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Building with Nature Guideline > BwN Approach > Steps and phases > Planning and design phase 

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Planning and design phase


Where the Initiation Phase focused on the problem definition and project scope, the more detailed Planning and Design Phase deals with developing alternative strategies within this given scope and handles the selection of the preferred alternative(s).


Building with Nature approach: focus on the systemTraditional approach: focus on the function
The BwN approach focuses on utilising natural processes and stimulating nature development as an integral part of the strategies to be developed. Key questions are what the project can do for nature, as well as what nature can do for the project. Foci of attention are the longer term, incremental development and adaptive management. Financing strategies may be an integral part, as ecosystem services may open doors to potential funding sources.The Planning and Design Phase aims to develop strategies to achieve the objectives described in the Initiation Phase. Traditionally, strategies focus on solving a narrowly defined problem within a given timeframe. Opportunities for adaptive management, incremental development and nature inclusive designs are seldom considered.



The activities undertaken in the phase of Planning and Design are in general similar to those in the Initiation phase: identification, optimisation and selection of alternatives. The phase also ends in a transition to the next phase. The major differences from the Initiation phase are in the amount of detail in design, effect assessment and alternative valuation. In brief, the most important activities in the Planning and Design phase are:

  • Communication and interaction with actors, stakeholders and experts
  • (Better) understanding the system
  • Generation of alternatives based on BwN-principles
  • (E)valuation and selection of the most promising strategy
  • Embedding of the preferred alternative
  • Creating possibilities for BwN in the next phases of the project.

The added value of BwN-strategies compared with traditional approaches is the focus on the project's potential to make use of natural processes and/or stimulate nature development. Good examples of Building with Nature design in the Planning and Design phase are:

  • Mega-nourishments versus incremental nourishments of sandy coasts: The economic benefits of scale enlargement and an increased freshwater reserve in the dune area can be combined with the ecological benefits of a less frequent ecosystem disturbance and the generation of nature and recreational areas, albeit temporary.
  • Soft versus hard dike designs: In certain cases, soft solutions may be cheaper than hard ones and have additional benefits in the realm of habitat creation and strengthening ecological relations.

Ideally the Planning and Design phase is preceded by an Initiation Phase that results in a project scope based on the BwN-principles. It is however possible that the eco-dynamic designer enters the process only in this phase. In that case, it is advisable to evaluate the problem definition and project scope from a BwN-perspective.

This chapter provides guidance on the development of BwN-strategies in the phase of Planning and Design. Wherever appropriate, useful methods and tools are suggested.

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Step 1) Understand the system

During the Planning and Design Phase the focus on system understanding shifts from general system knowledge towards more concrete impact assessment of the functioning of different alternatives. More information becomes available; assessments will become more quantitative and can also be expressed in monetary terms. Operational questions can gradually be handled as well as adjustments to accommodate stakeholders’ wishes. Furthermore potential funding of the project, including related criteria, will be dealt with.

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Step 2) Identify realistic Building with Nature alternatives

Elaborating a BwN alternative involves more than its physical design. Other dimensions and aspects need to be addressed, refined and integrated into the design. A plausible BwN design includes financial engineering, for instance, and it meets all the requirements listed above. Elaborating a BwN alternative therefore goes beyond meeting preset prerequisites, defining and testing additional prerequisites is part of the development process of BwN solution.

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Step 3) Evaluate and select alternatives

The Planning and design Phase encompasses a similar approach as the Initiation Phase. There is however a shift in focus and in detail. The Initiation Phase focuses on system choices, for example comparing hard with soft solutions. The Planning and design Phase focuses rather on different alternatives for a specific solution. Costs and risk assessment and handling are more important in this phase, as is the embedding of the physical design into a context of socio-political commitments and agreements.

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Step 4) Elaborate selected alternatives

Selecting the preferred alternative is not the last step in the design process. The decision may be based on an ‘if—then - else’ assumption that needs further consideration in the design. These assumptions may concern functions and prerequisites, the allocation of benefits and funds, risk management and other related issues. All of them need to be addressed, if they were not yet considered in the overall planning process or as part of the decision making process.

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Step 5) Bring results to the next phase

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