Interactive decision-making


a review


Report to the FIRMA project




Anne van der Veen

Department of Civil Engineering and Management and

Department of Public Policy and Public Administration

University of Twente

P.O. Box 217

7500 AE Enschede

the Netherlands





Table of Contents


1        Interactive decision-making___ 3

§ 1.1            Introduction_ 3

§ 1.2            Background_ 4

§ 1.2.1                Governmental developments          4

§ 1.2.2                Societal developments          5

§ 1.2.3                Developments concerning the use of ICT         5

§ 1.2.4                Corollary     5

§ 1.3            Conditions for interactive decision-making__ 6

§ 1.3.1                Commitment: The necessity of a ‘new’ political primate.  6

§ 1.3.2                Commitment: The acceptation of new roles by all stakeholders              7

§ 1.3.3                Organization: Clearness 8

§ 1.3.4                Organization: Process-management               8

§ 1.3.5                Communication: Open attitude and common responsibility            8

§ 1.4            Process-management           9

§ 1.4.1                General remarks  9

§ 1.4.2                Conflict-management               10

§ 1.5            Advantages and disadvantages        12

§ 1.5.1                Advantages                12

§ 1.5.2                Disadvantages              12

§ 1.6            Interactive decision-making in the USA 14

§ 1.7            Experiences with interactive decision-making_ 15

§ 1.8            Effects of interactive decision-making_ 17

§ 1.8.1                General effects of Interactive decision making methods 17

§ 1.8.2                Effects of the Dutch Infralab method   18

2        Dilemmas of interactive decision-making__ 21

§ 2.1            Implementation of interactive processes?            21

§ 2.2            Political involvement at the beginning of a process ?            22

§ 2.3    Few or many stakeholders ?       22

§ 2.4            Focus on certain inputs or representativity?    23

§ 2.5    Part of the policy process or independence?      23

§ 2.6    An intensive interactive process? 24

§ 2.7            Content or process? 24

§ 2.8            Experiment or real policy?            24

§ 2.9            Direct or representative democracy?            25

3        Conclusion    26

4        References     28



1           Interactive decision-making


§ 1.1      Introduction


Interactive decision-making did only enter the picture for a few decades. The expectations, that interactive decision-making could be a useful instrument to realise widely supported, qualitative solutions to certain (complex) problems, were and still are very high. It appears to be true, that interactive decision-making can live up to its expectations, looking at the fact that its advent is still in full swing. As a matter of fact, it conquers more and more areas in which (complex) problems, in accordance with policy, occur.


The advent of interactive decision-making can partially be explained because of the growth of the number of stakeholders in decision-making processes. This increased number of stakeholders made society as a whole more complex. This process, though, is accompanied by the use of scientific methods, such as multi-criteria analysis.

The advent of interactive decision-making not only means that politicians and governors should pay attention to it, but also that citizens and other societal stakeholders should be aware of this new phenomenon. This is so, because interactive decision-making is primarily aimed at involving all relevant stakeholders in a decision-making process, in order to realise widely supported decisions. All the mentioned stakeholders do in fact pay attention to the phenomenon of interactive decision-making. This causes the number of interactive initiatives to rise. Moreover, this attention means an increase in the number of (scientific) researches.

It is essential to define the concept of interactive decision-making. The definition is taken from Pröpper and Steenbeek (1998; p. 293):


“Interactive decision-making is a way of making decisions in which a government involves citizens, societal organizations, private parties and/or other governments into the decision-making-process as soon as possible, in order to interact and/or to co-operate with them to establish the preparation, the determination, the implementation and/or the evaluation of policy


There is a common consensus about the goals of interactive decision-making. These goals are characterised by a mutual dependence. Besides this mutual dependence, it should be noted that the goals being discussed overlap. However, a solid group of goals and functions can be determined:


1.     Enlargement of the support for policy and decisions; According to Pröpper en Steenbeek it is imperative to close the gap between the government and its citizens, to realise commitment to the way the problem is handled, to create support for the used method (to solve the problem), to understand the notion of citizens getting responsibility and to realise commitment to the agreed result. According to Klijn en Koppenjan (1999) the closure of the gap between the government and its citizens means a positive impulse to the legitimacy (in terms of support and acceptation) of the government.


2.     Enrichment with respect to the content; By means of interactive decision-making stakeholders can clarify their points of view more easily. Besides this, interactive decision-making can stimulate the creative abilities of citizens.


3.     Reduction of time needed for a project; This goal serves to enlarge the support for a given project or proposal. As a result, time might be saved with regard to the previously mentioned process of participation.


4.     Improved quality of the process and the results of policy; According to this goal, ‘interaction’ must be realised. Interaction can be seen as a process in which stakeholders bring in their resources (especially money, knowledge and expertise) in order to give structure (also in respect to the content) to a certain policy process. Essential however is the equality of the co-operating stakeholders. When they respect each other, mutual trust will be realised and according to that, a surplus value. It should be mentioned though, that equality will never be fully met, because certain stakeholders have not got crucial resources (money) or the ability to negotiate, properly.

An improved quality does not merely mean the use of full interaction, but also the improvement of the exchange of information by means of new media (condition of proper communication).


In addition to the goals and the definition of interactive decision-making, it is imperative to discuss the background of this new governmental phenomenon (§ 1.2). Attention will be paid, in this second paragraph, to governmental, societal and ICT developments. The described goals of interactive decision-making cannot be realised without certain conditions to be fulfilled. These conditions will be dealt with in § 1.3. Because of its relevance, process-management as a condition for interactive decision-making will be discussed in more detail in § 1.4. After these conditions are described, the advantages and disadvantages of interactive decision-making will be discussed (§ 1.5). In § 1.6, attention will be paid to interactive decision-making in The United States. After this discussion, a few applications of interactive approaches will be presented (§ 1.7). In addition, attention will be paid to multi-criteria analysis. The final paragraph (§ 1.8) will deal with the effects of interactive decision-making.


§ 1.2      Background

There are three main developments (governmental, societal and ICT) that have caused the interest in ‘new’ public involvement in general and interactive decision-making in particular. These three central developments cannot be seen independent from each other. Changes on the level of the government reflect changes in the society. Also, the development of ICT made societal and governmental changes possible or at least facilitated them.


§ 1.2.1                Governmental developments

First, there is the problematic relation between the government and its citizens, as indicated by Pröpper and Ter Braak (1996). There is an alleged gap between the government and the citizens and this gap should be closed by means of certain policy-instruments. This statement found support in the democratic movements in the sixties with their emphasis on governmental renewal. In Europe, this often resulted in the emergence of participation, a concept that evolved into new forms over time. In The Netherlands for example even a legal form of participation occurred[1]. The introduction of the referendum serves as another example of this evolution. Only in the last decade did interactive decision-making enter the European picture. It did so because citizens wished for more democratic means of government and because certain problems arose on the governmental level. Especially the information and communication abilities of the government were poor and therefore needed improvement[2]. Interactive decision-making was, and still is, seen as a means to alleviate these problems of communication as well as change the style of governing (§ 1.2.4). So, this new governmental instrument became (and still is) a hot topic.


§ 1.2.2               Societal developments

A second development has its origins in society. Beginning in the sixties, a development towards more individualism was set in. This also meant a change in professional values. New social movements (independent of the ‘old’ political party-system) emerged, giving a voice to citizens wanting to be heard and involved. They demanded a certain degree of involvement in the decision-making process concurring with their ideas on the nature of citizenship (growing citizen activism). This demand, together with an increased level of education[3] and prosperity caused certain European societal structures to collapse.

The previously mentioned new social movements meant an increase in the number of stakeholders with their own interests in the process of decision-making. Naturally, all these self-interests had to be balanced. This made the society as a whole more complex[4] because the government realised that policy could not be designed and implemented, without the help of the other stakeholders. Co-operation was needed because different stakeholders had claims on different necessary resources (such as money, public procedures, knowledge or expertise). This development lead to a network of stakeholders, characterised by the autonomy of the stakeholders, a distribution of resources and mutual dependence.


§ 1.2.3               Developments concerning the use of ICT

A third essential development concerns the introduction of information- and communication-technology  (ICT). This facilitates (technically as well as technologically) the process of interactive decision-making for example by using the Internet or other new media. These new media serve to inform citizens, to facilitate the rendering of services to citizens, to consult citizens and to facilitate the process of voting or referenda. Thomas endorses the great use of ICT: “The process of spreading knowledge is facilitated by the development of new information technologies” (1995; p.5).


§ 1.2.4               Corollary

The previously described processes, changes and developments have resulted in alternatives to the traditional concept of ‘hierarchical governance’. These alternatives, together with hierarchical governance, are described by Kooiman c.s. (1999). According to the first perspective (‘hierarchical governance’), the government is held responsible for an adequate management of public problems and the achievement of public objectives, that are not provided by the market (society was made by the government). This means that citizens and private parties have a limited responsibility for public problem solving. The powers of the (central) government are constrained by the obligation to legitimise its actions. This legitimacy is obtained by deriving her authority from laws, agreed upon by representatives of the citizens (legality). Since the end of the sixties, this hierarchical governance has been researched intensively. Often mentioned in these researches and studies, are certain factors that have caused deficits and failures of public policy. These factors are:


·         A lack of knowledge, time and financial resources;

·         The power of social groups;

·         The complexity of the issues at stake.


These factors fit in the developments described above (§ 1.2.1 - § 1.2.3). Because of these developments and the shortcomings of the hierarchical governance, alternative perspectives of governance have been developed.

First, Kooiman (1999) describes ‘market governance’. This approach assumes public problems to arise from market-failures. The government is responsible for changing the incentive structure (property rights structure) such, that private and public interest are reconciled. As a result, the market can function optimally (efficiency). Therefore, this approach focuses on the instruments the government should use in order to realise an efficient market.

A second alternative to hierarchical governance is ‘participatory governance’. This approach focuses on the organisational level. Governance is mainly organised at the macro level. There is a vacuum of governance at the meso and micro level. This institutional neglect of the meso and micro level will cause serious ‘ungovernability’ problems (concerning implementation- as well as compliance-problems). The solution to this, according to the advocates of participatory governance, is a fundamental change in the governmental structures and institutions. Citizens and stakeholders (at micro and meso level) should participate in the formulation and the design of public policies. Because of a shared responsibility, a sort of co-management must occur. At the meso level, institutional structures must be build, in order to let industries, stakeholders, citizens and governments discuss, negotiate and debate on public issue and policies.

Besides this organisational change in the governmental structure (primarily at the meso and micro level), a change in attitude, role and position among the participants is required. This whole process of organisational redesign and changing attitudes must be based on mutual trust between the participants. Advocates of the participatory perspective assume that participation can boost the legitimacy of government (Ostrom, 1990). As a result participation “[…] leads to rules and measures that are better in substance, better complied with, and reduce governmental ‘overload” (Kooiman c.s., 1999; p. 24).

The evolution of hierarchical governance into participatory governance, with its emphasis on multi-objective decision-making, shows the changing role of citizens. In both perspectives, the legitimacy of the government (in terms of consent of citizens) is in the centre of interest. However, in the hierarchical perspective, this consent follows from laws being accepted by citizens (by means of their representatives), that are also subject to judicial review. In the participatory perspective, effectiveness and legitimacy are obtained through direct participation (of citizens and stakeholders) and acceptance. Another similarity between these two perspectives concerns the fact that governmental action: “[…] should not only be assessed upon efficiency and effectiveness criteria but that governments also have normative objectives to attain“ (Kooiman, 1999; p. 25). The reason for this, being the constant search and need of hierarchical and participatory governments for legitimacy.


§ 1.3      Conditions for interactive decision-making

The question whether or not the goals of interactive decision-making can be realised and whether or not the effect (§ 1.8) will show up, are dependent on certain success-factors. In the Partnership Handbook for addressing natural resource, land use and environmental issues, Moote (1995) classifies these success factors as “Commitment”, “Communication” and “Organization”.

§ 1.3.1                Commitment: The necessity of a ‘new’ political primate.

Often heard in this respect is the fact that politicians must give political commitment to the results of the interactive dialogue. In this respect, politicians are meaningless actors, whose opinion is not relevant. They just have to do what citizens – those who determine the contents of policy - tell them to do. Giving political commitment to the results of the interactive dialogue is seen as a threat to the political primate, according to politicians (Klijn and Koppenjan; p. 59). The expectation of politicians taking over gratuitously the results of interactive dialogues does not correspond to reality (Klijn and Koppenjan; p. 306).

On the other hand, it is often heard that the absence of political commitment to the results of the interactive process causes citizens to feel futile. If politicians can depart from certain results, the contribution of citizens is marginalised. Consequently the motivation of citizens to participate another time is low. This process diminishes the legitimacy of the governments, its products and its processes.

Considering these ‘extreme’ situations leads to the notion that a middle course should be steered. In this respect, it could be essential for politicians to facilitate the interactive process. In addition, they could become a part of the interactive dialogue. Crucial in this middle course is the fact that politicians do not have to give full political commitment. They could for example decide what to do in concrete situations (which solution to which problem) at the end of a process. In the case of a deviation from the result of the interactive process though, it is imperative for politicians to give a solid motivation why they deviate from that result. In this way, a new political primate can be realised.


§ 1.3.2               Commitment: The acceptation of new roles by all stakeholders

The participating stakeholders in an interactive process can be grouped into politicians, governors, civil servants and citizens. According to Edelenbos and Monnikhof (1998; p. 39), these stakeholders should accept a new role in interactive decision-making.


Politicians and governors

Politicians in a representative democracy are expected to act and speak on behalf of the citizens who vote for them (in other words, they give politicians a mandate to act). Politicians – in this representative view - should have contact with these citizens in order to know their needs, views and interests. In real life, they are focused on the interest of their political parties. In addition, he is occupied with daily political affairs and therefore he does not have any contact with his electorate. The same is true for governors. They have to search for contact with citizen to get aware of their needs, views and interests. In real life though, governors determine policy behind closed doors; they work behind the scenes and out of the public eye. So it can be stated that decision-making is a closed process.

In the case of interactive decision-making, it is crucial for politicians and governors to have contact with citizens in an active way, because public preferences cannot be known and understood by isolated public managers. This means that they have to participate in discussions concerning policy. This should be done by defending themselves in political arenas in which citizens can postulate critical questions towards the statements and the points of view of politicians. Besides this, politicians and governors should motivate their choices (for example motivating why certain solutions were used, while others were neglected).

So, it can be concluded that interactive decision-making demands more openness and transparency of the government. Politicians and governors should focus on that when adopting their new roles. Doing this can result in a role-conflict for politicians in their relations with their political party. It is obvious that active participation of an individual party-member could limit the implementation of activities by political party.


Civil servants

Civil servants also have to change their attitude and therefore accept a new role. Civil servants are the actors responsible for policy. In order to come up with new policy-proposals, they look (‘from behind their desks’) at the existing policy and at the political feasibility for a certain proposal. In this process, they have contacts with colleagues and with representatives of social groups to determine whether a certain proposal will have support in the field. Because of their importance and because of the excessive amount of information they have, civil servants are often called the fourth power (in addition to the legislative power, the executive power and the judiciary). As a result the role of civil servants can be characterised as expert with respect to the content and advisor of politicians and governors.

However, with the emergence of interactive decision-making, civil servants must accept a new role. They must remain experts with respect to the content, but instead of preparing and designing policy, they have to facilitate the process by giving background-information or by giving, advise on the temporarily political situation. This means that they need good organising and communicative abilities. These abilities should be used for activating the knowledge and expertise of the citizens. He should link all problem-definitions and solutions to these problems, as stated by the different stakeholders. In addition, he has to close the information-gap between the participating stakeholders. The civil servant can then be characterised as a knowledge- and information-agent.  Because of all these changes, the civil servant also develops from a specialist into a generalist.

A second relevant change in the role of the civil servant is that he has to make himself subservient as well to governors as to citizens. This subservience can cause difficulties, when citizens and governors have conflicting wishes.



Citizens, at last, also have to change their role. Two main roles of citizens can be distinguished. First there is the citizens as client (in which citizens have to obey the government, co-operate with the implementation of policy and obey the rules and laws). Second, there is the citizen as an ‘able-bodied’ citizen, who stands up for his own rights (citizens co-produce policy by critically following it and trying to exercise influence in a responsible way).

Interactive decision-making fits into this second role. Citizens, though, should not be focusing on finding weak aspects in a certain policy-proposal or on objecting to certain proposals. Citizens must think – together with all the other stakeholders – how a certain policy can be improved in terms of quality. So citizens have to debate and negotiate with other stakeholders. In this process, the communicative abilities of citizens play an important role, because citizens must bring in their knowledge and their expertise in a proper way. Besides this, it is crucial that citizens will respect other opinions and that citizens will not let the general interest prevail over the self-interests. The same is true of course for the other stakeholders.


The previously mentioned stakeholders should accept their new roles in order to give interactive decision-making a chance. It is imperative, that these new roles demand behavioural changes and changes in attitude. This process can result (according to Edelenbos and Monnikhof) in a serious identity crisis for all actors involved in interactive decision-making.


§ 1.3.3               Organization: Clearness

For being successful, the process of interactive decision-making should be clear. This means that the process itself should be clear for the participating stakeholders, as well as the conditions under which the process will be implemented. Finally, the roles of all participants should be clear.

It is crucial to generate a clear process, for clearness stimulates the trust participating stakeholders have in that process and in its contestants. If there is no trust, synergetic and qualitative decisions will be omitted. Van Woerkum (1997) states that clearness also means transparency of the government. This can for example be realised by means of the new medial instruments through information- and communication-technology.

A marginal note must be given here, because full clearness cannot be given and guaranteed at the beginning of an interactive process. Clearness must grow during the process, as well as the trust of stakeholders in the process and the other participants. If there is sufficient trust[5], stakeholders should be willing to set traditional points of view apart. However, De Bruijn and Ten Heuvelhof (1998) claim that core-interests and core-values of the parties should be protected. These aspects will return in the discussion of process-management.


§ 1.3.4               Organization: Process-management

Because of its relevance, this aspect will be discussed in depth in § 1.4.


§ 1.3.5               Communication: Open attitude and common responsibility

The participating parties should have an open attitude towards the process, its contestants and its results. This means that the participating stakeholders must deal with their new roles, as discussed before. An open dialogue also means co-operating on an equal base with respect to the negotiation-process. Crucial in this respect is the existence of a mutual dependence between the different stakeholders (Driessen c.s., 1997; p. 375). It is also relevant that the different parties must share a common responsibility to the process and its results.


The conditions described above are mutually dependent. In this respect, an open attitude cannot do without a proper and inadequate process-management, but a proper process-management also cannot do without an open attitude of the participating stakeholders. Whether or not interactive decision-making will be successful is dependent upon certain choices to be made. Some of these choices will be discussed in chapter 2. Nevertheless, it is already obvious though that interactive decision-making can be seen as a custom-made good.


§ 1.4      Process-management

As previous paragraphs have shown, process-management is an essential part of interactive decision-making. Together with process-design, process-management encompasses process-guidance.


§ 1.4.1                General remarks

Process-guidance concerning decision-making, causes the process of negotiation and argumentation to be designed (process-design) and implemented (process-management). Consequently, the contents of policy will be situated into the process, the content will be enriched and support for the content of a given policy-proposal will be achieved.

So first, the process will be designed. In a process-design, attention has to be paid to the following aspects:


·         Organising the process in order to make the roles, functions and responsibilities of the different participating stakeholders more explicit.

·         Determining the conditions, under which the process will operate. According to this aspect, funding (budget), personal staffing and the deadline of the process must be made more explicit.

·         Determining the rules of the game. It is crucial to determine the way interaction and communication will take place in order to facilitate the decision-making process.

·         Activating and mobilising stakeholders in order to create a representative group of stakeholders. These stakeholders bring in their interests and try to formulate a common problem-definition and a widely supported solution. Relevant in this respect is the stimulation of access towards an interactive dialogue, but also to information and other resources.

·         Determining the rules with regard to entrance and withdrawal.

·         Determining the style of decision-making. It should be made clear who makes a decision at what moment and under which conditions.


After the process is designed, it must be implemented (process-management). This process is managed by a process-manager (who might be the same person as the process-designer). Three main activities must be managed in terms of process-management:


·         Facilitating the interactions, discussions and negotiations between the stakeholders (main process). The process-manager has a task in focusing on the quality of the process, as well as stimulating the achievement of compromises between the stakeholders. Therefore it is crucial that the manager is independent from the participating stakeholders.

·         Preparing activities such as doing research and looking after the mailings (supporting processes).

·         Linking the interactive processes and the regular consultation-meetings.


So, according to these three main activities of process-management, it can be concluded that the process-manager can have a facilitating as well as a mediating role. These roles concentrate on the process instead of the contents of a certain policy. The result of the work of the process-manager and the stakeholders is often a ‘package deal’, in which every stakeholder can find something positive, in relation to his goals and interests. Crucial to realise a package deal, however, is the possibility that stakeholders can reflect their own interests, the willingness to let loose certain traditional points of view, but also the fact that the initiating government may not let their interests prevail over the interests of the other stakeholders.

According to De Bruijn and Ten Heuvelhof, process-management has to deal with five central aspects:


1.        The relation between the contents and the process; Two remarks must be made in this respect. First, the process can dominate the contents. Stakeholders are focused on the process of negotiation and therefore the results concerning the contents will be neglected. Second, the different stakeholders might support the obtained result, but it might be false in respect to the contents.


2.        Degree of participation; With respect to participation, it is crucial to look at the so-called participation-paradox. Interactive decision-making might be used as a means to realise qualitative and widely supported decisions. However, participating stakeholders can also use the obtained information to resist the decision-making process. Second, it is important to determine whether participation is needed in the beginning or at the end of a process.


3.        The role of the process-manager; First, the process-manager can fulfil different roles (information-expert, representative of an interest or financial controller). This can lead to an accumulation of roles and therefore he can exercise influence. This might be devastating for the trust of the stakeholders in the process. A second issue concerning the role of the process-manager, is the choice between an instrumental approach (the process-manager wants to achieve results and then leaves the process) and an intrinsic approach (the process is as well a goal as an investment in sustainable relations based on trust).


4.        Organisational design of representation; According to this aspect, it is important for stakeholders (as representatives of certain parties) to give up a part of the autonomy of the parties they represent. First, it is important that representative stakeholders can convince their backing of a certain result. Second, it must be stated that using the process as a means of legitimating policy might be detrimental on the long term. This is so, because participating stakeholders realise they have walked into a trap. Consequently, the perception of stakeholders about the government being an unreliable actor will be strengthened.


5.      The progress of the process; Progress is defined as velocity x solidity. Both factors determine the progress made in a process. Second, it is crucial to have a follow-up of the process. The decision-making process will be followed up by the implementation of policy, if parties and stakeholders meet each other after the process ánd if it is impossible that party A will get their gains, without party B having theirs.


If these questions are dealt with properly, an adequate process-management will be implemented. In this respect, attention should be paid to the possibilities of ICT. If this is done properly, interactive decision-making can enlarge the transparency of the government (Bruijn and Ten Heuvelhof, 1998; p. 121).


§ 1.4.2               Conflict-management

With respect to interactive decision-making, attention must be paid to the realization of consensus. This goal is hardly ever mentioned as a goal of interactive decision-making, because most attention is paid to the realization of support for a certain decision. This however implies the reduction of potential conflicts and the enlargement of consensus with respect to a certain decision. Bruijn and Ten Heuvelhof state that interactive decision-making can depolitise the points of view of the participating stakeholders. Therefore, the possibility of conflicts might decrease[6]. This attention, though, is rare. It should be stated that few attention has been (and is) paid to the phenomenon of conflict-management. This is peculiar, especially because interactive decision-making does not guarantee a qualitative, widely supported decision to be made.


Al (1999) also emphasises the fact that interactive decision-making is not a guarantee for consensual decisions. Interactive processes might fail because of impasses or conflicts. If no solutions will be found, the government will use their traditional instruments of command and control (Al, 1999; p. 25).

There are two extreme solutions to possible conflicts. First, the problem can be ignored or denied. Stakeholders have to negotiate and talk with each other in order to solve the problem. This however causes the conflict to lie dormant. Second, stakeholders can go to a judge. It is then crucial, that the conflict will be made explicit.

Al describes a few possible alternatives to these extreme solutions. First, there might be an obligation to negotiate or interact in the case of a conflict. Because of this obligation, one party cannot change the agreements between the stakeholders. A chairman, who is trusted by all parties, facilitates the negotiations or interactions. Problem with this alternative, though, is that the conflicts will not really be solved. This is so, because there is no prescribed way to follow, when the obliged negotiations or interactions fail.

A second alternative is the use of arbitration. An independent group of experts will analyse the conflict and they will propose a solution to the conflict. Problem, though, is that no real widely supported solution has to be found, when power and authority are used on behalf of the arbitrator(s). This is so, because attention is paid to the conflict and not to the underlying interests. Consequently, the solution to the conflict might not be the solution to the problem at stake.

Finally, Al distinguishes the use of mediation. Mediation differs from arbitration because arbitration encourages the use of an independent party that stands above all the other parties. Arbitrators can therefore be compared to judges. Mediation, on the other hand, is based on the belief that stakeholders themselves can solve the conflict (they have the power to solve the conflicts themselves). The mediator[7] helps to facilitate the interaction or negotiation-process. He defines the playing field for the stakeholders, he monitors the procedures, he warns stakeholders for possible pitfalls and he monitors the progress of the negotiations (Al, 1999; p. 26). The stakeholders try to solve the conflict on an equal base. This implicates the existence of a mutual responsibility and a mutual dependence between the stakeholders.

According to Al, mediation can be an adequate instrument with respect to conflicts in interactive decision-making. It is obvious, though, that mediation is also based on certain rules. The solutions, following from the mediation, should have support and they should be binding to all parties. Therefore, the result of mediation is often a judicial agreement between the parties. Nevertheless, it is possible that no mediated solution will be found. In that case, arbitrators or judges can be used to solve the conflict.

There are some advantages concerning the use of mediation. First, many stakeholders with many interests are involved in an interactive process. These stakeholders should all ‘consult’ a judge, apart from each other. Problem is that the conflict will be simplified as a contrast between two stakeholders with the two most important interests (for example the interests of the government versus the interest of private parties). Second, mediation seems to gain time, compared to the time of judicial procedures.

There are, though, some disadvantages or risks. First, political commitment might not be assured, because the government fears the threat of losing power, when it co-operates in an interactive process. Second, parties may tempt to exceed the legal boundaries. Finally, mediation might not result in a solution to the conflict. In that case, confidential information from the mediation-process might be abused if no solution will be found. Failed mediation also causes more costs and more frustration when a judge must solve a certain conflict in the end.

These disadvantages or risks can be reduced or at least controlled. This can be done, by means of process-agreements (involving politicians in an early stage, clarifying the conditions under which a deviation from certain norms is possible, clarifying that the solutions to a conflict will be tested politically) and the choice of professional mediators.


§ 1.5      Advantages and disadvantages

In this paragraph, the advantages and disadvantages of interactive decision-making will be discussed.

§ 1.5.1                Advantages

In literature, a few possible advantages of interactive decision-making are mentioned. These advantages correspond to the goals of interactive decision-making, as named in § 1.1.


1.        A more qualitative product and process of policy can be realised. According to Van Schendelen (1998) interactive decision-making is a pragmatic instrument, that can be used to locate potential conflicts in an early stage of the interactive process. As a result the interactive dialogue between the stakeholders will be useful during the whole process.


2.        If citizens are involved in decision-making, the government can get a better imago


3.        Co-operating in an interactive process, citizens can develop themselves to able-bodied citizens. Monnikhof and Edelenbos state that interactive decision-making has got more content than most forms of political participation.


4.        Nijhof (1999) mentions the enlargement of legitimacy of the government as well as its products. Citizens are – according to Nijhof – surprised by the open attitude of the government in interactive processes. Besides this surprise of citizens, the number of participating stakeholders (quite large) can be seen as an indicator of enlargement of legitimacy. Because of this, Van Schendelen (1998) states that interactive decision-making is a democratic method.


5.        Interactive decision-making can stimulate the creativity of participating stakeholders. Stakeholders get incentives to bring about new innovative ideas. They interact with others and by means of this interaction, a surplus value (or synergy) can be realised (win-win situations).


6.        The openness and the transparency of the government can be enlarged. This advantage is closely related to new uses of ICT on governmental level, for example in interactive decision-making.


7.        De Bruijn and Ten Heuvelhof (1998) state that the relations between the participating stakeholders will be less complex, because the importance of politics and political opinions will diminish in interactive decision-making processes. This can have serious advantages with respect to the reduction of possible conflicts.


§ 1.5.2               Disadvantages

According to Van Woerkum (1997) there are factors, which cause interactive decision-making to fail. A distinction is made between factors concerning the government and citizens. Besides these disadvantages mentioned by Van Woerkum, some other disadvantages will be discussed in this section.              Government

From the point of view of the government there are five disadvantages to be mentioned:


·         First, participation in interactive processes means loss of power for the government. On the governmental level, it is often stated that ‘knowledge is power’. In interactive processes the government must exchange information and knowledge in order to generate synergetic solutions. Because of this as well as the fact that citizens get more say or control in certain public decision, the government loses its dominant position in decision-making.


·         Second, there is the possibility of conflicts during the interactive dialogue. So, interactive decision-making does not guarantee the realization of a qualitative, widely supported solution to a certain problem (in other words there is a risk that the interactive process will not yield any result). This possibility of conflicts is mainly caused by a conversion of latent interests and goals into manifest interests and goals. Aiming at consensus as a goal of interactive decision-making leads to the necessity of compromises in the interactive process and the possibility of additional obstacles (and therefore a risk). In literature, little attention is paid to this possibility of conflicts in interactive decision-making. This is also true for the possible solutions to possible conflicts (conflict-management).


·         Third, interactive processes cost (too) much time. Politicians and civil servants should commit to the process. This means that they must participate in the interaction and that they must organise the process as a whole. It is obvious that these activities cost (too much) time.


·         Fourth, Van Woerkum states that interaction, as a means of decision-making, is not democratic. This is so because the participating stakeholders do not represent the whole group of stakeholders. According to Van Woerkum, the level of participation in interactive processes is low, because of the problem of selective participation in interactive processes. It should be noted here that a conflict between Van Woerkum and Van Schendelen rises. According to Van Schendelen interaction is a democratic means by which legitimacy can be realised.


·         Finally, interactive decision-making is dominated by self-interests, which cause irrational decisions to be made by citizens or other societal stakeholders. Most participating stakeholders are involved emotionally in the process. Consequently, they will let the self-interests prevail over the general interest. Van Schendelen agrees with Van Woerkum on this point, by stating that ‘synoptic rationalism is a myth’ (with respect to interactive decision-making).


§ Citizens

Van Woerkum distinguishes between three factors that can cause interactive decision-making to fail from the point of view of citizens:


·         First, citizens can perceive interactive decision-making as a process that will cost too much time. If so, citizens will not participate because they are not motivated to do so.


·         Second, the yields of interactive processes are unclear for citizens. It might be possible that citizens do not exercise any influence, because of a malfunctioning process-management or because of an inadequate facilitation of the process. As a result, citizen-stakeholders get de-motivated because they wished for more influence, but they did not get it.


·         Finally, interactive decision-making can be difficult for certain citizens. This factor concerns the bureaucratic incompetence of certain citizens. They do not know how to get involved in an interactive dialogue and they do not know how to act in such situations. This problem is also a cause for the selective participation of stakeholders in an interactive process.


§ Other disadvantages

According to De Bruijn and Ten Heuvelhof interactive processes cannot result in quick decision-making, because of the presence of much stakeholders in such processes. Therefore the stakeholders must discuss, deliberate and negotiate in order to come about with a compromise. It should though be concluded that there is a tension between the impossibility of quick decision-making and the goal of reduction of the time needed for a project.

A last disadvantage concerns the limited extent to which efficiency and effectiveness can be realised by means of interactive decision-making. This disadvantage can mainly be contributed to the high costs (in terms of time as well as money) of organising interactive processes compared to its benefits. In this respect Thomas states that “[…] co-production can bring new costs, since government often must provide financial incentives to spur an expanded citizen role“ (Thomas, 1995; p. 160). Besides this, these benefits are often unclear. Van Schendelen mentions in this case that interactive decision-making is only aimed at getting support for a certain policy-intention.

At first sight, it seems like there is a constrained relation between this disadvantage and the implicated goal of improved efficiency and effectiveness. In addition to the four central goals (§ 1.1), it is often said that interactive decision-making can contribute to the enlargement of efficiency (Klijn and Koppenjan, 1999; p.48) and effectiveness (Driessen c.s., 1997; p. 375) of policy. It should though be mentioned that this goal primarily focuses on the reduction of time needed for a certain project, because conflicts are being placed in the beginning of the process (therefore, it is an implicated goal). On the contrary, efficiency and effectiveness as disadvantages focus on the cost-benefit analysis of interactive decision-making. Consequently, there is no tension between the disadvantage and the goal with respect to efficiency and effectiveness.


§ 1.6      Interactive decision-making in the USA

One way of designing public policy is by means of negotiations between the government and other stakeholders (Geul, 1998). The United States have much more experience with public participation than The Netherlands. Dutch literature often reflects a positive attitude towards public participation in general and interactive decision-making in particular. In the United States, on the contrary, literature is much more neutral and critical towards public participation. Americans pay attention to other problems. First, they pay much more attention to the question whether or not an interactive approach should be implemented. Second, the balance between possibilities and ambitions is examined in more detail. Finally, Americans pay attention to the idea that public involvement covers a wide range of concrete forms and different levels of participation (p. 107-108).

As previously mentioned education and the role of ICT play an important part in American history concerning public participation. Thomas (1995) states that the government should adapt to the increased level of education, the greater knowledge, abilities and responsibilities and finally to the new possibilities of ICT. Because of all these changes, citizens must be incorporated in the decision-making process.

According to Thomas, it is imperative not to hold a positive or a negative opinion towards public participation. This is imperative, because there are no reasons to think that public participation is good or bad from itself or under certain circumstances. So, whether or not to implement an interactive approach depends on the balance between “[…] the possible gains from group development against risks before inviting involvement to encourage that development (1990; p. 442)” (Geul, 1998, p. 108). So, Thomas stresses the use of a cost-benefit analysis with regard to the question whether or not an interactive approach should be implemented.

Thomas also gives some ‘advises’ with respect to the process-design and process-management. Managers should first share their powers with other stakeholders in case of public participation. According to Thomas this means: “Managers who ignore this need, particularly by seeking involvement greater than the influence they are willing to share, risk a failed public involvement process” (1995; p. 40). Citizens might consequently get frustrated and this has negative influences on the legitimacy of the government and its policies. A second advice concerns the selection of relevant stakeholders. Only those who can provide useful or important information and those who can assist in implementation should be involved (1995; p. 71). In these cases it would prove useful, to adopt public participation by means of negotiation. There are two reasons why this approach should not be adopted. Geul summarises these arguments: first, when there is no professional guidance during the designing and the managing of the process and second, in so-called NIMBY-situations (Not In My BackYard).

Besides these factors, an initiator should pay attention to the character of the policy-problem at stake, but also to his own preferences.

It is obvious that certain developments stimulate the introduction of interactive decision-making. These developments cause a certain governmental as well as a societal structure to be built. Consequently, interactive decision-making must fit into the characteristics of a certain country. So, if a country has not faced the societal, governmental and ICT developments, it is impossible to use interactive decision-making as a public instrument. Interactive decision-making, therefore, must be embedded as well cultural, as societal, as governmental.


§ 1.7      Experiences with interactive decision-making



Box 1: The Dutch Infralab method

InfraLab is an interactive approach developed by the Dutch Ministry of Transport. This approach is an overall name for policy-experiments in which citizens play an important role. InfraLab is meant to be a room, in which new methods and ideas can be discussed and developed, eventually independent from existing policies.


In InfraLab, three main parties play an important role: citizens and other societal stakeholders, experts and governors. These actors are brought together in a certain room at a certain time to discuss infrastructural problems and solutions to these problems. The process is made up of three phases:


·         In the first phase (called the Voice) non-governmental stakeholders formulate and define the central problems. These stakeholders encompass users of roads (car drivers as well as truck drivers), neighbouring citizens (with respect to the road) and other citizens with interests. This phase yields a number of problems (for example irritations or bottlenecks). The problem though is not defined by civil servants, but by citizen-stakeholders. Yet, at the end of the phase the responsible authorities decide which problem will be used as the point of departure for the next phases. A deflection from the problems, postulated by the stakeholders, has to be motivated in a proper way.

The fact that citizens and other societal stakeholders are involved a decision-making process, has two advantages. First, a proposal will not be criticised, because no designs will be used in this early stage. Second, stakeholders get an overview of the existing conflicting goals and interests.


·         The second phase is called the Agora. In this phase, stakeholders brainstorm on likely solutions to the problem determined in the first phase. Creativity plays an important part in this phase. Experts of different disciplines and regional governors assist stakeholders. They advise citizens on the technical or financial feasibility of certain solutions. The result is the formulation and definition of proper and likely solutions. The phase closes when the responsible authorities decide what solution will be used in respect to the problem at stake. It is crucial to balance the different solutions and to receive feedback from citizen-stakeholders. In practice, this phase ends by banishing controversial solutions and choosing solutions supported by many stakeholders and opposed by a few.

The results of the first two phases are tested outside the InfraLab-arena to a greater group of stakeholders.


·         The final phase (called the Action) consists, first, of the conversion of the approved solution into an action-list, which is confirmed formally by the authorities (for example in a convenant). The responsibilities, the roles of the different actors and the tasks will be recorded in this action-list or plan. Second, participating stakeholders ‘sell’ the results of the interactive dialogue to their backing. This final phase emphasises the fact that citizens are still involved in the implementation of a certain project.




Box 2: TNLI

Another example of interactive decision-making or open planning (at the national level) is the TNLI-discussion[8]. In the sixties The Netherlands were coping with a huge growth in international aviation. As a consequence Schiphol, the Dutch national airport, expanded and improved. In the eighties though, spatial and procedural problems arose, because of the ongoing process of urbanization. Besides this, there were a lot of social organizations and actors, wanting a say with respect to the problem of air traffic. These actors or stakeholders resisted and reacted to policy-proposals of the government, resulting in an increase of the time needed for legal procedures.

Because of these problems, the Dutch government thought it would be better to find a structural solution. The government wanted to implement a principal discussion about the future of aviation in The Netherlands. The goal of this discussion is/was to create a widely supported view, concerning new aviation infrastructure (during the next decades). To organise this discussion a supporting project-direction, TNLI, is made operative.

TNLI has organised three sessions in which regional stakeholders could give their opinions and their views on certain location-studies, executed on behalf of TNLI. The sessions were held in those regions, which were pointed out as potential locations for an airport.


Box 3: Emscher IBA Project

Interactive approaches have also been used in the ‘Ruhrgebiet’ in Germany. Seventeen cities, a province (‘Land’) and various private parties will transform a former mining area in the ‘Ruhrgebiet’ regionally, during 10 years. The Emscher IBA project, as it is named, aims to be open and receptive in problem solving, planning and implementation. It focuses on rebuilding the landscape, ecological improvement, stimulating employment and a new supply of social, cultural and sporting activities. A project company (the Emscher Park Planning Company Ltd) supports this whole process. This organization is responsible for the promotion, co-ordination, brainstorming, planning and presentation of the exposition.

Panels of experts, symposia and seminars have been used as effective means of gaining an overview of the national and international state of the art in urban design and regeneration. Also, the participation of local and community groups has been encouraged, as an interactive means of allowing people who live in the region (stakeholders) to express their own ideas. These groups have enabled the existing population to keep abreast of the process. Finally, at the beginning of the project, artists have been invited to participate and summer schools have been used as a way of exchanging international experiences.


Box 4: Thames Estuary Management Plan

An interactive approach has also been used in the Thames Estuary Management Plan. Goal of this project was to realise consensus on a building process, to encourage understanding between user groups and to promote a sense of ownership among the stakeholders. The interactive process consisted of 4 phases: scoping (in order to get an Issue Report), planning (in order to get a Business Plan), management structures (in order to obtain time, room for minority views and to ensure effective lines of communication) and information gathering. Information from stakeholders was gathered – according to Kay and Alder (1999; p. 69) – via the production of a series of 10 topics papers. Practitioners, from organizations with relevant expertise, drafted these papers under the guidance of a topic group. These topic papers were integrated, finally, into a multi-use estuary management plan for the Thames. This integration-process was quite difficult, because the non-governmental stakeholders thought that the negotiating ability and financial weight of some of the other stakeholders were more important. Therefore, they felt that their views and opinions would not be heard.


Box 5: Multi-criteria analysis

Many problems are intrinsically complex and require an interdisciplinary approach to their solution. Consequently, individuals often interact on developing solutions to these problems, working as members of a committee or task force. This interaction between stakeholders should be supported in order to reduce the possibility of conflicts. Beinat and Van Drunen (1998) distinguish between two sorts of possible conflicts: intra-personal and interpersonal. First, intra-personal conflicts “[…] refer to the need, in most cases, to accept poorer results for some criteria in order to achieve better results for other” (p. 141). Interpersonal conflicts, on the other hand, occur when two or more stakeholders disagree on a course of action.

In order to reduce the possibility of conflicts, it is obvious to use a multi-criteria analysis. Multi-criteria analysis (MCA) is already an important feature in interactive decision-making. This is so because interactive decision-making aims at achieving consensual decisions and multi-criteria analysis can be used to realise this goal. There are several ways to use MCA. Some of these methods will be discussed now.


Collaborative Spatial Decisions Support (CSDS)

Beinat and Van Drunen (1998) observe a specialisation in complex decision-making towards multi land-use management and spatial decisions. They present a methodological framework for spatial conflict analysis. Three main approaches are distinguished: spatial analysis and planning (spatial component), decision-analysis (exploration of value systems of stakeholders) and organization theory (relationships and interactions between stakeholders). The common ground of these approaches can be referred to as Collaborative Spatial Decisions Support (CSDS).

This support is needed, because the existing technological facilitation of interactive decision-making is weak. CSDS, therefore, aims at supporting decision-makers to generate tractable solutions to ill-defined spatial problems. A crucial aspect of the CSDS is the use of new information and communication technology (ICT). ICT might increase the scope and effectiveness of the interactions between the relevant stakeholders[9] in order to reduce the possibility of conflicts.

An interactive process must also be supported by means of an information-system[10]. This means that information and knowledge must be known and accessible to stakeholders. In addition, it is possible to use these information-systems for multi-objective and multi-criteria decision-making. Crucial though is that the positions, goals, priorities and concerns of stakeholders should be known. CSDS focuses on these components. Moreover, CSDS examines several stages of the decision-making process. In these stages, relevant stakeholders are characterised by the different roles (influence, status, power) they play, by the value systems that drive the actions and behaviour of stakeholders (objectives, priorities, concerns) and by the facts (information, knowledge) which allow stakeholders to take a position in the process.


The MCA-based evaluation phase: a negotiation forum

Nardini (1998) describes the use of MCA by means of a negotiation forum. This MCA consists of four elementary steps. First, stakeholder-parties participate through a formal representative. These representatives make some value judgements. Second, these values will be used in order to rank the alternatives for each group (according to the values and preferences of these groups). Third, identifying compensating measures (and therefore new improved alternatives) reduces the possibility of conflicts. Crucial in this respect is the realization of win-win situations. The result of this step should be the definition of socially acceptable alternatives. Finally, the decision-maker can process the information about relative preferences for the stakeholder-parties according to different criteria. As a result, a final ranking can be made. Additionally, the economically most efficient alternative could be selected.


The use of decision-panels

Wenstøp and Carlsen (1998) promote the use of decision-panels in order to implement comprehensive weighting through a constructive process. The goal is to construct a preference model for the stakeholders which allows for their ‘willingness to pay’ to be inferred. According to Wenstøp and Carlsen this willingness is closely connected to the price stakeholders want to pay for non-market environmental goods. Another goal of decision-panels is that the actual decision-making process might be facilitated. This can be done because the different values of the stakeholders represent different criteria weights. Consequently, stakeholders will adopt a holistic approach towards a problem at stake.



§ 1.8      Effects of interactive decision-making


§ 1.8.1                General effects of Interactive decision making methods


From a survey of Dutch interactive methods, it appears that the support for policy or decisions is enlarged, that the contents of a policy or decision are enriched and that the policy-process is improved. However, this is merely true for a majority of cases. In two cases, there is an alleged effect on the time needed for an interactive process. Because of this, Klijn and Koppenjan (1999; p. 51) derive a conclusion from Keijzer (1997): The strongest part of interactive decision-making appears not to be the realization of fast / quick decisions or a greater support, but the improvement in the quality of decision-making processes and its products. This conclusion is quite strange, because quality implies the existence of widely supported decisions. So, in general it must be stated that the support for decisions and policy is enlarged. This has mainly to do with the improved quality or synergy.


In the next sections we will discuss the effects of the Dutch Infralab method in detail and we will add evaluations of ICZM.




§ 1.8.2               Effects of the Dutch Infralab method


The Dutch InfraLab has been used several times now and it has been evaluated. The effects of InfraLab have been quite positive. Still, InfraLab has its disadvantages. In this paragraph, the results of the InfraLab-method and its effects will be discussed.


Most authors judge InfraLab as quite positive. The method caused a cultural change within the Ministry of Transport. After the success of InfraLab-experiments, the interactive approach has been widely introduced in the Ministry of Transport[11]. Problem, though, is the limited extent to which the InfraLab method has been used. Until now, only small infrastructural projects at operational or tactical level have been interactively approached. Yet, it might be possible to expand the area in which InfraLab can be used to non-infrastructural problems.


Yet, the potential extension of interactive methods to other areas does not mean that interactive decision-making can be extended to all areas. Moreover, Dijkstra questions the representativity of InfraLab.


Results of InfraLab

The InfraLab-method has been initially used in four projects. Three main sessions were organised in order to deal with these projects. The interactive sessions intended to define and prioritise the problems and solutions. This stresses the need for an adequate dialogue between citizens and the government, in which arguments and considerations can be postulated. In this respect, Enthoven and De Rooij (1996) conclude that stakeholders in these interactive sessions have had enough opportunity for communication (as well bilateral as multilateral). In addition, sessions were characterised by their constructive sphere. It appears that all stakeholders are willing to seek for the best solution (p. 394).

However, the interactive session with respect to the first phase of InfraLab resulted in unexpected problem-definitions. The second phase of InfraLab, in which likely solutions had to be determined, also yielded some creative and innovative solutions. Authors all-in-all, hold a different opinion concerning the value of these solutions. Some authors stress the creativity and innovation on behalf of citizens. Others, though, focus on the usefulness of these ‘civil’ solutions. Most solutions are indeed very creative, but cannot be implemented, because the technical and / or financial feasibility of these solutions is very low. These authors are more reality-minded. It can therefore be stated that citizens - in comparison to governors and experts - will not propose feasible new, creative or innovative solutions. Nevertheless, this does not mean that ‘useless’ solutions have to be ignored.


De Rooij (1996) examines the effects of InfraLab with respect to the goals of Infralab. The first goal (realising support) can be achieved in the case of a ‘vivid’ problem. It appears to be the fact that citizens and governors bring real claims. Consequently, new solutions can[12] be implemented. In addition, the creative dialogue between governors, experts and citizens leads to a mutual notion of and respect for all interests. So, it seems that InfraLab can realise widely supported solutions.

The second goal (reducing procedure-time) can only be realised if all conditions (financial and technical feasibility, time etc.) are clear. Because the legal procedures of the projects have not been ended yet, no general remarks can be made with respect to the shortening of the total procedure-time. Still, if this clearness can be stimulated, a formal decision can be made within one year. Critical note, though, is that legal procedures must be followed anyway. Therefore, citizens who oppose a certain decision can still rise against this decision. Because of this, the implementation of a widely supported decision can be postponed. InfraLab therefore cannot assure the realization of consensus; conflicts still might appear.

The final goal (new creative and innovative solutions) is indeed achieved, according to De Rooij (1996; p.129). New solutions have been found as well on the short-term as on the long-term. Also new solutions have been proposed with respect to the problem of congestion. But this conclusion is also too optimistic. Problem, first, is that most solutions will not be feasible (financially or technically). Second, new creative and innovative solutions might be developed, but their implementation might cause conflicts to rise.


Other effects

The InfraLab is intended to be used as a method of involving citizens and other societal stakeholders in the decision-making process. Vroom and Van Erkel (1995; p. 14) have determined some advantages and disadvantages of InfraLab. First, the advantages will be discussed:


·         InfraLab has properly activated and motivated citizens and other societal stakeholders. This advantage concerns the use of an adequate process-management. Activating and motivating stakeholders should for example be done by means of introducing stakeholders properly in the process (so: facilitating the concrete interactive processes). The interactive process should also be brought into publicity (regional or local papers, television etc.). At the end of the process, participating stakeholders should receive a small gift, because they voluntary invest time in the interactive process. This investment has both advantages for the citizens themselves (influence) and for the governors (support for decisions). The success of process-management determines the success of other interactive approaches. If citizens are de-motivated or disillusioned, they will stay away another time. So, it is obvious that process-management has an important role with respect to InfraLab.

Process-management should also focus on the quality of the interactions. Citizens must feel themselves being taken seriously. According to Enthoven and De Rooij (1996) citizens experienced that facilitators from the Ministry were more involved than external facilitators did (p. 394).


·         Creativity is stimulated in society. The Ministry of Transport has recognised the presence of creativity and knowledge on behalf of the citizens (and other societal stakeholders). Hommels (1997) describes in this respect the use of a SCOT-model (Social Construction of Technology). Technology is influenced by society. This means that different social actors are involved in the development of a certain technique (for example a road). All these groups formulate a different meaning with respect to this technique. At a certain point, one particular meaning of the technique becomes dominant. Because of this, it is obvious that the development of a technique requires different sorts of expertise. So, citizens formerly known as laymen, now become experts. InfraLab, in this respect, is used as a method to influence the development of a certain technique. Still, a critical note can be made, because projects making use of the InfraLab-method often face constraints (in terms of technical and financial feasibility and in terms of time). Therefore, creative and new solutions from citizens will often not be realised in real life. This advantage should therefore not be exaggerated.


·         A third advantage of InfraLab is the realization of synergetic solutions. This synergy especially results from the interaction between citizens (and other societal stakeholders) and governors. Consequently, widely supported decisions occur. Still, realising synergetic solutions does not immediately mean realising more qualitative solutions. Synergy therefore primarily relates to the realisation of widely supported solutions.


Vroom and Van Erkel (1995) mention also three disadvantages:


·         First, InfraLab as an interactive approach does not fit into the existing governmental processes. This has got all to do with the discussion between a direct and an indirect democracy in general and the position of interactive decision-making in our representative democracy in particular.


·         Second, InfraLab does not explicate the role of politicians. As a consequence, there is a lot of obscurity with respect to the political primate. Yet, it is made clear, that the responsible authorities make the final decisions (what problem and what solution). So, no political commitment will be given in an InfraLab-project. This does not mean that politicians can do anything they like or want. They must have respect for the interactive process and its results. A deflection from these results stresses the need for a proper motivation.


·         Finally, InfraLab mainly focuses on short-term solutions. This might cause the long-term structural solutions to be neglected, although Van Rooij states that long-term solutions have been postulated.


Finally, Van der Laan mentions that governors have not fully adopted their new roles. As a consequence, governors are not really involved in the whole process. In order to increase the involvement of governors (also in an early stage) it is recommended to have a phase of creative chaos, in which new solutions can be postulated, without being condemned. Such a phase enables a clear control on the performances of governors and civil servants at the top of an organization. This stimulation of clearness is crucial for the success of an interactive dialogue (as was discussed in § 1.3).


2          Dilemmas of interactive decision-making


In this chapter, attention will be paid to crucial questions concerning the design and the management of the whole interactive process. These question or choices can be seen as dilemmas for the designer and the manager of the process, because there is no prescribed ‘road’ to follow. Therefore the choices concerning a concrete interactive approach or process must fit the concrete situations under which this approach or process will be implemented.

Crucial questions or choices that will be discussed in this chapter are[13]:


·       Should interactive decision-making be implemented or not ? (§ 2.1)

·       Should there be political involvement at the beginning of a process ? (§ 2.2)

·       Should there be few or many stakeholders ? (§ 2.3)

·       Should the process be focused on inputs or representativity ? (§ 2.4)

·       Should the process be a part of the policy process or should it be independent ? (§ 2.5)

·       Should there be an intensive interactive process ? (§ 2.6)

·       Should there be focus on the content or the process ? (§ 2.7)

·       Should interactive decision-making be an experimental approach or should it be implemented as real policy ? (§ 2.8)

·       What about direct or indirect democracy ? (§ 2.9)


§ 2.1      Implementation of interactive processes?

This dilemma concerns the question whether an open or a closed approach should be chosen. In the case of a closed approach, participating stakeholders are not able-bodied partners in respect to the government. This can result in a faulty definition and formulation of the problem at stake, as well as faulty policy or effects. All these problems can lead to greater resistance to the policy-proposal, as formulated by the government. So, looking at these problems comprehensively, it can be concluded, that a closed approach to certain problems could result in diminishing support for policy or a proposal. In addition, it could also lead to a delay in the process (in terms of time).

Another possibility is to choose for an open process, in which stakeholders participate on an equal base compared to the government. This approach, though, also has problems or disadvantages. Pröpper and Steenbeek (1998) ascertain that the communication between the participants might lead to nothing; that discretion might be limited; that the problems at stake or too complex or / and that the management or the organization of the process (concerning public policy) might fail. Yet, interactive decision-making has its advantages. According to Klijn and Koppenjan (1998) for example, interactive decision-making - with its (greater) focus on learning-processes and the variety of problem-definitions and solutions – can achieve more support and more innovative solutions.

The initiators of a certain project or process must cope with this dilemma. The final choice of the initiator whether or not to implement an interactive approach, depends mostly on the degree to which the initiator wants to create openness. If he wants an open approach, it is demanded that he must let go his already formed ideas on the definition and formulation of, and solution to a particular problem. According to Thomas (1995), it is relevant to use a cost-benefit analysis to answer the question whether or not an interactive approach should be chosen. In this respect, attention should paid to the fact that the majority of the citizens is not really interested in politics, because of a lack of time or trust in the government. Efforts towards more interaction might then be valueless.

Finally, it must be stated that both approaches bring about certain risks towards the loss of quality. Unfortunately, there is (still) no escape from this dilemma, because no clear ready-made answer exists, in which the quality of a certain policy and its effects can be predicted.


§ 2.2     Political involvement at the beginning of a process?

Political commitment at the beginning of a process is crucial for an open, interactive process. Participating stakeholders can compare their views with the views of the responsible government. Besides this, stakeholders can learn the views of the politicians and the governors, for their information. Therefore, stakeholders are prepared to certain decisions to be made by politicians and governors. These decisions will be less unexpected and will probably be understood more by the participating stakeholders.

On the other side, though, stakeholders participate on an equal base and because of this, they must have the opportunity of holding an independent view on the problems and its probable solutions. By means of early political involvement, these independent views might be marginalised, for politicians and governors might steer towards a political desired solution. In addition, politicians and governors might try to get support for their own views. In that case, some goals of interactive decision-making will not be reached (such as: enrichment with respect to the content and improved quality of the process and the results of policy).

According to Klijn and Koppenjan (1998), politicians and governors are willing to involve citizens and other stakeholders in the process of decision-making. They want so in order to close the gap between the government and its citizens, to create social support for public policy and decisions and to avoid the responsibility for unpopular decisions. On the other side, though, politicians are reserved in respect to interactive decision-making, because they fear the loss of the political primate. Consequently, politicians (and governors) do not participate in an interactive dialogue, which causes distrust on behalf of the other stakeholders.

Therefore, the two possibilities discussed in this paragraph (political involvement at the beginning or the end of the process) have their own advantages and disadvantages. The final choice to be made depends as well on the view of the initiator of the process, as on the opinion of politicians and governors concerning interactive decision-making. If politicians and governors have a positive attitude towards interactive decision-making, it is (almost) certain that they will accept their new roles (and therefore participate in the process).

Edelenbos (1998) expands this dilemma to other stakeholders as well. Often it is difficult to involve stakeholders in an interactive dialogue, resulting in a low participation rate in the beginning of a process, while later this participation rate might rise. According to Edelenbos there are certain reasons not to participate in a process. First, the subject to be discussed might be extremely vague. Also, the final result of a process might be obscure. Because of this, the final product must be described in general terms. Third, participants might only be interested in a process, when results can be achieved. This is often so, in the final stage of an interactive process, because the subject discussed will then be much more concrete and imaginable.

This tendency towards participation in the last stages of an interactive process causes some innovative and creative solutions to certain problems to be excluded from the process, because these solutions cannot be worked out anymore.


§ 2.3     Few or many stakeholders ?

It would prove very helpful to the achievement of the goal of enrichment with respect to the content (of the process or the policy) to have a discussion or dialogue between many stakeholders, because a lot of (new) ideas can be postulated. Problem though is the limited degree of profundity in the discussions and the process of creating an opinion. In that case, it would be better to involve a few stakeholders. This statement is intensified by means of another argument in favour of the involvement of few stakeholders. If the number of stakeholders increases, the process itself becomes more open, but also more complex. Consequently, the possibility of conflicts increases. Therefore, an approach based on decisiveness implicates a choice for few stakeholders, because consensus can be reached more easily. On behalf of politicians and governors, there is a tendency to involve few stakeholders in order to get control on the process and to reduce the possibility of conflicts (Edelenbos, 1998; p. 311).


§ 2.4     Focus on certain inputs or representativity?

The process-designer and manager have to deal with the question on what inputs participants should be selected. It is imperative in interactive decision-making to select the important stakeholders. This selection-process is needed, because most problems are complex and have many stakeholders. However, not all these stakeholders can be included in the interactive approach.

According to Berveling (1998) there are two selection-criteria concerning the involvement of stakeholders: selection based on representativity and selection based on creativity or innovation. Selection on representativity is needed in order to achieve the goal of creating support for decisions and public policy. If the participants form a representative group, all relevant stakeholders will have been selected. Berveling mentions that selection not only means defining the relevant stakeholders, but also attaining and involving these relevant stakeholders. If this is done, there is a great chance that the results of the interactive process will be accepted and supported by the backing of the ‘representatives’ of participating groups. In reality, though, there is the problem of selective participation: participators do not often reflect the whole group of stakeholders or the opinions of this group. Based on this, Berveling thinks that in order to obtain representativity, the participating stakeholders must reflect the whole group of stakeholders. Also, the group of participating stakeholders must be of sufficient magnitude. Again we face the dilemma discussed in § 2.3 (few or many stakeholders ?).

A second criterion is to select stakeholders on the base of creativity. Often this results from the explicit goal of stimulating creativity in an interactive approach (as is the case with InfraLab). Berveling states that the results of stimulating creativity are not sensational (p. 321). Besides this, the achievement of this goal is not evaluated very often. So temporarily, few can be said on selection based on creativity.

This conclusion about creativity and selection based on it indicates the impossibility of unifying the two selection-criteria, discussed above. According to Klijn and Koppenjan (1998; p. 305) it is crucial to find an optimal mix between creativity and representativity because both are goals of interactive decision-making. It should though be avoided that interactive decision-making will be conceived as interactive planning. Interactive planning focuses on quality and representativity is not an (important) issue at stake at that moment.

§ 2.5     Part of the policy process or independence?

This dilemma is closely connected to the second dilemma, concerning the political involvement at the beginning of the interactive process. The dilemma whether participating stakeholders should be a part of the policy process or should be independent actors, is mainly concerned with the devolution of information towards the stakeholders. First, stakeholders can be fully informed about the problem, the main conditions and the consequences of certain solutions. Stakeholders are, in other words, being settled into the interactive process. By giving information to stakeholders, politicians and governors can steer towards a particular solution to a problem. Stakeholders become a part of the process and do not have the possibility to postulate a new, refreshing opinion on the matter at stake.

Second, stakeholders might have the opportunity to postulate a new, refreshing opinion independently. This option relates to the dilemma discussed in the previous paragraph, whether the stakeholders are being selected on the base of creativity or representativity.

De Bruin c.s. (1998; p. 328) mention that citizens can formulate an own vision on a certain problem, only if they are sufficiently supported (in terms of time, information etc.). This means that citizens and other stakeholders will be a part of the process and consequently there will be the danger of politicians steering at certain results.


§ 2.6     An intensive interactive process?

This dilemma faces the problem of time needed for an interactive process. The process aiming at achieving support for a certain policy or process costs time. This loss of time can be seen as a ‘bad thing’ as well as an investment with positive long-term effects. If resources (time, money, power etc.) are used to design and manage an interactive process, this investment can lead to better public policy with more results and to widely supported decisions. So, the goals of interactive decision-making will often only be realised, if an intensive interactive approach is used. Edelenbos (1998) and De Bruijn and Ten Heuvelhof (1998) therefore focus on process-design and process-management as means to improve the interactive process. A badly designed or managed process will negatively influence the specified results. This is so, because there is no intensity in the process.


§ 2.7     Content or process?

This dilemma concerns the question whether the interactive process should be the central focus of attention or a facilitating factor with respect to the content of the process. The first option (the process as the central focus of attention) emphasises the role of process-management. The process should point at creating openness, mutual trust and involvement, flexibility, agreement and a good ambience. The content is derived from this process. Klijn and Koppenjan (1998) state that the process of seeking consensus has to be supported in order to determine the success of interactive approaches.

The second option (the process as a facilitating factor) concentrates on the content. According to Pröpper and Steenbeek (1998) the process should contribute to this content by facilitating the tackling of the problem. According to Klijn and Koppenjan an approach with respect to the content has to be followed, when an appeal is made to the political primate and the promotion of the general interest.

The choice between content and process does not mean that one aspect will be fully neglected. This is impossible, because a process cannot be managed or designed without the existence of a certain content. In addition, attention cannot be fully paid to the content, without looking at the process as such, and the design and the management of it. The government for example has both roles in respect to the process as to the content.

§ 2.8     Experiment or real policy?

Interactive decision-making can be used as a supplementary means of the ‘normal’ policy-process. The government can invite stakeholders to involve in a game about a realistic subject of policy or scenario. This interactive ‘play’ is called a policy-exercise. The government adopting certain policies can use the results from such an exercise. For this, it is crucial for the government to be a learning organization, that not only learns from the results of the exercise, but that also learns to learn. Joldersma (1998) mentions a dilemma in relation to interactive decision-making as policy-exercise. First, a crucial element is the degree to which the experiment / exercises corresponds to the real world. Second, the government must have the opportunity to intervene in the experimental setting in order to inform the participants and to organise their interaction. The wish for realism can collide with the means to intervene in the experimental setting. So, a balance must be sought between imitation of the real world and intervention (p. 330). These aspects should be dealt with, when designing and managing the exercise. For a realistic imitation of a certain policy, it is necessary to pay attention to the rules of the game, the initial conditions, the participants, the roles and the play-rounds. These aspects can also be used as a means of manipulating the real world. With regard to the possibility of an intervention in a policy-exercise, attention should also be paid to offering a safe environment, a multilogue and the implementation of a common shared language.

There is a danger to the use of policy-exercises, because they can become training-sessions (Joldersma). If the difference between the knowledge of the facilitator and the participating actors is large, there is a big chance that no synergy might be realised.

A second possibility in this dilemma is the implementation of interactive decision-making as a real policy that replaces the current policy-processes.


§ 2.9     Direct or representative democracy?

All existing democracies contain as well aspects from a direct democracy as aspects from an indirect democracy. Advocates of a direct democracy want citizens to be involved directly in the public decision-making process. Citizens vote themselves for a certain policy-proposal. Consequently, proposals directly reflect the wishes of citizens. This direct democracy has its disadvantages though. It is impossible to involve all citizens in the decision-making process. This would lead to immense delays and conflicts. That is why, the concept of the indirect or representative democracy enters the picture. In this democracy citizens vote for their representatives, who get a mandate to stand and speak on behalf of the citizens, they represent. Political parties therefore dominate this democracy. The reduction of the number of stakeholders makes it possible to compromise and to avoid conflicts.

Interactive decision-making can be seen as an instrument to strengthen the ‘direct’ aspects of a democracy, because citizens are directly involved in the decision-making process. Interactive decision-making can also be seen as an additional instrument with regard to the representative democracy.

Klijn and Koppenjan (1998) state that the two concepts (direct and representative democracy) should be linked. First, this means that politicians should facilitate and steer the interactive processes. Instead of being a spoilsport, politicians should be the key-players. By doing this, politicians should be aware of their dependence upon the other stakeholders. Second, it is also important, for politicians, to have an own role. They could for example make the final decisions. However, it is crucial that politicians are involved actively in the process. If these conditions are met, then the gusto in and relevance of interactive processes increases (on behalf of the non-governmental stakeholders). For politicians an active participation means a stronger position compared to the civil servants (the information-asymmetry is reduced). The results of this link are clear: a win-win situation is realised for all parties.


There is a link between the previously described dilemma (experiment or real policy) and this dilemma. In the case of interactive decision-making as real policy, it can be stated that interactive decision-making will be used as a means to stimulate direct democracy. If interactive processes are used as supplements, they can be used as a support for the representative democracy. This all depends on the question whether the success-factors will be met and whether the government wants to do something with interactive decision-making and its results.


3           Conclusion

Interactive decision-making is a phenomenon that evolves from governmental and societal structure in a country. The goals of interactive decision-making are quite obvious: enlarging the support for policy and decisions, enriching the content of processes, reducing the time needed for a project and improving the quality of the process and the results of policy. These goals can be reduced to the first goal: supporting certain policy and certain decisions. Interactive decision-making has been introduced, primarily, to close the gap between citizens and the government. One way to do this, is involving citizens in the decision-making process in order to realise support. The other goals can be seen as derivatives. If widely supported decisions are made, it is likely that the time needed for a certain project will be reduced (reduction of the phase of legal participation). Moreover, it can be said that widely supported decisions are enriched with respect to the content and are improved with respect to the quality, because of the fact that these decisions are widely supported.


In addition to these four central goals interactive decision-making strives after consensual decisions. This goal, though, will not be fully realised. There is no absolute guarantee that interactive decision-making will yield results. Conflicts still might rise. Process-management in general and conflict-management in particular should deal with this possibility of conflicts. Problem is that little attention has been paid to the use of conflict-management.



The success of interactive decision-making depends on certain factors. These factors (a new political primate, the adoption of new roles, clearness, process-management and an open attitude and a common responsibility) are mutually dependent. The main factor, though, is process-management. This means that certain crucial decisions have to be made for example how to cope with conflicts.


It must be stated that interactive decision-making is a custom-made good. This causes the effects of interactive decision-making not to be known in general terms. Whether or not certain goals will be reached or (dis)advantages will be achieved, depends on the concrete situation and conditions under which a process is designed and managed. Besides this, the choices made in respect to the dilemmas play an important role. The fact that interactive decision-making can be seen as a custom-made good reflects the necessity that the implementation of an interactive solution must be made more adaptive. Therefore, citizens must be involved in the implementation-phase. Their visions and preferences should become the centre of attention.


Critical note, though, is that the choices made with respect to the dilemmas mutually relate to the choices made in the process-design and management.


According to what has been described above, one should be somewhat reserved with respect to the use of Interactive Decision-making in larger, more complex projects. It should be made clear, what aspects of the projects will be studied interactively. This notion stresses the role of process-management. As previously mentioned, process-management should activate and motivate citizens and other societal stakeholders. This is important in order not to damage the goodwill on behalf of citizens (for example by neglecting the communication with citizens after the interactive process has been ended).


It is obvious that interactive decision-making in general requires new attitudes, new working-methods and a new common understanding of problems and solutions. This emphasises the need of a shared responsibility of citizens, societal stakeholders, experts and the government, but also the importance of new roles and the need for clarity. This all implicates that the experiences, knowledge and inputs of citizens and other non-governmental stakeholders in a planning or decision-making process influence the quality, the time, the money and the effects of the organizations involved. Because of this, these organizations have to adopt a new role and a more open attitude. For the government, for example, this means that they must focus on the final users of their products and policies (the citizens and other societal stakeholders).


All this stresses the need to realise a learning effect on behalf of all stakeholders. They have to learn how to use interactive decision-making, but also have to learn to learn (learning organisations). This means a process of mental change in which also new roles, attitudes and working-methods must be developed.


Finally, stakeholders should be aware of the fact that interactive decision-making is a fairly new phenomenon. This means that they do not have much experience adopting such an interactive approach. The quality of interactive decision-making should therefore grow on the base of ‘learning by doing’, just like the Egyptians learned to built a full pyramid during a very long period. For the government, this learning-process fits into the wider process towards a more open, adaptive, co-operative government that evolves towards a learning organisation.



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[1] This participation gives citizens the right to give their view on decisions of the governmental authorities during a period of six weeks.

[2] This is at least true for The Netherlands, but it is probably also true for other European countries.

[3] Thomas states that the underlying cause for new public involvement follows from the general rise of the level of education: “As people become more educated, they ask for more involvement in the decisions that will affect their lives “ (1995; p. 5).

[4] Klijn and Koppenjan (1999) state that problem-situations are ambiguous and dynamic (p.51).

[5] In literature, it is not made clear what ‘sufficient’ trust means.

[6] Yet, politics play an important role when formal decisions have to be made.

[7] Al stresses the fact that the government cannot fulfil the mediating role, because of the possibility of role-conflicts. This obviously does not mean that individual politicians or civil servants cannot fulfil this mediating role. These actors, though, should be independent and because of this, they should be temporarily excluded from their organizations.

[8] TNLI stands for the project concerning the Future of Dutch Aviation Infrastructure.

[9] The exchange of textual, numerical and graphical information serves as an example of this.

[10] An example of such a system is the Geographic Information System (GIS).

[11] By introducing InfraLab on a wider scale, the Ministry of Transport has directed to an interactive dialogue instead of ‘rotten tomatoes’ on a participation evening (Van der Laan, 1998; p. 26).

[12] As previously mentioned, a lot of new solutions are not feasible.

[13] These dilemmas are derived from Pröpper and Steenbeek (1998).