and descriptions of how these processes
played out. The final theme dealt with their perceptions of the interactions between
property owning/developing actors and municipal actors, as well as their recommenda-
tions for improving the dialogue process (the interview guide is found in Appendix 1
(online supplemental data)).
The data were analysed using qualitative content analysis (Elo and Kyng€
The researchers transcribed the interviews, focusing on the three themes discussed.
Concurrently with the data gathering, the researchers reviewed the literature so that the
literature and empirical findings could inform each other. The content analysis can be
understood as deductive, as the interview content was reviewed for correspondence
with the literature review findings. The interviews were coded manually by the
researchers, focusing on identifying common patterns in the interviewees’responses.
Commonalities were sought in keywords and phrases, and in how the subjects posi-
tioned themselves relative to the topics. These commonalities were then related to the
supplementary data the researchers had gathered through desktop research. The
researchers met regularly to discuss the commonalities and differences identified in
their interpretations of the data. The quotes present in the article have been selected as
they aptly summarized what we had been learned with multiple research participants
and across a variety of occasions.
4. The case studies: Sege Park and Sofielund
The research presented here examines two projects in Malm€
o: a development project
in the Sege Park district and a business investment district (BID) in Sofielund. We
selected these case studies as they both implemented the dialogue model, albeit as we
will show, in rather different ways.
Sege Park is the area of a former psychiatric hospital that was closed in 1995. The
goal is to develop this area as a mix of new and old housing, business premises, public
services, and parks. According to the plans, by 2025, there will be up to 900 dwellings
in Sege Park. The development process is characterized by a sustainable approach with
a specific focus on creating a low-carbon district. According to the project website,
Sege Park is to be a frontrunner in sustainable urban development and a test bed for
sustainable solutions and sharing services such as carpooling, non-grid-tied street light-
ing, and integrated recycling. To achieve these ambitious goals, Malm€
o initiated a
building developer dialogue in 2017.
Unlike in Sege Park, the dialogues in Sofielund were not initiated as a series, but
played out within the frame of the BID model employed by Fastighets€
(Property Owners Sofielund), an association started in 2014 as an initiative of the City
o and Fastighets€
agarna Syd (Property Owners South). BID stands for business
investment district, meaning that local businesses pay a fee to fund projects in the
area. The association drew its inspiration for the BID model from North American and
other international models, where such forms of collaboration are formalized and regu-
lated through legislation. This is not yet the case in Sweden, where participants engage
voluntarily. The area Sofielund is a housing and industrial area with approximately
6J. Palm and D. Lazoroska
12,000 residents in 5,000 housing units, as well as 400 registered businesses and 150
local associations. In its public presentation, the association framed the participation of
the residents and the City of Malm€
o as essential in developing Sofielund as an attract-
ive part of the city. To further realize their vision of integration and participation, the
association is open to all those who own properties in the area (both apartment build-
ings and commercial premises) as well as local residents’associations, companies, and
businesses. At the time of writing, the association had about 50 members. Currently,
the primary goals are to reduce criminal activity in the area, increase residents’sense
of safety, and brand the area as an attractive place to live in Malm€
o. The association
has grown to be perceived as a successful framework for stimulating developments in
Sofielund that are beyond the authority of the municipal government.
We will now go on to discuss the dialogue models in use in the two areas, fol-
lowed by the main method that they have in common (workshops), and end with dis-
cussing the role of leadership in the two dialogues.
4.1. The interconnections between dialogue models and the local context
The Sege Park dialogue model is based on a general model described in a City of
o brochure from 2014. The model is presented from the perspective of the city,
and is intended to be used by municipal officials in future dialogues with property
developers. The dialogue process is divided into seven “elements”,A–G. Elements
A–C concern internal processes in the municipal administration. Elements D–G refer
to meetings between the city and property developers. These elements are shown in
The elements constituting the model are described in detail in the brochure. The
brochure gives a relatively clear introduction to how to conduct a dialogue, giving
practical tips and advice on how to proceed and what to consider in every step. This
brochure was not, however, used by those running the Sege Park dialogue: they were
aware of its existence, but it had no function in the process. The process leader said
that, although she had been involved in producing the brochure, she did not use it.
During the observations the researchers did note that the model’s different steps were
followed. According to the process leader, the dialogue played out based on experi-
ence, rather than by following a brochure. The process leader had conducted dialogue
meetings since the city of Malm€
o started to use them and knew the process by heart.
In Sege Park the dialogue meetings were thus conducted in accordance with the model
outlined in the brochure, but the reason for that was not the existence of the document,
but the existence of an experienced leader.
In Sofielund, the BID model was in use. A BID is typically formed and governed
by associations of property and business owners within a territorial area of a city and
they are authorized by the local government (Grossman 2010). Justice and Goldsmith
(2006) view BIDs as instruments that accomplish broad public policy goals, such as
promoting the general welfare or facilitating the joint provision and production of local
public goods. The association has been actively, and quite successfully, attempting to
rebrand itself in a Swedish guise. BID thus signifies Boende, Integration, och
Delaktighet, (in English: Housing, Integration, and Participation). The emphasis on
social sustainability is the reason that the acronym BID has been changed to better res-
onate with the model in Sofielund. Funds from the City of Malm€
o cover administrative
expenses and the development leader’s salary. The development leader is employed by
Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 7
the traffic department, but has BID Sofielund and its office in Sofielund as his
Unlike in the Sege Park case, the term “dialogue”is not being specifically and
explicitly used by the actors in Sofielund. The interaction between the City and BID
Sofielund was described as “contact surfaces”or as a “partnership”. The BID
Sofielund board had a reference group with representatives from the City of Malm€
(from the City’s traffic department, environmental management department, city plan-
ning office, and city planning office unit for safety and security), police, emergency
services, and VA Syd. The property owners involved in the association emphasized
the importance of this group for the increased contact and communication established
among themselves and with the City of Malm€
o. This has helped the property owners
to better understand city building processes.
The dialogues in Sege Park have been perceived as a success within the city of
o and have served as a model for horizontal diffusion across development proj-
ects in Malm€
o. BID Sofielund is perceived as successful by other municipalities as
well, and there is interest in replicating it. The development leader stated in interview
that the project is often visited by those who wish to start a similar process in
4.2. Workshops as the main platforms for dialogues
Regardless of their differences in the models used in Sege Park and Sofielund, the
practical execution of the dialogues was similar. Multiple workshops, planned by the
City of Malm€
o, have targeted BID Sofielund. Sege Park had one monthly dialogue
meeting. Each meeting treated a specific theme, such as energy, the stormwater sys-
tem, mobility, or waste disposal. As we observed during our field visits, the meetings
started with presentations by invited speakers knowledgeable about the themes, fol-
lowed by workshops in which the themes were discussed by all participants. The
Figure 1. Malm€
o’s model of building developer dialogue.
8J. Palm and D. Lazoroska
workshops in Sege Park and Sofielund were the base for the dialogues and had similar
organisations. We witnessed that the process leader together with the invited speakers
would set the agenda and organize the activities for the day. Commonly, the partici-
pants were divided into smaller groups. These smaller groups were expected to work
through the topics in an explorative manner, and discuss with each other based on their
particular experiences. That lasted around half an hour. The smaller groups were
‘supervised’by the process leader and speakers, functioning as moderators. These
most often culminated in a plenary discussion, wherein one member of each group
would summarize the discussions in the smaller group. Key words and diagrams were
written down on larger writing surfaces, making them visible for all those present.
They were often photographed by those who held the meetings. In the end, the invited
speaker and/or the process leader summarized the discussions.
Among the participating property owners and property developers in Sege Park
and Sofielund the workshops were not always seen as an effective approach. In
Sofielund the property owners perceived them as too numerous, and the property own-
ers did not find them useful. They were –as one put it –“tired of workshops”. The
process leader stated that the workshops the city requested were time consuming and a
barrier for his work. When the process leader organised meetings with the local busi-
nesses, he tried to make them quick and effective: an hour in duration with a clear
agenda and reaching clear resolutions. According to the property owners, “making
something out of dialogues”is most important, and not merely “sitting there, being
invited to meetings where people just sit and talk and workshop”. Indeed, during one
BID Sofielund meeting, as we observed, the participants went through the entire three-
page agenda in under 20 min. What is relevant to these practitioners is functional and
effective relationships that play out at the local level (in Sofielund) within a frame-
work of meetings with clear agendas and outcomes, rather than explorative workshops
with open-ended questions and a process orientation.
When interviewed, the property developers in Sege Park said that many relevant
themes were discussed at the dialogue meetings, and they felt that they learned a lot
from them. A recurring criticism expressed by the property owners was that the infor-
mation provided was too general and that the meetings never ended in decisions about
action, but rather resolved to return to or investigate the issue further. One property
developer related this to difficulties occurring when different professional cultures
I think the meetings could be run more efficiently. It is like two different worlds that
meet. There is a big difference from our world, where we run projects in a totally
different way. But, at the same time, it is difficult to coordinate 13 different property
developers with such diverse characteristics.
The workshops in Sege Park were, however, generally seen in a positive light. The
property developers wanted to have time to discuss matters with one another. The
problem was that the workshops did not always have contents reflecting what the
property developers wanted to discuss. When the issues were not directly linked to the
property developers’interests at the moment, they tended to be perceived as a waste
Another criticism was that the property developers’particular knowledge was not
put to good use during the meetings. The involved property developers usually had
special areas of expertise, such as wood construction, or had a development model
Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 9
targeting low-income families. They could have brought their knowledge to the discus-
sions, but usually outside experts were invited as speakers. In general, the interviewees
wanted to learn more from the involved property developers’experience and to present
the lessons they had learned in other projects.
4.3. The role of process leadership
All involved actors saw the networks that the dialogues in Sege Park and Sofielund
established as something positive. In Sege Park, especially the smaller property devel-
opers appreciated the networks:
For us the most important is to embrace all the knowledge that is in the room. We have
got really good contacts through Sege Park.
According to a participant from BID Sofielund, they have the potential to foster
exchange between groups:
The access points to the city [administration] are very valuable for the entire business
community that is involved. At the same time, I have great support from the business
community, which is a bit of a lobbying organization that will give me leverage when I
go to the city, because they do not counteract each other, they synergize somehow,
which works very well.
To carry out the types of collaboration described, the essential ingredient identified
in the interviews from both areas has been trust, which is built over time and through
experience. This is expressed in the following way by an informant engaged in
The most important thing of all has been creating trust –to really trust one another.
By establishing and maintaining networks, these actors have been able to strategic-
ally position themselves and reach groups that would otherwise be difficult to access.
According to interviewees in both areas, the process leaders are important to create
well-functioning relationships and trust. Both process leaders had substantial experi-
ence of working in dialogue processes with property developers and property owners
from their earlier work.
While both process leaders were important, the one in Sofielund was perceived as
essential for the networks there. His role in the success and visibility of the project
was unquestionable: he acted as a representative of BID Sofielund at various events,
successfully maintained communication between the City and the association, and was
responsible for authoring grant applications. He has, in several reports, been described
as a bridge to the City of Malm€
o administration for the property owners, and as facili-
tating links between local residents, police, and other actors who want to be involved
in the area (Fryklund 2018; Port 2018).
The problematic aspects of this dependence appear in attempts to objectively
describe and institutionalize successful processes, as they are linked to the subjective
qualities of the central people involved and the networks they have created. One repre-
sentative of the City of Malm€
o was eager to point this difficulty out:
10 J. Palm and D. Lazoroska
It’s something we’ve created through experience …But it’s not that we have created
words, or say …“Yes, now we are using this ‘chip method’”, or whatever it is. It does
not exist. And this is both good and bad, because what is good about it is that we have
found something that works, but it is clear that it is not so transparent, because …[one
person] has driven it.
This has also been a general point of concern. To prevent the Sofielund process
from becoming too dependent on one person, two associates were hired in autumn
2018 “to be his [i.e. the development leader’s] right and left hands”. In Sege Park, the
process leader said that knowledge and experience were shared between staff in face-
to-face interactions and by having more junior staff work with senior staff. A year into
the process in Sege Park, through our field visits, we could observe that the more
experienced process leader was the formal leader of the process, taking a clear leader-
ship role during the meetings. Every second dialogue meeting, however, a junior pro-
cess leader led the meeting, mimicking the senior one’s leadership style. The senior
process leader intervened if and when needed to provide backstopping support.
Learning thus occurred through practice.
The Sofielund and Sege Park cases both represent dialogue processes, but they played
out differently. In this discussion, we focus on the aspects shared by the two cases and
what can be learned from both models in relation to what dialogues can enable or
restrict, their potential for transfer, and the need for process leaders situated in the
5.1. Dialogues as models creating common spaces for building networks, trust, and
Contemporary urban development calls for a redefinition of spatial responsibilities, as
well as for new strategic alliances that go beyond boundaries between spheres and sec-
tors (Reimer 2013). The collaborative process as it played out in Malm€
o called for the
inclusion of building actors who wielded a great amount of power due to the energy
saving potential of buildings. Although these dialogues are a relatively limited example
of what collaborative planning towards sustainability transformations can be, they were
a strategic effort to include actors from an inertial sector, in terms of their efforts to
achieve sustainability goals. Ensuring a sustainable future depends on strategic actions
of public and private actors alike, and their capacity for considering the ecological lim-
its of the planet and those of resources (Linnenluecke et al.2017).
The starting conditions of the dialogue process were discrepancies in the particular
types of expertise that the property owners, property developers, and City of Malm€
representatives brought with them, as well as the weight of their preconceived notions
of one another. The dialogues enabled collaboration and mutual learning between and
within sectors, involving actors who would not otherwise have worked together or
shared values. This confirmed the point of Gluch, Johansson, and R€
anen (2013) that
boundary-crossing activities are becoming increasingly important in interdisciplinary
and fragmented industries such as construction in order to access information from
outside the group. The dialogue meetings and longer-term engagement that the process
Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 11
entailed presented an optimal opportunity for exchange across boundaries. The actors
involved in these meetings represented distinct fields from which knowledge does not
circulate easily. The challenge in such situations is to find ways to make the community
boundaries sufficiently permeable for knowledge to be shared (Gluch, Johansson, and
anen 2013). From our observations and as ascertained in the interviews, we gathered
that the initial mismatch arising from the different backgrounds of the property owners/
developers and the city representatives gave way to knowledge exchange and develop-
ment. However, this was only possible as actors grew to know and trust each other. The
models for creating dialogue in Sege Park and Sofielund proved a fine example of the
role governing entities, here, representatives of the City of Malm€
o, can play in enabling
knowledge sharing across boundaries. Swedish municipalities have limited opportunities
to set local environmental requirements in their areas, but dialogue processes allow them
to contribute to voluntary agreements concerning such requirements.
Ansell and Gash (2007) found that an essential aspect of collaborative processes is
building trust among stakeholders, which can be both difficult and time consuming.
Likewise, trust building is contingent on the work of “good collaborative leaders”who
recognize that they must build trust (Gluch, Johansson, and R€
anen 2013), as illus-
trated by the involvement of the two leaders involved in the cases: they built the chan-
nels through which actors from different sectors met, building networks and trust
among themselves. The trust was built on the base of the personal relationships that
the process leaders had accrued over time, as well as their institutional knowledge
(Talvitie 2012). The networks they built are rich in social capital, and can reduce the
transaction costs of potential future collective actions (Olsson 2009). Thus, they stimu-
late the potential future collaborations of the participants.
The models applied in the studied cases have their limits. In both dialogue models,
the workshop was the mode of engagement chosen to involve all participants when
they met. The workshops, however, turned out to be problematic. The municipal repre-
sentatives were used to organizing, running, and acting through workshops. This
experience was less common among the property owners and property developers,
who found the workshops a rather time-consuming method that could be replaced by
more effective decision-making processes. The city officials emphasized inclusive and
deliberative dialogue, while the property owners and developers emphasized effective
meetings (i.e. short in duration with clear agendas) and a desire to make decisions
quickly. Different approaches to decision-making need to be taken into consideration
when arranging dialogues.
The problems arising from having different expectations and ways of doing things
were never discussed, and leaving these problems unspoken made them impossible to
solve. The workshops symbolized a clash between the meeting of the different profes-
sional cultures. The data gathered from the two cases indicated that the problems were
not solely about differences in professional language, but also about the different modes
and formats of engagement and expectations of outcomes. The workshops were a materi-
alization of the transformation, as well as a critique of the planning profession, paying
more attention to dialogue than decisions (Proli 2019). Gluch, Johansson, and R€
(2013) emphasized that interaction between stakeholders in their research was enabled
by their willingness to adapt and translate the respective disciplinary discourses. As col-
laborative endeavours engage multiple stakeholders, the awareness that multiple cultures
are brought together needs to be translated into the instruments that are applied, so that
they resonate with the participants.
12 J. Palm and D. Lazoroska
5.2. Transferable models versus particular locations and socio–cultural contexts
There were guidelines for conducting property developer dialogues in Malm€
o, but they
were not used. The process leader in Sege Park criticized these guidelines as too gen-
eral: they covered all the needed steps, but at such an abstract level that they were use-
less in practice. The expectations on behalf of the city actors that the guidelines would
be used, and their lack of application in the field of action also tallies with Flyvbjerg’s
(2006) findings on case studies within the social sciences, and the common misunder-
standings that surround them. Flyvbjerg found that general and context-independent
knowledge is perceived to be more valuable than concrete, practical and context-
dependent knowledge. He contends that it is the type of knowledge which transforms
rule-based beginners into virtuoso experts. To apply the guidelines, the practitioners
needed past experience of running a dialogue. With such experience, the process leader
could contextualize the content and make it valid for the locality; however, if one had
such experience, the guidelines were no longer needed.
Through participation in multiple instances of collaboration, relevant skills and
knowledge are acquired. These findings resonate with situated action studies, which pos-
tulate that activity grows out of responsiveness to the socio–material environment and
the capacity for improvisation (Nardi 1996; Thollander and Palm 2015; Sayer 2000).
Rule-based knowledge should not be discarded, as Flyvbjerg (2006) contends, as it is
essential for building up a base for the training of novices. The knowledge needed to
apply the guidelines is nevertheless difficult to codify to be accessible to novices, as it is
embedded in actors’ties to the locality and in their ability to adapt to the processes as
they unfold. Crucially, this knowledge was tacit. As the role of the development leader
was central, being rooted in his experiences, social network, and personal qualities, we
contend that not everything is scalable or transferable. It is unlikely that the BID
Sofielund model can be replicated in another area of Malm€
o without adaptation to the
specific area. Understanding the specific challenges, geography, social codes, and rela-
tionships of a given area is crucial for success (cf. Fryklund 2018).
However, we can see that processes of translation and learning from the general,
or global, level did take place in the locality. In Sofielund, the inspiration for the BID
was taken from the USA and other international models, but it was necessary to
change the foundation and intentions of the concept to make it applicable in Malm€
In Sofielund, the initiative came from municipal actors, rather than from the property
owners themselves, as is the case in international versions. While the international
examples inspired the collaboration project, it was grounded in the established
Swedish practice of starting and running associations based on voluntarism. After start-
ing the association, the process leader managed to develop a version anchored in the
neighbourhood and its particular needs. Thus, the mode of organizing BIDs was trans-
lated in order to make it operational in the locality.
Are the dialogue processes, as they play out in these two cases, transferable? For
these models to be transferred and then applied, they must be reduced to general com-
prehensive principles. If this is done, then the contextuality and social relationships
enabling these models will be greatly reduced. Constituent procedures and steps can be
codified on a general level in guidelines, but not the local, situated action, as it
emerges from the particularities of given local situations (Nardi 1996). It is in the
local, situated action that the dialogue is “made”. That property owner and property
developer dialogues have been conducted multiple times in Malm€
o is not attributable
to the guidelines, but to the people involved, such as the process leaders. Nonetheless,
Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 13
the alternatives to these generalizable models are not obvious, so these models should
not easily be discarded. As proposed in the next section, more attention needs to be
paid to the role of process leadership.
5.3. Process leadership
In both cases, the process leaders have been essential for conducting, and optimizing
the dialogues (Fahmi et al.2016). Leadership, according to Ansell and Gash (2007), is
critical to bringing parties to the table and steering them through the rough patches of
a collaborative process. In terms of the social skills identified by Mart
(2018) as relevant to a leader, during the observations we were not struck by the pro-
cess leaders’skills in terms of communicating with participants or facilitating their
engagement. Neither of the leaders can be described as dynamic and outgoing, but
regardless, they assumed an obvious leadership role. The process leaders in Sege Park
and in Sofielund embodied one of the key characteristics mentioned by Mart
(2018) as important for successful process leadership: they were both familiar with the
contexts. They had been employed in the city administration for many years and had
earlier worked in close collaboration with property developers and property owners;
they were keenly aware of the social, political, cultural, and economic conditions in
which the actors involved in the dialogue processes were active. They knew the hous-
ing sector well and were familiar with its culture and dominant values and norms.
They could speak the languages of the property owners and developers, and of the city
administration, functioning as “translators”between the city and the property owners/
developers (Gluch, Johansson, and R€
anen 2013). They were successful leaders
based on their professional experiences.
We gathered that the property developers and owners respected and trusted these
process leaders. Because of their knowledge and the trust invested in the relationships,
these leaders could promote participation, expand the field of what these actors could
influence, manage group dynamics, and extend the scope of the process (Lasker et al.
2003). These leaders represent a combination of their capacity to adapt to their profes-
sional and local environment (Bolden et al.2003; Fahmi et al.2016), and their invest-
ment in constructing a common vision for the stakeholders (Rondinelli and Heffron
2009). They also illustrate the transformation of the planning profession; instead of
lone problem solving, they acted as mediators for the people involved in the planning
situation (Proli 2019). A “good leader”in these two case studies is one who is suffi-
ciently familiar with the local context to value and operationalize existing networks
and social capital, but who has an awareness of, and capacity to navigate, existing
power structures. Through the data gathered during participant observation and in
interviews, we conclude that leadership was based on the process leaders’ability to
navigate the existing power structures and on their tacit knowledge of what does and
does not work in such networks.
The aim with this paper has been to analyze the interconnections between dialogue
models and the local context and to examine how these connections affect the transfer-
ability of models, and the role leadership has to play.
14 J. Palm and D. Lazoroska
The research has included two cases of collaborative dialogues in Malm€
property owners, property developers, and municipal actors in sustainability-oriented
housing interventions. These represent limited accounts of what collaborative planning
could be, as they included a limited number of actors. The relevance of including
property owners and developers are, however, related to the power yielded by them
and the conservatism of these actors. In earlier research, there has been a lack of stud-
ies where dialogue practices are analyzed in real-time and on location, which has been
done here. This approach enabled us to study the conflicts that arise, and how these
are dealt with.
In the two cases analyzed, the dialogues played out differently. In both cases,
though, the dialogues enabled actors who would not necessarily meet to collaborate,
strengthen their professional networks, and learn from one another. The general con-
clusions which can be of importance to reflect upon in future collaborative pro-
Trust, established over time, is essential for effective dialogues to occur.
Frictions arose in our cases from the differences between the professional cultures.
Workshops exemplified this: the process leaders saw them as inclusive tools that
enhanced communications, the property owners and developers considered them to be
time-consuming and inefficient.
The existing written guidelines on how to run a dialogue were not used. Instead,
the process leaders trusted their learned ability to act in these for them familiar
localities and on their established relationships with the property developers and prop-
Learning was embedded in the doing, in practice.
Transferability: our findings showed that process leadership bridged the cultural
gap between the professional worlds of the Malm€
o city administration and the property
owners and developers. By being familiar with the context, and by translating the dis-
courses from one group to the other the process leaders had a central role in catalyzing
the development towards sustainable city districts.
The results indicate the importance of engaging process leaders with access to
multiple spheres, who have mastered several professional languages (in this case,
those of the building actors, the City of Malm€
o, and local businesses), and who have
personal qualities that enable them to develop trusting long-term relationships.
Another important finding for the future is that actions and behaviors cannot eas-
ily be treated as “best practices”that can simply be transferred without adapta-
tion. The sort of leader who works in one context might not work in another.
Dialogue processes are better understood when seen as centering on people and the
embeddedness of action, rather than as a set of instructions in the form of codi-
We want to acknowledge the anonymous reviewers for their many constructive and valuable
comments and suggestions.
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author(s).
Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 15
Supplemental data for this article is available online at https://doi.org/10.1080/09640568.
This work was supported by Vinnova, the city of Malm€
o, the European Regional Development
Fund, and the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics (Lund University).
Jenny Palm http://orcid.org/0000-0001-7694-7397
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