Institutionalizing ideas about citizens’ initiatives in planning: Emerging discrepancies between rhetoric and assurance

Saskia Bisschops*, Raoul Beunen, Daniël Hollemans

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This paper explores the institutionalization process regarding ideas about a more prominent role for citizens’ initiatives in planning. Citizens’ initiatives are often considered important for the transition towards sustainable urban development. Although this claim is not undisputed, many planning reforms in Western societies have promoted the inclusion of citizens in planning policies and projects. In the new Dutch Environment and Planning Act (EPA), which is expected to come into force in 2023, similar intentions are stated. The EPA claims to enhance participation of citizens, amongst other stakeholders, such as societal organizations, governmental bodies and businesses, at an early stage in decision-making processes, while in addition the planning system should become better suited to stimulate and facilitate societal initiatives. This study reveals that these ambitions have not resulted in clear rules or norms that strengthen the role for citizens’ initiatives in urban planning. The analysis of the development of the EPA shows that the institutionalization process can be characterized by 1) an emerging discrepancy between the rhetorical key message that all citizens’ initiatives will benefit from the EPA and the limited legal assurance, 2) the assumption that the myriad of forms citizens’ initiatives come in can be moulded into general participatory schemes and 3) a lack of reflections on how lenient planning rules are likely to advance market parties and governments rather than citizens’ initiatives. Because the institutionalization process continues after effectuation, in particular local governments are urged to develop additional policies to ensure a stronger position for citizens’ initiatives in planning.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106425
Number of pages9
JournalLand Use Policy
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2023


  • Citizen participation
  • Citizens’ initiatives
  • Ideas
  • Institutionalization
  • Planning reform


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