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Building with Nature Guideline > BwN Approach > Steps and phases > Initiation Phase 

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Initiation phase


Building with Nature Design may be introduced in a project development process as early as the Initiation Phase. The Initiation Phase deals with a first definition of the problem or opportunity at hand and the scoping of potential solutions.


Building with Nature approach: wider and greener scopeTraditional approach: sectoral, narrow scope
System Approach: the BwN approach takes a wider perspective and aims for multiple objectives, i.e. strives for benefits to other functions, such as nature, recreation and other ecosystem-dependent functions. Applying BwN-principles as early as the Initiation Phase will have the largest influence on the end result.Project Approach: traditionally, the initiation phase is characterized by a sectoral approach, a limited and mono-functional problem perception and a tendency to jump to solutions. Tradition plays an important role. Already in this early stage of development a usually narrow project framework is defined. This can be due to the problem-owner's/project-initiator's objectives or limitations, or to authorities biased to certain classes of problems and solutions.



In the Initiation Phase the eco-dynamic developer has the largest freedom of choice regarding definition and realisation of project objectives. Including the BwN-perspective in this phase should guarantee scoping beyond sectoral interests and limited problem perceptions, focusing on opportunities and win-win solutions.


Broadening the scope (wider, greener, more multifunctional, better integrated, more sustainable) opens new perspectives. As far as possible under the constraints applicable, this can be achieved by:

  • identifying potential positive effects of the project, not only negative impacts and problem solving,
  • integrating nature and natural processes as means to achieve the project objectives and to enable additional functionality, and
  • embracing other functions (and associated stakeholders) as "running mates", rather than isolating them as liabilities.

Especially in the Initiation Phase the shift in thinking as described in the BwN principles is of utmost importance. BwN solutions involve a transformation from a problem to an opportunity, e.g:

  • Enriching revetments: a dike is not just an artificial structure that provides safety from flooding, but also provides habitat and shelter to flora and fauna and connects ecotopes along the dike;
  • Harbouring Opportunities: a harbour is not only infrastructure, but also an ecological hub connecting different water bodies, thus providing migration opportunities for many species.

This section provides guidance on the steps towards BwN objectives definition and project scoping. Where appropriate, useful methods and tools are suggested.

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Step 1) Understand the system

The first Building with Nature principle states that man-made projects are an inherent part of the environment, providing a unique opportunity to induce positive change. Therefore, a thorough understanding of the system in which a project is planned is crucial to maximize benefits.

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Step 2) Identify realistic Building with Nature alternatives

Once a system analysis has been made, a next question is how to reveal and utilise the potential of BwN alternatives. Below several steps are listed for generation and creative scoping of alternatives. For each step methods are described that focus especially on the use of natural resources and processes in the development of alternatives.

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Step 3) Evaluate and select alternatives

Once a system analysis has been made and a range of alternative conceptual designs is generated, a third step is to filter the alternatives and elements that have potential from those that have not: survival of the fittest.

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Step 4) Elaborate selected alternatives

In every project phase, selection reduces the range of alternatives and elaboration of the remaining alternatives further specifies the project. Obviously, this process takes place within the given set of goals, prerequisites, practical restrictions and regulations.

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Step 5) Bring results to the next phase

The final step is to set the stage for the Planning and Design phase. This may also imply the options for pilot testing and additional field work. It will result in the assessment of the full potential of the remaining BwN-alternatives. Furthermore it involves the exploration of co-financing possibilities if multiple objectives are served. Also, uncertainties will be considered.

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