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The Institutional Dimension of Integration in Marine Spatial Planning: The Case of the Dutch North Sea Dialogues and Agreement

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Abstract

Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) literature identifies various dimensions of integration to deal with fragmented, sectoral, and ad hoc approaches to managing various uses offshore. However, the spatial dimension of MSP has receded into the background, the dimensions of integration remain ill-defined, and there is a lack of appreciation for the institutional changes that these integration efforts induce and require. Moreover, in light of the urgency of energy transition, offshore wind farms (OWF) are often prioritized over other interests in MSP practice. This paper uses the case of the Dutch North Sea Dialogues (NSD) to explore to what extent actors during the NSD pursued formal and informal institutional change to progress the various dimensions of integration in line with the normative principles of MSP to improve spatial integration between OWF and other interests at sea. The NSD provided an, initially temporary, platform that proved key for stakeholders to pursue subsequent formal and informal institutional changes that progressed integration in MSP. While formal institutional changes were achieved during the NSD, informal institutional changes also proved fundamental in progressing various dimensions of integration. The NSD shows that incremental institutional change can be effective in progressing integration, but also shows the limits to this approach. The place-based and temporal dimensions of integration require additional attention because this is where stakeholders most notably rely on existing institutional frameworks and conflicts are most prominent.
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ORIGINAL RESEARCH
published: 05 August 2021
doi: 10.3389/fmars.2021.712982
Edited by:
Kum Fai Yuen,
Nanyang Technological University,
Singapore
Reviewed by:
Jiahui Liu,
Nanyang Technological University,
Singapore
Cormac Walsh,
Leuphana University, Germany
*Correspondence:
Rozanne C. Spijkerboer
r.c.spijkerboer@rug.nl
Specialty section:
This article was submitted to
Marine Affairs and Policy,
a section of the journal
Frontiers in Marine Science
Received: 21 May 2021
Accepted: 16 July 2021
Published: 05 August 2021
Citation:
Spijkerboer RC (2021) The
Institutional Dimension of Integration
in Marine Spatial Planning: The Case
of the Dutch North Sea Dialogues
and Agreement.
Front. Mar. Sci. 8:712982.
doi: 10.3389/fmars.2021.712982
The Institutional Dimension of
Integration in Marine Spatial
Planning: The Case of the Dutch
North Sea Dialogues and Agreement
Rozanne C. Spijkerboer*
Department of Spatial Planning and Environment, Faculty of Spatial Sciences, University of Groningen, Groningen,
Netherlands
Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) literature identifies various dimensions of integration to
deal with fragmented, sectoral, and ad hoc approaches to managing various uses
offshore. However, the spatial dimension of MSP has receded into the background,
the dimensions of integration remain ill-defined, and there is a lack of appreciation for
the institutional changes that these integration efforts induce and require. Moreover, in
light of the urgency of energy transition, offshore wind farms (OWF) are often prioritized
over other interests in MSP practice. This paper uses the case of the Dutch North Sea
Dialogues (NSD) to explore to what extent actors during the NSD pursued formal and
informal institutional change to progress the various dimensions of integration in line
with the normative principles of MSP to improve spatial integration between OWF and
other interests at sea. The NSD provided an, initially temporary, platform that proved
key for stakeholders to pursue subsequent formal and informal institutional changes
that progressed integration in MSP. While formal institutional changes were achieved
during the NSD, informal institutional changes also proved fundamental in progressing
various dimensions of integration. The NSD shows that incremental institutional change
can be effective in progressing integration, but also shows the limits to this approach.
The place-based and temporal dimensions of integration require additional attention
because this is where stakeholders most notably rely on existing institutional frameworks
and conflicts are most prominent.
Keywords: institutional change, offshore wind farms, integration, maritime spatial planning, participation
INTRODUCTION
The limitations on space for furthering energy transition onshore are creating a push for offshore
renewable energy generation, foremost by means of offshore wind farms (OWF) (Bilgili et al.,
2011). However, offshore space is also limited, and particularly those areas that are currently being
considered feasible for OWF (closer to the coast in more shallow water), are contested (Gusatu
et al., 2020). Therefore, coordination and cooperation between various interests and stakeholders
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offshore is necessary to ensure a timely and balanced energy
transition that is well-balanced in relation to the interests of other
users of the sea. Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) was developed in
many countries as a means of dealing with these spatial claims
offshore (Douvere and Ehler, 2008;Qiu and Jones, 2013;Ehler,
2018;Ehler et al., 2019;Flannery et al., 2019;Quero García et al.,
2019;Flannery and McAteer, 2020). As such, MSP has been
important in the development of the institutional framework—
the “rules of the game”—surrounding OWF and in balancing
OWF in relation to other sea uses.
In the past decade, there has been a surge of literature on
MSP that attribute a range of normative principles to MSP
(Douvere, 2008;Portman, 2011;Flannery and Ó Cinnéide,
2012;Kidd, 2013;Qiu and Jones, 2013;Kidd and Shaw, 2014;
Jones et al., 2016;Olsen et al., 2016;Smythe, 2017;Klinger
et al., 2018;Gee et al., 2019;Kelly et al., 2019;Saunders
et al., 2019;Smythe and McCann, 2019;Kidd et al., 2020;
Spijkerboer et al., 2020;Vince and Day, 2020). Ehler (2014,
2018) categorized these principles, stating that MSP should be
area-based, integrated, ecosystem-based, participatory, adaptive,
and strategic. Recently, however, MSP efforts in many countries
are criticized for prioritizing powerful interests, such as OWF,
over other interests offshore, with MSP taking the form
of “strategic sectoral planning” (Kidd and Ellis, 2012;Jones
et al., 2016;Flannery and McAteer, 2020;Spijkerboer et al.,
2020), and being “post-political” (Flannery et al., 2018;Tafon,
2018;Clarke and Flannery, 2019). Hence, current MSP efforts
appear to have limited success in satisfying these normative
principles and dealing with fragmented governance, institutions,
and stakeholders.
Integration is a prominent concept in MSP literature for
dealing with fragmented governance and policies offshore
(Portman, 2011;Kidd, 2013;Smythe, 2017;Saunders et al., 2019;
Smythe and McCann, 2019;Vince and Day, 2020). Despite
the attention to integration in existing literature, this paper
identifies and addresses three research gaps relating to MSP and
integration: (1) the spatial dimension of MSP has receded into the
background, (2) the various dimensions of integration remain ill-
defined, and (3) there is a lack of appreciation for the institutional
changes that these integration efforts induce and require.
First, the spatial dimension of integration appears to have
receded to the background in many of the more recent
publications focusing on integration and MSP. Integration can
occur at multiple spatial scales (Kidd, 2007), such as the
local level (e.g., within specific OWF), the national level, or
the international/sea-basin level. Integration processes at these
various scales affect each other (Healey, 2006). Therefore, it is
striking that in existing research, space and scale often only form
the context in empirical analyses of governance processes or
tools that examine (specific dimensions of) integration processes.
When these papers do mention specific (local) knowledge and
places, it is usually related to integration of coastal communities
and recreation (e.g., Gee et al., 2019;Saunders et al., 2019;
Vince and Day, 2020). While these are important considerations,
achieving sustainable spatial configurations of various sea-uses—
what I call spatial integration—should be a key purpose of
integration in MSP processes.
The second research gap is related to the observation that the
term integration in the marine context remains poorly defined.
As emphasized by Kelly et al. (2019), it often stays unclear what
is being integrated. Existing literature that discusses integration
processes often refers to various dimensions of integration,
such as cross-border, policy/sector, stakeholder, knowledge, and
temporal integration (Saunders et al., 2019). Moreover, while
various papers dealing with integration usually include similar
concepts, the applied terminology differs depending on the
specific focus of the paper (e.g., Portman, 2011;Kidd, 2013;
Saunders et al., 2019;Smythe and McCann, 2019;Kidd et al.,
2020;Vince and Day, 2020). An example is policy/sectoral
integration, where definitions often do not go beyond the
relatively abstract “improving coordination between policies
and sectors.” Moreover, such policy/sectoral integration is
acknowledged to be closely related to, for example, stakeholder
and interagency integration (Smythe and McCann, 2018), which
further confuses the distinctions between these dimensions.
Another example is the integration within and between
governments and governmental agencies for which various terms
are used [e.g., organizational (Kidd, 2013), administrative (Kidd
et al., 2020), inter- and intra-agency (Vince and Day, 2020), inter-
and intra-governmental (Smythe and McCann, 2019), or cross-
border (Saunders et al., 2019)]. Therefore, while being useful for
shedding light on integration processes, these various dimensions
of integration require further clarification and direction in what
should be integrated.
Third, existing MSP literature on integration is criticized for
its lack of appreciation for the “complex socio-political and
institutional re-ordering” that these integration efforts require
(Kelly et al., 2019, p. 3). Institutions are “the rules of the
game in a society or, more formally [. . .] the humanly devised
constraints that shape human interaction” (North, 1990, p. 3).
Generally, a distinction is made between formal institutions
such as laws, policies, and regulations, and informal institutions
such as conventions, norms, and understandings (North, 1991;
Ostrom, 2005;Kingston and Caballero, 2009). This paper
adheres to the “embedded agency” perspective on institutions,
in which institutions are seen as the structures to which actors
adhere, while also acknowledging actor’s capacity to bring
about institutional change (Seo and Creed, 2002;Lawrence and
Suddaby, 2006;Battilana and D’Aunno, 2009). When applying
such an agency-oriented institutional perspective, MSP is also
about “the process of designing and redesigning the rules of
the game at sea with the purpose of coordinating sea-uses
within specific sea-areas” (Spijkerboer et al., 2020, p. 2). Gaining
insight into integration in MSP processes, therefore, requires
researchers to explore how actors in their interactions throughout
MSP processes pursue formal and informal institutional changes
that either progress or hamper integration processes and—by
extension—spatial integration.
In response to these research gaps, this paper conceptualizes
spatial integration as a key purpose of MSP processes, which
brings the spatial dimension back into debates regarding
integration in MSP. The various dimensions of integration
processes identified in existing MSP literature (e.g., Kidd and
Shaw, 2014;Saunders et al., 2019) are considered important
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components of MSP processes that help improve such spatial
integration between OWF and other interests at sea. However, as
explained above, these dimensions require further clarification.
Therefore, this paper develops an analytical framework for
studying spatial integration, in which the normative principles
that are attributes to MSP (Ehler, 2018) are used to provide
direction to the dimensions of integration. Moreover, in response
to the third gap, this framework is specifically attuned to studying
both the formal and informal institutional changes that actors
pursue when progressing these various dimensions of integration
in line with the normative principles of MSP.
This paper is based on participatory observation of the case
of the Dutch North Sea Dialogues (NSD). In line with the
argument above, the aim is to explore to what extent actors
during the NSD pursued formal and informal institutional
change to progress the various dimensions of integration in
line with the normative principles of MSP to achieve spatial
integration between OWF and other interests at sea. The
NSD were high-level, political negotiations with the purpose
of drafting a North Sea Agreement that improves the balance
between various interests in the Dutch North Sea, particularly
related to energy, fisheries/food, and nature. The NSD can
be seen as part of the Dutch MSP process because relevant
parts of the agreement must be included in the current round
of revisions of the Dutch marine spatial plans and other
relevant plans and regulations. The NSD is a unique case
because it was organized as a platform to enable stakeholders—
including the government—to explore, reflect upon and negotiate
potential institutional changes. As such, it can be seen as
an example of a platform, or “round table” (Olsen et al.,
2014) for “meaningful participation” (Pomeroy and Douvere,
2008;Ritchie and Ellis, 2010;Gopnik et al., 2012;Kidd and
Shaw, 2014;Olsen et al., 2014;Jay et al., 2016;Morf et al.,
2019;Quesada-Silva et al., 2019;Santos et al., 2020;Vince
and Day, 2020), where stakeholders become part of collective
decision-making processes. Examples of such platforms for
meaningful participation are lacking in practice (Jones et al.,
2016;Twomey and O’Mahony, 2019). Therefore, insights from
the case of the NSD are also useful for both scientists
and practitioners interested in organizing integration processes
and “meaningful participation” in MSP processes. Moreover,
this paper responds to calls for more empirical research
into the role of integration in MSP (Saunders et al., 2019)
and contributes toward understanding the socio-political and
institutional dimension of integration, particularly in relation
to the debate on radical versus incremental change in marine
contexts (Kelly et al., 2019).
Section “ Integration and Institutional Change” further
explains the main concepts and development of the analytical
framework for studying spatial integration in MSP. Section
“Participatory Observation for Studying the North Sea
Dialogues” describes and discusses the case and methods,
followed by the results in section “ Institutional Change for
Integration in the Dutch North Sea Dialogues.” The paper
concludes by using these results to reflect on existing MSP
literature and provides policy recommendations.
INTEGRATION AND INSTITUTIONAL
CHANGE
Integration is a recurring theme in spatial planning policies and
debates, both onshore (Healey, 2006;Stead and Meijers, 2009;
van Geet et al., 2021) and offshore (Portman, 2011;Kidd, 2013;
Smythe, 2017;Saunders et al., 2019;Smythe and McCann, 2019;
Vince and Day, 2020). The term integration is often used in MSP
literature to describe processes that counteract fragmentation and
ad hoc policies and is associated with terms such as coordination
and alignment of interests (Kelly et al., 2018, 2019). Healey (2006)
emphasizes that integration from a spatial planning perspective
is “not just about coordinating and aligning the spatial aspects
of the policies of other sectors,” it is also about “qualities of
places and principles of spatial organization” (p. 71). Specific
places provide insight into possibilities and impossibilities for
aligning various interests in light of local circumstances and
characteristics, but these places must be seen across scales,
in relation to the regional, national, and international context
(Healey, 2006). Insights in various interests and their spatial
distribution and interactions on various scales could provide
input for the abovementioned principles of spatial organization,
and provide the basis for establishing frameworks for decision-
making.
This paper returns an explicitly “spatial” perspective to
MSP, by positioning spatial integration as a substantive
goal of MSP processes. Based on the above discussion,
spatial integration is understood as a sustainable spatial
configuration of sea-uses, based on the presence of frameworks
for decision-making that coordinate the spatial impacts of
(sectoral) policies and organize structural cooperation between
stakeholders at various scales, taking into account the place-
based characteristics and opportunities offered by specific
locations. Spatial integration, then, does not mean that interests
always need to be physically integrated [e.g., in the form of
multi-use (Schupp et al., 2019)]. Instead, spatial integration
means that there is a patchwork of functions and uses
that can be physically integrated when beneficial, but that
can also lead to conscious separation of functions when
necessary, to achieve a sustainable spatial configuration of sea-
uses.
In this paper, the various dimensions of integration that are
discussed in MSP literature (Jones et al., 2016;Saunders et al.,
2019;Vince and Day, 2020) are considered important building
blocks for achieving spatial integration. In their analysis of MSP
literature regarding integration Saunders et al. (2019) identify the
following dimensions of integration: cross-border integration,
policy/sector integration, stakeholder integration, knowledge
integration, and temporal integration. However, as explained
in the introduction, the distinction between these dimensions
remains unclear. Healey (2006) emphasizes that integration is a
relational term that can only be understood in terms of “what is
to be linked or merged” (p. 68) (see also Kelly et al., 2019). This
paper provides such clarification by combining the dimensions
of integration with the normative principles that are attributed to
MSP. These normative principles distinguish MSP from previous
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ad hoc and sectoral approaches (Ehler, 2014, 2018;Spijkerboer
et al., 2020) and show what MSP should be:
Area or place-based: MSP should take into account
location-specific contexts and cumulative effects of
activities in areas and regions (Young et al., 2007;Douvere,
2008;Ehler and Douvere, 2009;Flannery and Ó Cinnéide,
2012;Christie et al., 2014;Kyriazi et al., 2016);
Integrated: MSP should coordinate across organizational
and sectoral boundaries (Douvere, 2008;Portman, 2011;
Kidd, 2013;Qiu and Jones, 2013;Kidd and Shaw, 2014;
Jones et al., 2016;Olsen et al., 2016;Smythe, 2017;Klinger
et al., 2018;Gee et al., 2019;Saunders et al., 2019;Smythe
and McCann, 2019;Kidd et al., 2020;Vince and Day, 2020);
Ecosystem-based: MSP should achieve sustainable use of
marine ecosystems by taking into account the (cumulative)
effect of various uses on the environment (Young et al.,
2007;Douvere, 2008;Gilliland and Laffoley, 2008;Ehler
and Douvere, 2009;Agardy et al., 2011;Flannery and Ó
Cinnéide, 2012;Qiu and Jones, 2013;Zaucha, 2014;Sander,
2018;Karlsson, 2019);
Participatory: MSP should create ownership and legitimacy
by organizing “meaningful” stakeholder involvement
throughout the MSP process (Pomeroy and Douvere, 2008;
Ritchie and Ellis, 2010;Kidd, 2013;Jones et al., 2016;Olsen
et al., 2016;Flannery et al., 2018, 2016;Smith, 2018;Smythe
and McCann, 2018;Tafon, 2018;Alexander and Haward,
2019;Frazão Santos et al., 2019;Piwowarczyk et al., 2019);
Adaptive: MSP should incorporate monitoring and
evaluation to ensure learning takes place and new insights
are incorporated during the planning cycle (Young et al.,
2007;Douvere, 2008;Douvere and Ehler, 2011;Flannery
and Ó Cinnéide, 2012;Carneiro, 2013;Collie et al., 2013;
Christie et al., 2014;Kelly et al., 2014;Portman, 2015;Jones
et al., 2016;Frazão Santos et al., 2019;Vince and Day,
2020); and
Strategic: MSP should take into account future
developments and needs proactively (Agardy et al.,
2011;Kidd, 2013;Christie et al., 2014;Gissi et al., 2019).
Table 1 shows how the normative principles of MSP
closely match the dimensions of integration. For example,
the normative principle of area-based- or place-based MSP
is related to territorial integration. Territorial integration is
one of the dimensions of integration referred to in existing
literature on integration in MSP to refer to spatial coverage
(Kidd et al., 2020) and working across (local) borders (Kidd
and Shaw, 2014;Kelly et al., 2019). Existing literature often
focuses solely on the cross-border or multi-scale dimensions
(Gee et al., 2019;Saunders et al., 2019). Kidd and Shaw (2014)
make a distinction between horizontal (adjacent areas) and
vertical (between scales) territorial integration. Therefore, this
paper adheres to the term territorial integration (rather than,
for example, cross-border integration). Using the normative
principle of area-based MSP, direction is provided to this
dimension of territorial integration by focusing efforts on specific
locations in relation to various scales. To further clarify and
relate policy/sectoral integration to the normative principles
of MSP, this article uses the distinction by Douvere (2008)
between user—user, and user–environment integration. Both
are seen as forms of policy/sectoral integration, but user–
user integration is related to the normative goal of integrated
MSP, while user-environment integration is related to the
normative goal of ecosystem-based MSP. Moreover, while
knowledge integration is closely related to temporal integration,
the former refers to institutional changes pursued by actors
that enable them to react and respond to new insights.
Temporal integration, on the other hand, refers to institutional
conditions that progress proactive behavior in light of uncertain
future developments.
The institutional dimension of integration is key in the
operationalization of the analytical framework for this paper in
Table 1. Paradoxically, integration efforts are often hampered
by the very problems they aim to solve: namely, fragmented
formal and informal institutions that guide the various sectors,
policy communities, and stakeholders (Jones et al., 2016;Kelly
et al., 2018, 2019). Moreover, sometimes there are no existing
rules because MSP is still a relatively new endeavor and new
ideas for using offshore space continue to emerge (Frazão Santos
et al., 2019). Progressing spatial integration, therefore, requires
institutional change aimed at “co-aligning the policies of diverse
policy communities, each with their own traditions, pressures
and innovation dynamics” (Healey, 2006, p. 71).
This paper will focus on the forms of institutional change
pursued by actors to progress integration in line with the
principles of MSP, using the commonly made distinction between
formal and informal institutions (North, 1991;Ostrom, 2005;
Kingston and Caballero, 2009). Formal institutional change refers
to changes in laws, policies, or regulations, while informal
institutional change refers to changes in conventions, norms,
and codes of conduct (North, 1991;Ostrom, 2005;Kingston and
Caballero, 2009). Using this distinction, the analytical framework
in Table 1 can be used to explore to what extent the actors, during
their interaction in the context of the NSD, pursued formal and
informal institutional change to progress the various dimensions
of integration in line with the normative principles of MSP.
Moreover, by using the distinction between formal and
informal change, this study also contributes to the debate in
MSP literature on more radical versus incremental change.
Recently, authors have argued for more radical change in
formal institutional arrangements to achieve fundamental
transformations in marine governance (Clarke and Flannery,
2019;Kelly et al., 2018, 2019). Maintaining and adding to
the existing system will result in problems due to path
dependency, policy layering, and institutional inertia, which
hamper integration efforts (Kelly et al., 2018, 2019) and reinforce
the status quo (Clarke and Flannery, 2019). Simultaneously,
existing institutional theories pose that consequential shifts
can also be brought about through more gradual institutional
change, for example by re-interpreting existing formal or
informal institutions (Mahoney and Thelen, 2010). By using the
distinction between formal and informal change, the analysis
allows for discussion of the findings on institutional change in
the context of this debate.
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TABLE 1 | Analytical framework for studying spatial integration in MSP by examining formal and informal institutional changes pursued by actors to progress various
dimensions of integration in line with the normative principles of MSP.
Normative principles of
MSP
Dimensions of integration Operationalization
Area- or place-based MSP Territorial integration Changes in formal or informal institutions that allow actors to consider the place-based characteristics
of specific areas and take into account interactions across scales to enable area-based MSP
Integrated MSP Organizational integration
Policy/sectoral integration
(user-user)
Changes in formal or informal institutions that improve cooperation and coordination within and
between government and stakeholders to enable integrated MSP
Changes in formal or informal institutions that improve cooperation and coordination between various
users of the sea and the policy frameworks that guide them to enable integrated MSP
Ecosystem-based MSP Policy/sector integration
(users-environment)
Changes in formal or informal institutions that ensure sustainable use of the environment to enable
ecosystem-based MSP
Participatory MSP Stakeholder integration Changes in formal or informal institutions that allow for meaningful inclusion of stakeholder and their
interests and perceptions and that contribute to creating mutual understanding and trust between
stakeholders to enable participatory MSP
Adaptive MSP Knowledge integration Changes in formal or informal institutions that allow actors to develop joint research, share information,
and respond to new insights throughout the planning cycle to enable adaptive MSP
Strategic MSP Temporal integration Changes in formal or informal institutions that allow actors to make proactive decisions based on
potential future developments to enable strategic MSP
PARTICIPATORY OBSERVATION FOR
STUDYING THE NORTH SEA
DIALOGUES
The Case of OWF Development in the
Netherlands and the NSD
Offshore wind farms development in the Netherlands is a highly
regulated and efficient, top-down, national government-led affair
(Spijkerboer et al., 2020). In the Dutch marine spatial plan,
areas are appointed for OWF (Ministry of Infrastructure and the
Environment and Ministry of Economic Affairs, 2015). Letters
to parliament are used to explain the timeline for constructing
wind farms in these appointed areas (e.g., Ministry of Economic
Affairs, 2018). The Offshore Wind Energy Act forms the basis
for the licensing procedure for OWF (Staatsblad, 2015). The
national government prepares the relevant studies such as the
Environmental Impact Assessment for these appointed areas,
which form the basis for so-called plot-decisions. These plot-
decisions provide the exact coordinates for an OWF within
appointed offshore wind energy areas, as well as bandwidths
and requirements for constructing the OWF. Subsequently,
developers can submit a bid (depending on the specific plot
this can be with or without subsidy-schemes), and the highest
bid, respectively the bid which requires the lowest amount of
subsidy, will gain the right to construct the OWF on a specific
plot (Spijkerboer et al., 2020).
Signals about a lack of balance between energy transition
and other interests at sea, led the government to start a process
for a Strategic Agenda 2030 for the North Sea. However, a
broad range of stakeholders felt that this process resembled a
“black box,” and that it remained unclear what happened to their
input (OFL, 2018). These insights were included in a report
which recommended the government to organize NSD with
the aim of coming to a North Sea Agreement and included a
letter by various stakeholders with the request to organize these
Dialogues (OFL, 2018).
As a result of these efforts and reports, the government decided
to facilitate in the organization of the NSD. The NSD were led
by an independent chairperson and staff. Over the course of
2019, representatives from various sectors, including the domains
of energy (both fossil and offshore wind energy), ports, nature
(NGOs), fisheries, and the national government (represented
by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management,
Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy, Ministry of
Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality) met regularly in face-to-
face meetings. These dialogues were confidential and resulted
in a “negotiators-agreement for the North Sea” in February
2020 (OFL, 2020c). This negotiators agreement was presented
by involved representatives to their constituencies. In June all
participating stakeholders except the fisheries sector1signed the
North Sea Agreement and this version is used when referring
to provisions in the agreement in the remainder of this paper
(OFL, 2020b). The Dutch House of Representatives accepted the
agreement in January 2021. As such, the North Sea Agreement is
now an official agreement between the government and various
stakeholders, that provides one of the pillars for Dutch North Sea
policy until 2030.
The focus of this paper will mainly lie on the content of
the dialogues, rather than the set-up of the dialogues as a
participatory approach, or the implementation of the agreement.
The NSD is a far-reaching participation effort, going beyond just
consultation of stakeholders toward a collective decision-making
process on North Sea policy. This means that relevant aspects
of the agreement must be included by the government in the
new revisions of the Dutch marine spatial plans. Moreover, if
the government runs into problems that require changes to the
agreement, this will need to be discussed with the stakeholders.
While the set-up, drawbacks, and benefits of the NSD would be an
1Due to fragmentation among the constituency of the fisheries organizations
regarding support for the North Sea Agreement, these organizations have decided
against signing the agreement. The parties to the North Sea Agreement are
searching for manners to incorporate the fisheries sector in the agreement
(Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, 2020).
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interesting topic of research in itself, this goes beyond the scope of
this paper, particularly because implementation of the agreement
is just starting at the time of writing this paper.
Data Collection and Analysis
This paper is based on data collected during participatory
observation of the NSD process. Observational methods are
suited to gaining insight into what actors actually do, rather
than what they say they did (Robson, 2011). As such, this
method provides unique insight into the negotiation process and
how actors in their interactions actually pursued or hampered
institutional change during the NSD.
The author of this paper was hired as part of the independent
staff of the NSD and, as such, was immersed in the process.
The double position of the researcher as observer and staff
member was explained at the beginning and end of the NSD
process. These two roles did not conflict with each other, because
the purpose of the staff was to facilitate the negotiations and
come to an agreement. Being a staff member, the researcher
was responsible for among others, collecting information from
various stakeholders, writing discussion papers to structure
debates, and drafting the agreement based on the input of
stakeholders. Raw data, therefore, includes notes and experiential
knowledge on the NSD meetings up to the presentation of
the “negotiators agreement” in February 2020, internal debates,
discussions within the staff and between the staff and members
of the NSD, as well as input and debates regarding various draft
versions of the agreement. Triangulation occurred by comparing
personal notes to official meeting reports constructed by an
external party. To ensure the confidentiality of the negotiations
were not breached, findings were discussed with a key member
who was present throughout the process.
The raw data was organized and categorized into a timeline
and, subsequently, condensed into a storyline of 192 pages that
describes the process and debates within the NSD. This storyline
contains cross-references to raw data for verification purposes.
First, deductive coding, based on Table 1, was applied to the
storyline to explore to what extent the various dimensions of
integration and related normative principles of MSP could be
observed during the NSD. This was followed by an analysis
of the formal and informal institutional changes that were
dominant in progressing particular dimensions of integration.
The next section presents and discusses the results, organized
according to the dimensions of integration and related normative
principles of MSP.
INSTITUTIONAL CHANGE FOR
INTEGRATION IN THE DUTCH NORTH
SEA DIALOGUES
Territorial Integration for Area-Based
MSP
Territorial integration can be progressed through changes in
formal and informal institutions that allow actors to consider the
place-based characteristics of specific areas and take into account
interactions across scales to enable area-based MSP. Prior to the
NSD, the area-based principle was understood as a means to
avoid conflict by appointing areas to specific uses such as OWF
in the Netherlands (Spijkerboer et al., 2020). Conflicts resulting
from local circumstances were mainly recognized and dealt with
when designing plot-decisions. Interestingly, it could be observed
that during the NSD, debates about specific areas were also often
avoided because these debates exposed existing sensitivities and
conflicts. Such conflict was particularly noticeable when debating
protected nature areas in relation to fisheries (this will be further
discussed in section “Policy/Sectoral Integration Between Users
and the Environment for Ecosystem-Based MSP”), but also in
debates on potential future locations of offshore wind energy
areas. As such, a certain level of abstraction in the negotiations
proved helpful in coming to the agreement. However, this does
not necessarily contribute to solving underlying conflicts. Rather,
these conflicts were postponed to a later point in time by means
of “process agreements,” which are provisions in the agreement
stating that a specific topic will be discussed further in the
future. While not leading to any formal institutional change yet,
these process agreements do ensure that the government is held
publicly accountable for the choices that will be made regarding
these topics in the future.
An important factor contributing to this postponement is
that, when discussing certain areas, specific knowledge regarding
these areas is required. Such knowledge was often not (readily)
available. Simultaneously, knowledge gaps regarding specific
locations also provided opportunities for stakeholders to oppose
certain developments, for example by creating doubts regarding
the feasibility of potential locations for OWF. This can be
illustrated by the debates in the NSD regarding the option to
more quickly start developing OWF in the northern part of
the Dutch North Sea. All stakeholders agreed that constructing
OWF in the northern part of the Dutch North Sea is inevitable
in the long term and that these northern locations may have
benefits in terms of higher wind speeds, as well as limiting the
impact on other sectors and the environment. The idea was that
if the development of OWF areas in the northern part of the
Dutch North Sea was prioritized, parts of appointed offshore
wind energy areas2in the more intensively used Southern part
of the Dutch EEZ could remain open. This idea would require
both formal and informal changes in the priorities for appointing
and developing OWF locations. However, in light of the urgency
of renewable energy targets, the government did require a check
of the feasibility of these suggested northern areas for OWF. The
resulting debates illustrate how a lack of site-specific knowledge
can be used to halt or delay institutional change when it is not in
line with current core values and rules. For example, calculations
regarding costs and benefits for the already appointed OWF areas
were readily available, but they were compared against rough
assumptions and estimates for suggested new areas. Moreover,
the assumptions that were used in these calculations were based
2These (parts) of areas were not included in the existing Roadmap for OWF
because they were, for various reasons, considered the least feasible options when
the Roadmap was constructed. Reasons that were mentioned included conflicts
due to the impact on other sectors and the environment (Ministry of Economic
Affairs, 2018).
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upon the existing institutional framework, with the dominant
rule in Dutch MSP that OWF needs to be cost-efficient and
landing points for electricity cables must be located in the
Randstad area close to major users of electricity such as the
port of Rotterdam. These assumptions are closely related to
the financing structure of OWF in the Netherlands in which
cable costs are socialized. Moreover, potential opportunities for
reducing costs through e.g., international interconnection and
storage are not taken into account (see also section “ Temporal
Integration for Strategic MSP” on temporal integration). Still, the
idea of prioritizing OWF development in the northern North
Sea was still included as a process agreement, as well as the
terms for further research into this idea. Again, these terms
also include many conditions based on the existing institutional
framework, for example, related to the costs and speed of the
energy transition (see provision 4.9–4.11 of the Agreement).
This example shows the importance of site-specific knowledge
for territorial integration. A lack of site-specific knowledge can
lead to assumptions that are strongly grounded in the current
formal and informal institutional frameworks. Nonetheless, the
agreement does create opportunities for institutional change
in the future because it communicates broad support for this
idea and commitment to further research in the form of
process agreements.
Stakeholders also agreed upon the need for more area-based
approaches that take into account local characteristics of an
area. This was particularly the case for discussions regarding
multi-use of areas. Section “ Organizational Integration and
Policy/Sectoral Integration Between Users for Integrated MSP”
on policy/sectoral integration illustrates that in some cases it was
possible to devise general rules. However, stakeholders in the
NSD agreed that in many cases the local circumstances are key
to determining whether certain forms of multi-use are potentially
feasible. While all stakeholders supported the idea of area-based
approaches during the NSD, representatives from the ministries
did caution that uniform approaches create more regulatory
clarity and are easier to enforce. Nonetheless, formal institutional
change toward more territorial integration was achieved by
introducing the instrument of the “area-passport.” Provision 4.1
of the Agreement states that before appointing areas at sea for a
specific purpose (for example plot-decisions for OWF), and after
deliberation with stakeholders, the government will construct
an area-passport. The goal of this passport is to explicitly take
into account current and potential future uses of this area when
designingan OWF. As such, a formal rule is introduced to ensure
that various potential co-uses are identified and supported prior
to constructing an OWF. This formal rule progresses territorial
integration toward improved area-based MSP.
Organizational Integration and
Policy/Sectoral Integration Between
Users for Integrated MSP
Organizational integration can be progressed through changes
in formal or informal institutions that improve cooperation and
coordination within and between government and stakeholders
to enable integrated MSP. During the NSD, it became clear
that fragmentation within the government was a major point of
frustration for stakeholders prior to the NSD. While literature
often speaks of “the government,” significant fragmentation in
responsibilities exists between and within various ministries
and governmental agencies. This fragmentation caused
stakeholders to experience institutional barriers resulting from
inconsistencies, shifting priorities, and a lack of communication
between various ministries and government agencies. During
the NSD, however, the three directly involved Ministries were
stakeholders themselves, represented by the director-general
of the relevant departments in each ministry. Moreover, there
was one director responsible for coordinating information-flows
within “the government” and between the government and the
NSD. As a result, the government was challenged to organize
coordination of information and expertise within and between
all relevant ministries and departments (which was broader than
just the three ministries that were directly involved) and the
NSD. Government representatives acknowledged during the
NSD that this process led to significant improvements in the
cooperation and coordination within and between ministries
and departments because they needed to speak with “one
voice” during the NSD. While formal responsibilities remained
unchanged, the informal communication structure within
the government was adapted. Appreciation for this enhanced
coordination within the government was also expressed by
stakeholders. They appreciated, for example, the clarification
of the position of the government regarding various topics,
the stable interaction with the government including a clear
contact-point, and the increased trust in the government.
As such, the NSD progressed organizational integration by
improving coordination and cooperation of information flows
within the government. Interestingly, this form of organizational
integration relied mainly on informal changes in the norms
and habits regarding collecting and sharing information within
the government, and between the government and other
stakeholders within the NSD.
It is important to mention that similar processes of
organizational integration could also be observed among other
stakeholder groups. For example, the fisheries organizations
that were represented in the NSD, which are traditionally
competitors, unified behind a joint vision document in which
they clarified their view on the issues that were debated in the
NSD (VisNed, 2019). Similarly, the various NGOs that were
involved coordinated their input into the NSD, despite having
different focal points (e.g., the position of NGOs regarding OWF
can vary depending on whether they focus on wildlife in general,
birds, or environmental pollution). The NGO representatives
could often be observed to negotiate among themselves prior to
meetings, they coordinated their responses to new information,
and they always created joint input-documents to present
their view on various issues that were being discussed. The
setting of the NSD caused organizations that represented similar
interests to form a “unified front” for their overarching interests,
rather than fighting openly among themselves which could
have weakened their position. These examples illustrate that
organizational integration within stakeholder groups, while not
prominent in existing literature, might also be an important
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aspect of organizational integration that can be encouraged
in MSP processes.
However, there are limits to organizational integration, which
can be illustrated using the example of the “transition fund.” The
idea of such a fund was inherently connected to the idea of a
North Sea Agreement prior to the start of the NSD (OFL, 2018).
The idea behind this transition fund was to enhance coordination
in the financial flows for various aspects of North Sea policy. This
included financial flows relating to enforcement, research and
innovation, but also to fill gaps related to the implementation of
the agreement that were not covered by existing (sectoral) funds.
All parties agreed that some kind of streamlining in funding was
necessary and the idea of this fund was debated extensively during
the NSD from the first meetings onward. Stakeholders were in
favor of a fund that would be independent of the NSD and the
government. However, this turned out to be unacceptable due
to general rules on budgeting and funds within the government.
Eventually, agreement was reached in the NSD on a set of
financial-procedural rules on how to spend the funds that were
made available by the government for the implementation of
the agreement. Therefore, while funds were made available for
implementing the North Sea Agreement, formal institutional
change toward financial-organizational integration during the
NSD remained limited.
Policy/sectoral integration can be progressed by changes in
formal or informal institutions that improve cooperation and
coordination between various users of the sea and the policy
frameworks that guide them, to enable integrated MSP. This
form of integration refers to general rules for cooperation
and coordination, rather than the area-based rules discussed
in section “Territorial Integration for Area-Based MSP.” An
example of such policy sectoral integration is the formal
institutional change that was achieved regarding cutter fisheries
within OWF. While the fisheries sector initially argued for
access to wind farms, debates and discussions within the NSD
regarding risks and alternatives led to a shift in perspective. In the
vision document that the fisheries sector prepared for the NSD,
they acknowledged that with the current fisheries techniques
and set-up of OWF, it is not (yet) feasible to use cutters for
fisheries within OWF (VisNed, 2019). As a result, the agreement
includes a provision (4.24) stating that for the near future, cutter
fisheries within wind farms will not be allowed. Another example
relates to passage for smaller ships through wind farms. Debates
focused on whether to allow for free passage through wind
farms versus dedicated passageways. Within the NSD, this debate
regarding shipping also related to topics such as compatibility
with other forms of multi-use (e.g., seaweed farming might not
be compatible with free passage for ships), risks to the OWF
itself, and issues such as enforcement. Moreover, while at first
debates centered around 45 m as the maximum length for
ships to pass through OWF, the NSD provided a platform for
the fisheries representatives to mention that many cutters are
slightly larger and argue for an extension to 46 m.3The resulting
provision (4.23) in the agreement states that as a general rule
“the government will strive for appointment of passageways for
3This provision relates solely to passage through OWF, not the act of fishing.
ships up to 46 meters [. . .]” (OFL, 2020b, p. 21). These examples
show that the NSD progressed user-user integration mainly
by changing formal institutional rules. Informal institutional
change of norms and values for communicating created open
debate and an increased understanding of various points of view
among stakeholders, which created opportunities for such formal
institutional change. It is important to notice that policy/sectoral
integration requires the clarification of uses that are considered
(potentially) compatible, but also the specification of uses that are
considered incompatible. Moreover, the breadth of discussions
regarding e.g., the passage for shipping shows that a platform for
negotiating and deliberating these issues is crucial for progressing
policy/sectoral integration in line with integrated MSP.
Policy/Sectoral Integration Between
Users and the Environment for
Ecosystem-Based MSP
Policy/sectoral integration between users and the environment
can be progressed by changes in formal or informal institutions
that ensure sustainable use of the environment to enable
ecosystem-based MSP. While not explicitly mentioning the
ecosystem-based approach, the idea of a “healthy North Sea”
is prominent in the North Sea Agreement, as is the idea
that this requires additional efforts compared to the current
situation. Debates during the NSD focused on the degree
to which the “good environmental status” as laid down in
the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) should be
explicitly used as a benchmark or whether to use the framing of
a “healthy North Sea,” as well as how to measure progress toward
these targets. These debates laid bare pre-existing tensions,
particularly between the fisheries sector and the NGOs, but
also raised questions regarding the use and interpretation
of various indicators that can be used to operationalize
these concepts in relation to OWF development. Moreover,
it became apparent that, despite increasing efforts, there is
still a lack of scientific knowledge regarding many aspects of
the ecosystem and the impacts of various (cumulative) human
users (see also section “Knowledge Integration for Adaptive
MSP” on knowledge integration). These examples illustrate that
in progressing user–environment integration, actors initially
pursued institutional change primarily through a reinterpretation
of existing institutional frameworks.
Even though not all these debates reached a definite
conclusion, the NSD and agreement did encourage a shift in
the understanding of the position of the ecosystem compared
to previous Dutch MSPs and even the government’s coalition
agreement for the period 2017–2021 (Rutte et al., 2017). Prior
to the NSD, EU threshold values for environmental protection
and biodiversity were considered “targets rather than threshold
values” (Spijkerboer et al., 2020, p. 5). This idea was rejected
during the NSD, which prominently supports the idea of “going
additional miles for a healthy North Sea,” particularly in light of
the increasing intensity of use such as OWF. While the existing
formal rule is rejected, it is not yet replaced by a new formal
rule but rather by an informal aspiration, the shape of which
will depend on future actions of stakeholders. However, the
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importance of this change should not be underestimated because
it required the responsible minister to acknowledge that this
agreement would exceed the governing period of the current
administration, thereby allowing for the North Sea Agreement to
include provisions that are not in line with the perspective of the
coalition government at that time.
Although stakeholders had different opinions on how to
operationalize the new aspiration of “a healthy North Sea,” the
fact that there was a shift in this aspiration can be illustrated
by the debates between representatives from the fisheries sector
and NGOs. For example, despite the fisheries sector not signing
the agreement as explained in chapter 3, this sector was open
to discussing a significantly higher percentage of the Dutch
North Sea being closed to sea-bed fisheries than in any previous
negotiations on this topic. During these debates, percentages that
were seriously discussed ranged between 10 and 15%, compared
to the existing 5.1% that was proposed for implementation prior
to the start of the NSD. The debates regarding these percentages
were strongly influenced by the definition of “sea-bed fisheries”
and what is considered sea-bed disturbance. This was already
the case prior to the NSD. For example, the government initially
claimed that proposed measures amounted to a higher percentage
than 5.1%, because they used a definition focusing on “significant
sea-bed disturbance,” which allowed certain types of fisheries
within the closed areas because of their relatively limited impact
on the sea-bed (Vrooman et al., 2018). An important aspect of
these debates was also whether to include windfarms (which
are closed to fisheries) in these percentages or not. Provision
4.38 of the Agreement eventually states that 13.7% of the Dutch
North Sea will be closed to any form of sea-bed disturbance by
fisheries in 2023, with a rise to 15% in 2030. These percentages
are to be appointed within recognized ecologically valuable
areas, such as areas appointed on the basis of the European
Bird- and Habitat Directives or the European Marine Strategy
Framework Directive. However, this provision is conditioned
by the availability of funds for the transition of the fisheries
sector.4This is an, albeit still disputed, change in the formal rules
regarding protected areas in the Dutch North Sea.
This formal rule change is also supported by a different way
of rationalizing the choice for protected areas, focusing more
on the quality of protected areas over just quantity. Based on
suggestions from the scientific advisory committee that assisted
during the NSD, the idea of considering the “relative ecological
value” of areas (but also wind turbines and gas platforms) was
included in considerations regarding protected areas. Using this
concept, identified ecologically valuable areas could be ranked
according to their relative ecological value for the Dutch North
Sea. Following this idea, improving the protection of the highest-
ranked areas will then provide the highest overall ecological
benefits to the system. This concept was used to rationalize
the choices for additional protection in certain areas, while
4Early on during the NSD, a parallel trajectory was started to develop a vision
for the transition of the cutter fisheries sector. This parallel trajectory focused on
issues that were internal to the fisheries sector and not directly related to balancing
the fisheries sector and other interests at sea. However, from the start of the NSD
processes, it was acknowledged that this transition would require funds and that
these funds were part of the NSD process.
still weighing this against other interests in these areas. While
this change in rationalization hints at informal institutional
change, it is important to mention that there is no provision
in the agreement that guarantees the use of this concept of
relative ecological value in the future. Whether this will be
a lasting informal or formal institutional change, therefore,
remains to be seen.
The aspiration of a healthy North Sea is also supported
by some formal changes in rules, for example by including
provisions regarding the use of “best available techniques” for
the construction of installations, nature enhancing construction,
and mitigating the impact on the ecosystem. As such, the NSD
progressed integration between users and the environment
through a rejection of the existing interpretation of the
institutional framework (deinstitutionalization), through
changes in formal rules to mitigate impacts and enhance
protection, as well as new more informal changes in rationalizing
these choices and measures. While a new understanding of
ecosystem-based MSP is starting to take shape in the North Sea
Agreement, this new understanding is not yet fully formed and
remains somewhat disputed.
Examples of remaining disputes include the rejection of the
agreement by part of the fisheries sector, but also a list of
topics that remain unresolved. One topic on this list is, for
example, the debate regarding the potential strengthening of the
norms for underwater noise during construction. NGOs, the
government, and the offshore wind sector could not agree upon
the interpretation of relevant data and norms. These disputes
over the interpretation of indicators remain. Nonetheless, the
examples above do show the willingness of various economic
sectors to debate and agree to enhanced efforts to protect and
improve the ecosystem, within certain boundaries.5Particularly
for the offshore wind sector and the oil- and gas sector, this
willingness involved agreeing to a partly unknown costs increase
(related to e.g., using best available techniques and nature
enhanced construction), which could be a threat to their business
case. Moreover, process agreements on these topics ensure future
communication and debate on the use and interpretation of
indicators and norms, thereby opening pathways for future
institutional change.
Stakeholder Integration for Participatory
MSP
Stakeholder integration can be progressed by changes in formal
or informal institutions that allow for meaningful stakeholder
inclusion and that contribute to creating mutual understanding
and trust between stakeholders to enable participatory MSP. It is
important to recognize the NSD itself as an important, initially
temporary, and more informal institutional change to progress
stakeholder integration. As a temporary platform, the NSD did
not require changes in formal responsibilities. However, it did
require political willingness and funds to assign a chairperson
and staff to lead the negotiations, as well as the commitment
5For example, provisions regarding best available techniques include safeguards to
prevent developers from excessive costs that would bring only limited ecological
gains.
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of all parties including the government. Over the course of
the NSD, this chairperson and staff proved key in protecting
the position of the NSD in the broader context of policy and
law-making. For example, the NSD chairman was essential in
emphasizing and ensuring the recognition of the role of the
NSD and the North Sea Agreement as an agreement between
the government and stakeholders, rather than an advisory report
or council. Moreover, the chairperson and staff confronted
stakeholders when the rules regarding the functioning of the
NSD—which were agreed upon by all parties at the start of
the NSD—were breached. This happened, for example, when
the NSD was excluded from relevant ongoing processes within
government. Another example is when public statements of
certain stakeholder groups (often unrelated to the NSD process)
were disrespectful to other parties in the NSD. As such, the NSD
illustrates the importance of a platform for open deliberation
and building mutual trust between stakeholders, even when
it is through a temporary arrangement. This platform proved
key to creating the conditions under which opportunities for
institutional change arose and could be acted upon.
During the NSD, it became increasingly clear that
stakeholders, including the governmental delegation, did
not want to return to the situation prior to the NSD. Stakeholders
agreed that a form of “permanent NSD” was necessary to
ensure open communication between stakeholders, but also
to deal with changes that potentially affect the agreement and
new knowledge (see also section “Knowledge Integration for
Adaptive MSP”on knowledge integration). While much debate
centered around the form and legal basis of this “permanent
NSD,” the fact that there will be a permanent NSD (as laid
down in chapter 8 of the Agreement) is a substantial formal
institutional change that progresses stakeholder integration in
line with participatory MSP. This permanent NSD reinforces
meaningful stakeholder participation in the future, by ensuring
that policies that potentially contradict the North Sea Agreement
cannot be made without renegotiation in the context of the NSD.
As such, the permanent NSD provides a strong platform for
stakeholders to hold each other and the government accountable
for potential breaches of the agreement. The permanent NSD is a
major formal institutional change in the governance of the Dutch
North Sea, that is achieved by adding a new “layer,” rather than
changing existing formal responsibilities.
It is important to mention that enhancing meaningful
participation in this manner can also pose difficulties for
the government and stakeholders. For the government,
responsibilities with regards to the NSD and agreement need
to be balanced against the responsibilities that derive from
existing statutory consultation as required in existing laws. These
statutory processes and political debates in parliament can lead to
amendments in policy documents and laws that can potentially
contradict the agreement. This example illustrates that a range of
questions arise with regards to legitimacy and good governance
as a result of more direct participation processes like the NSD,
also because it is always a choice who is included in such
participation efforts. Simultaneously, while signing the North Sea
Agreement does not limit any formal rights for stakeholders, they
did accept that before they object and appeal future decisions,
they will try to reach consensus in the permanent NSD. This
example illustrates some more informal changes brought about
by the NSD that affect future interactions between and among
stakeholders and the government.
Literature on stakeholder integration in MSP generally argues
for broad involvement of stakeholders (Reay and Jones, 2016;
Flannery et al., 2018;Grimmel et al., 2019;Morf et al., 2019;
Quesada-Silva et al., 2019). However, some authors question
whether smaller, more focused inclusion efforts might be more
successful (Smythe and McCann, 2018;Vince and Day, 2020).
During the NSD, the question regarding the inclusion of a
broader range of stakeholders caused much debate, particularly
at the start when many parties requested to join the NSD. It
was a conscious decision not to broaden the range of included
stakeholders because of practical reasons such as available
meeting space and being able to maintain structure during
meetings, which would be much more difficult with a larger group
of representatives. Stakeholders did use their ties to the various
parties that requested to participate in an attempt to cover their
interests by representation. For the permanent NSD, this issue is
addressed and laid out in a separate governance agreement for the
North Sea (OFL, 2020a). The experience from the NSD would
point toward the inclusion of a broad range of stakeholders to
enable inclusion and consideration of a broad range of interests
but by a limited number of representatives.
Knowledge Integration for Adaptive MSP
Knowledge integration can be progressed by changes in formal or
informal institutions that allow actors to develop joint research,
share information, and respond to new insights throughout the
planning cycle to enable adaptive MSP. The formal institutional
change in the form of the permanent NSD allowed for issues that
could not be resolved in the time set for the NSD (e.g., due to
knowledge gaps or conflict) to be placed on the agenda for future
deliberation (the so-called “process agreements”). Moreover, the
continuation of the NSD allowed for the agreement to include
provisions that require periodical revision. Examples of such
provisions include the definition of best available techniques for
a specific period and the development of a two-yearly “state of
the North Sea” report that provides transparency regarding the
progress toward a healthy North Sea. The agreement also includes
provisions that require the NSD to be involved in any changes
in response to new insights, conflicts, and developments that
infringe upon the agreement. These examples show how during
the NSD, stakeholders pursued formal institutional changes
that support information sharing and provide opportunities
to respond to new insights. Thereby, stakeholders progressed
knowledge integration in line with adaptive MSP.
Moreover, the significant fragmentation and gaps in
knowledge regarding a broad range of topics concerning
the North Sea, led actors to push for a joint research agenda
that is tied to and, when necessary, financed by funds allocated
to the implementation of the North Sea Agreement. There was
a relatively high amount of agreement between stakeholders
regarding the content of the research agenda. However, the
coordination and distribution of responsibilities and funds for
this research agenda was highly disputed between government
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and stakeholders. This shows that in progressing knowledge
integration, formal institutional changes regarding finances and
responsibilities are most difficult to achieve. Nevertheless, the
development of a dedicated joint research agenda with associated
funds for the North Sea is an important additional formal
institutional change that progresses knowledge integration and
learning in MSP, while also counteracting fragmentation of
knowledge and pushing for results to be made publicly available.
The NSD also helped create mutual understanding between
stakeholders for their respective points of view and proved
helpful in resolving pre-existing and rising conflicts. The fact
that the content of the negotiations was confidential contributed
to creating this understanding between stakeholders, because it
allowed for open debates on issues that were highly disputed
between the same stakeholders in public. An example of creating
understanding between stakeholders is related to the fisheries
sector. Before the NSD and during the first months of the
NSD, many stakeholders had difficulties in understanding why
it was almost impossible for the fisheries representatives to
present maps that show areas that are most important to them.
The months of debates, explanations, and presentations in the
NSD—including presentations by fishermen using the maps
they use while fishing—slowly created an understanding among
other stakeholders of the reasons behind the difficulties for
the fisheries sector in creating these maps. While this does
not resolve problems necessarily, stakeholders slowly developed
a mutual understanding of the reasons behind each other’s
actions and perceptions. Examples of resolving rising conflicts
can be found in the fact that stakeholders would address issues
that affected mutual relations in the first NSD after incidents
occurred. On multiple occasions, disputed statements that were
published in media, or breaches of other prior agreements would
be discussed in the NSD. This also includes, when necessary,
apologies and debates regarding potential solutions. These
examples show how the NSD also created informal institutional
change toward knowledge integration, by changing the norms
for how stakeholders treated and addressed each other in both
every-day situations, as well as in situations of conflict. While
the immediate effects of these changes might be more limited,
the understanding and trust that was created might contribute
to creating opportunities for future institutional change.
Temporal Integration for Strategic MSP
Temporal integration can be progressed by changes in formal
or informal institutions that allow actors to make proactive
decisions based on potential future developments to enable
strategic MSP. As such, this dimension of integration is also
about the capacity of actors to behave strategically and act pro-
actively in light of potential future developments. Again, the
permanent NSD as a formal institutional change is an important
platform that enables stakeholders to act proactively in light of
projections regarding uncertain future development. However,
the NSD also illustrates that changes that progress temporal
integration toward more strategic MSP remains extremely
difficult in practice. Stakeholders appear to be able to assess
the potential consequences of changes such as an area-passport,
or using best available techniques for construction. However, it
appears to be very difficult for stakeholders to reflect upon the
TABLE 2 | Examples of formal and informal institutional changes that were used to progress the various dimensions of integration in line with the normative
principles of MSP.
Dimensions of integration Examples of informal institutional changes Examples of formal institutional
change
Territorial integration in line with
area-based MSP
Changes in the form of a process agreement to communicate support and commitment
for the idea of developing OWF in the northern part of the Dutch North Sea
Changes in rules on the establishment
of area-passports for offshore wind
energy areas to enable multi-use
Organizational integration in line
with integrated MSP
Changes in norms for sharing and communicating information within stakeholder
groups and within the government
Changes in financial procedural rules on
spending funds related to the
agreement
Policy/sectoral integration
between users in line with
integrated MSP
Changes in norms for open communication and deliberation between stakeholders to
explore compatibilities
Changes in rules on limiting cutter
fisheries within OWF and on creating
passageways for shipping
Policy/sectoral integration
between users and the
environments in line with
ecosystem-based MSP
Reinterpretation of existing rules and frameworks and prioritization of values related to a
“healthy North Sea”
Changes in rules regarding an increase
in % of areas closed to sea-bed
fisheries and regarding the use of
best-available techniques
Stakeholder integration in line
with participatory MSP
Norms and values related to interaction between stakeholders and the government Changes in rules to establish a
permanent NSD for direct and regular
interaction between the government
and stakeholders
Knowledge integration in line
with adaptive MSP
Changes in norms for exchanging information and knowledge between stakeholders to
help create a mutual understanding.
Changes in rules regarding establishing
best available techniques and a joint
research agenda
Temporal integration in line with
strategic MSP
Changes in the form of a process agreement to communicate support and commitment
for the idea of developing OWF in the northern part of the Dutch North Sea
Changes in rules to establish a
permanent NSD which can result in
proactive action by actors in response
to new developments.
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Spijkerboer Institutional Dimension of Integration
feasibility of changes that would take effect in the long term (e.g.,
in ten or more years). In these cases, stakeholders, including
the government, could be observed to rely heavily on current
institutional frameworks in assessing the feasibility of these future
developments. This can be illustrated using the earlier example
of speeding up the construction of OWF in the northern North
Sea and leaving some appointed areas in the southern North
Sea open. To enable the development of OWF in the Northern
North Sea after 2030, decisions on these ideas would have to be
made within the next few years. Many of the foreseen benefits of
this solution are connected to technological developments such
as larger wind turbines that would generate more electricity,
but also international interconnectors to distribute electricity, or
hydrogen solutions. The speed, costs and, innovation trajectories
of these developments are uncertain. The government could be
observed to apply today’s context and institutional framework to
calculations (e.g., the current costs of high voltage direct current
cables to user hotspots like the Port of Rotterdam, without taking
into account the potential cost reduction opportunities offered
by international interconnections or hydrogen solutions). As a
result, the costs of this solution were presented as being extremely
high which undermined the feasibility of this idea. Nonetheless,
stakeholders managed to include this idea in the agreement as
a process agreement that will require further research, referring
it to the permanent NSD. This example illustrates that is it
is difficult for stakeholders, the government particularly, to
progress temporal integration in line with strategic MSP, because
the current formal and informal institutional framework is
applied as a frame of reference to assess the feasibility of
ideas for the future. Simultaneously, the permanent NSD does
provide stakeholders with the opportunity to progress temporal
integration, because it creates a platform where stakeholders
can place these issues on the agenda for further deliberation
and negotiation.
CONCLUSION: THE INSTITUTIONAL
DIMENSION OF INTEGRATION IN
MARINE SPATIAL PLANNING
This paper set out to explore the formal and informal institutional
changes that were pursued by actors during the NSD to progress
the various dimensions of integration in line with the normative
principles that are attributed to MSP. These dimensions of
integration and normative principles are important components
of MSP processes that aim to improve spatial integration between
OWF and other interests at sea. A first important conclusion
is that the—initially only temporary—institutional arrangement
of the NSD itself proved key because it provided a platform
for actors to pursue formal and informal institutional change.
This platform helped create mutual understanding and open
deliberation on issues that were sometimes highly disputed.
Thereby, the results from this study support the calls for
“round tables” or platforms for structural cooperation between
sectors (Olsen et al., 2014;Saunders et al., 2019), and indicate
that such a platform should allow for actors to interact and
deliberate on various ideas in an open manner. Moreover,
the results show that besides formal institutional changes,
the platform offered by the NSD caused actors to pursue
informal institutional changes that were extremely important
in progressing specific dimensions of integration. For example,
organizational integration toward more integrated MSP was to
a large extent progressed by changes in informal institutions
such as the norms and customs for communicating and sharing
information within the government or between stakeholders
within one sector.
The formal institutional changes that were pursued by actors
usually filled a policy gap or extended existing regulation
by adding additional institutions to the existing system in a
form of policy layering (e.g., the area-passport or passageways
for shipping), rather than abolishing existing institutions or
major shifts in responsibilities. Sometimes, the changes pursued
by actors also took the form of planting seeds for ideas,
and it remains to be seen whether these will grow or die
down (e.g., the relative ecological value). Moreover, informal
institutional changes in the form of reinterpretation of existing
rules also played an important role (e.g., the rejection of the
old understanding of ecosystem-based MSP and new aspirations
surrounding a healthy North Sea). The permanent NSD itself
is also a good example of the institutional changes that were
pursued during the NSD: the permanent NSD does not require
abolishment of existing institutional frameworks regarding who
is responsible for what, but it does add important formal
and informal institutions to the existing system. While these
institutional changes might not address all persistent problems
in marine governance (cf. Kelly et al., 2019), the case of the
NSD shows that more incremental forms of institutional change
should not be discredited, as they can be effective in progressing
the variousdimensions of integration and improving spatial
integration in the Dutch North Sea.
It can be concluded that the institutional changes achieved
during the NSD do progress all dimensions of integration
(see Table 2), albeit to various degrees. As such, the NSD
contributed to spatial integration, mainly by means of more
incremental institutional changes. The results indicate that a
range of subsequent incremental changes might lead to a more
radical change in participatory governance of the North Sea in
the form of the establishment of a permanent NSD, but this
will require further research into the effectiveness of the NSD
on the long-term. However, the case of the NSD also illustrates
the most important difficulties with this more incremental
approach. Particularly when considering longer time periods
(temporal integration), or when considering specific locations
(territorial integration on the local scale), actors heavily rely
on existing formal and informal institutional frameworks. This
was illustrated using the examples of developing OWF in the
northern North Sea, as well as the debates surrounding additional
protection regimes for ecologically valuable areas. In these cases,
stakeholders refer to existing formal and informal institutional
frameworks, while their capacity to reflect on these frameworks
appears to be limited. Table 2 shows that in these cases informal
institutional changes were mainly assisted by the platform of
the NSD, which created the option of process agreements. These
process agreements can be seen as informal institutional changes
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Spijkerboer Institutional Dimension of Integration
that communicate support for new ideas and understandings.
As a result, the institutional space for finding solutions in these
specific cases also appears to be more limited and more radical
forms of change might be necessary to enable spatial integration.
This paper shows that it is important to not only take
into account formal institutional changes, but also informal
institutional changes. This paper used a broad definition of
informal institutional change as changes in the unwritten
conventions, norms and codes of conduct (Kingston and
Caballero, 2009). This broad definition was used to explore the
informal changes that could be observed in a general sense. In
light of the importance of informal institutional changes in the
results from this study and the lack of attention to such informal
changes in existing research, it is recommended that future
research will further explore and explain informal institutional
change and how these informal changes are interrelated with
the formal changes that are either progressed or hindered in
practice. Existing theories on informal institutional change in
planning could provide fruitful starting points for such research,
including, for example, theories on institutional capacity building
in collaborative planning (Healey, 1999), theories on frame
reflection (Schön and Rein, 1994) and “living institutions”
(Hajer, 2006). Another option is to explore the use of actor-
oriented institutional theories such as discursive institutionalism
(Schmidt, 2008) and institutional work (Lawrence and Suddaby,
2006;Beunen and Patterson, 2019), which can provide more
detailed insight in the agency of actors in organizing institutional
change on the micro-level.
The NSD also shows some drawbacks and boundaries to
participatory approaches within MSP. It was very difficult
to keep all stakeholders and their constituencies on board
during the NSD process. This is illustrated most clearly by the
difficulties related to the fisheries sector, but it was an issue
that representatives from the wind sector, the oil- and gas
sector, the NGOs, and the government mentioned during the
NSD. The negotiations, and the understanding that is created
between stakeholders throughout these negotiations, is only
experienced by the representatives. However, the implementation
and effects of changes in formal and informal institutions will
weigh on their constituencies who do not necessarily share
these experiences. Therefore, it will be interesting for future
research to look into the implementation and effects of the
North Sea Agreement and processes of stakeholder negotiation
in other countries. Moreover, it will be important to study
whether and how in arrangements that organize participation
through the representation of sectors, the connections to
the constituencies of these representatives can be maintained,
particularly when a degree of confidentiality is beneficial to the
negotiations themselves.
The insights from the NSD show that meaningful
participation can only be achieved when both stakeholders
and the government contribute to the process: the government
needs to offer space that enables actors to pursue and implement
institutional change, but stakeholders also need to take
responsibility and look beyond their own interests. The presence
of the NSD chairman and staff was key in this struggle, as
they constantly had to remind both government and other
stakeholders of their contributions to this process. As illustrated
most clearly by the example of the transition fund, the NSD
was also a struggle by and for stakeholders to claim institutional
space which was not always willingly offered, particularly when it
related to changing formal responsibilities.
Based on these insights regarding the NSD processes,
it would be interesting for future research to study the
possibility of temporary or “soft” institutional arrangements in
improving spatial integration offshore. Based on these insights,
recommendations for policymakers and scientists alike would be
to examine the use of quasi soft spaces (cf. Jay, 2018;Walsh, 2021),
that help create a platform for stakeholders to pursue institutional
change. Simultaneously, experiences from the NSD would
suggest that even such temporary and more soft arrangements do
require financial backing, an independent chairperson and staff,
as well as commitment from all parties including the government
to implement changes that are agreed upon. These spaces can
create the required institutional conditions under which actors
can pursue further institutional changes. How these spaces can
be connected to the trans-national domain will be an important
topic of study as well.
Discussions in existing MSP literature on integration provide
highly relevant insights in various dimensions of integration
processes on a more abstract, governance level. However, in
essence, MSP is about integrating various users and interests
in space. As such, it becomes even more important for MSP
literature to return to a focus on spatial integration, including
the interrelations and cooperation between interests and users
at various scales from local to international. The analysis in
this paper shows that the “spatial dimension” of MSP, in
the form of spatial integration, can be progressed by actors
pursuing the various dimensions of integration, but that it is
important to take into account the interrelations between these
dimensions. For example, territorial integration aimed at area-
based MSP can ensure that specific area-based characteristics are
incorporated into decision-making procedures, and related to the
patchwork of users that occupy an area or sea-basin to progress
spatial integration. However, progressing spatial integration
also requires that actors simultaneously pursue, for example,
user-user integration to understand the needs and interests
of these other users, user-environment integration to ensure
that this patchwork of uses fits within the environment, and
knowledge integration to test new ideas and develop mechanisms
to respond to potential issues that are encountered. As such,
spatial integration in MSP requires not only attention to all the
dimensions of integration, but also to their interrelations.
Additional research is needed to further develop the concept
of spatial integration in MSP. Future research could explore
specific cases to examine the reasons behind choices for the
establishment of multi-use sites or specific single-use sites (cf.
Schupp et al., 2019) to provides insight into opportunities and
barriers for spatial integration that are experienced by actors in
practice. Moreover, future research could examine the manners
in which stakeholders can be enticed to broaden their perceptions
of institutional possibilities when, for example, exploring areas
for OWF development in the future that benefit from decision-
making today. The institutional dimension of integration can
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Spijkerboer Institutional Dimension of Integration
then be seen as a learning process in which actors search for
institutional space that allows them to find physical space to
achieve such spatial integration.
DATA AVAILABILITY STATEMENT
The datasets presented in this article are not readily available
because of confidential information that cannot be separated
from the content of the data set. Requests to access the datasets
should be directed to RS, r.c.spijkerboer@rug.nl.
ETHICS STATEMENT
Ethical review and approval was not required for the study
on human participants in accordance with the local legislation
and institutional requirements. Written informed consent for
participation was not required for this study in accordance with
the national legislation and the institutional requirements.
AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS
The author conceptualized and designed the study, conducted
data collection and analysis, and wrote the manuscript.
FUNDING
This research did not receive any specific grant from funding
agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.
Funding for the open access fee was received from the Faculty
of Spatial Sciences Open Access Fund, University of Groningen.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
The author would like to thank Jacques Wallage, Christian
Zuidema, Tim Busscher, and Jos Arts and for contributing their
thoughts on the manuscript.
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Frontiers in Marine Science | www.frontiersin.org 16 August 2021 | Volume 8 | Article 712982
... Central to managing offshore space is the use of a Marine Spatial Plan (MSP). Normatively, a MSP aims to employ an areabased, integrated, strategic, adaptive and participatory processes (Spijkerboer, 2021), following an ecosystem-based and precautionary approach (Government, 2011) and promoting multisector management strategies that take into consideration various sectoral values (White et al., 2012). Hence, the spatial claims exerted by different sectors are managed by trying to distribute sectors among their high-value locations with the low inter-sectoral conflicts (Ehler and Douvere, 2009;White et al., 2012;Lester et al., 2013), considering principles such as freedom and safety of navigation and aviation (Dutch Central Government, 2009;Marine Management Organisation, 2020). ...
... Opposed to these models, a more recent set of studies do consider alternative objectives by going beyond mere economic modelling and relying on a bottom-up approach to identify trade-offs by combining stakeholder engagement with GIS-based mapping tools (Gimpel et al., 2018). Nevertheless, their spatial resolution and scope remains limited (Kyvelou and Ierapetritis, 2019;Spijkerboer, 2021), while these studies also often narrow their focus on general techno-economic (fisheries (Schupp et al., 2021)) or institutional barriers (shipping (Mehdi et al., 2017;Mehdi et al., 2018)). In response to this first research gap, this study analyzes and maps the spatial distribution and intensity of conflicts between alternative sea users and OWFs, across large marine areas (country level Exclusive Economic Zone-EEZ) on a high spatial resolution (km 2 ) and by consideration of economic and non-economic values of OWFs and four sea user groups (fisheries, nature protected areas, military activities, shipping). ...
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Paper is available for free until 7 May via https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1alc9,714McrPV Governments are searching for institutional designs that enable coordination of sea-uses in a more systematic and integrated manner. Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is presented as such an approach for improved coordination. However, existing literature is increasingly doubting the ability of MSP to accomplish this, particularly regarding offshore wind farms (OWF). Therefore, this paper evaluates how six key principles of MSP perform in coordinating OWF vis-á-vis other spatial claims in the Dutch North Sea. Where existing literature focuses on the conformance of material outcomes to stated objectives, this paper evaluates performance; i.e. how the six principles are understood in successive manifestations of MSP and subsequently used in decision-making regarding OWF. Based on the conditions of knowledge, legitimacy and feasibility, four modes of performance are identified. Knowledge of the principles of MSP can be found throughout successive manifestations of MSP. However, the understanding of these principles in the Dutch case is narrowed in order to create a robust system that ensures a quick and cost-effective roll-out of offshore wind energy to meet (inter)national renewable energy targets. The focus lies on furthering the feasibility of OWF development, resulting in a dominant mode of performance that is termed ‘legitimacy misfit’; MSP is used as a tool to implement external sustainability discourses and renewable energy targets, rather than forming a systematic and integrated marine governance approach that balances various interests at sea. Furthermore, it is necessary to develop a more critical approach to the operationalization of the principles of MSP that is sensitive to possible interdependencies and conflicts.