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Building with Nature Guideline > BwN Approach > Governance > Governance - Knowledge context 

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Governance - Knowledge context

Building with Nature is a knowledge-intensive practice. Water infrastructure is a tailor-made product that requires engineering expertise; and part of this expertise is still under development. All web pages of the BwN guideline outside of this governance section are meant to provide the new knowledge that is required for BwN projects. This governance subsection addresses the special governance challenges that are connected with working in an innovative and knowledge-intensive domain.


This chapter deals with knowledge issues in decision-making processes in general and specifically for BwN projects. BwN is an innovation on the brink of a break-through. Can an innovation process be managed, and if yes, how? It is helpful to know how innovation processes generally proceed and what factors can make the difference between a 'dead end' and a successful breakthrough of technology.

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Knowledge, innovation and public policy

Knowledge can be functional in several ways. It is used to get the content right and it provides substantiation for legal procedures. Furthermore, knowledge can contribute to build up support for a project among actors and stakeholders and other parties involved (van Buuren et al, 2010). Knowledge plays an important role in different project phases. It provides a basis for:

  • problem identification;
  • master planning and project initiation;
  • developing innovative solutions; 
  • developing design and planning alternatives;
  • assessing designs and plans;
  • project execution;
  • sustainable and adaptive project operation and maintenance;
  • environmentally friendly decommissioning of the project.


Integrating different knowledge domains in BwN projects

In BwN projects, multiple functions are combined into one design: nature is integrated with infrastructural goals. This ‘functional integration’ is mentioned in policy documents and managements plans, but in practice implementation proves to be problematic and runs into barriers. Barriers originate among others from the fragmentation of policy fields. The field of water policy in the Netherlands, for instance, is historically an autonomous and isolated field, which complicates integration (Wiering and Arts, 2006). The challenge of BwN projects is realising functional integration in practice.

A further challenge in BwN projects is to deal with fragmented knowledge in decision making. Knowledge is often assumed to be inherently linked to a specific policy field. Consequently, functional integration requires integrating different knowledge domains. The relation between policy fields and knowledge, also known as a ‘knowledge arrangement’, is often neglected, although its relevance is clear. In functional integration the confrontation of multiple knowledge arrangements needs to be steered towards an integrated BwN design.




BwN-type projects often involve larger spatial scales and longer time horizons than conventional ones and hence, also more and possibly larger knowledge-related uncertainties and ambiguity.

The Guidance section addresses the following questions:

a)       How to manage an innovation process?

b)       How to manage interdisciplinary knowledge in BwN projects?

c)       What to expect from knowledge in decision making processes?;

d)       How to deal with uncertainties in a BwN project?


a)  How to manage an innovation process?

Knowledge is an important driver of innovation processes such as BwN. Insights form innovation studies can help to place the use of knowledge in BwN development in an economic perspective. Key aspects in managing innovation processes are

  • identifying the level of development
  • organising the innovation process
  • spreading the news about innovations
  • steps to be taken in an innovation process

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b)  How to manage interdisciplinary knowledge in BwN projects?

The strategies for the use of knowledge in BwN projects are based on the assumption that knowledge related to different policy fields needs to be integrated. Knowledge is assumed to be inherently related to a particular policy field, which is called a ‘knowledge arrangement’: actors, discourse, rules, regulations and resources affect the process of knowledge structuring and the other way around. This leads to knowledge arrangements with different perspectives, concepts and priorities.

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Knowledge arrangements are confronted with each other and interact in BwN projects. The strategy for using knowledge in BwN projects relates to this confrontation and interaction among knowledge arrangements. In the next section the ensuing enabling and constraining factors for realising a BwN design are identified.

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c)   What to expect from knowledge in decision making processes


Knowledge use within projects results from interaction between the knowledge domain and the policy domain. This interaction results in context-specific knowledge ((Koppenjan and Klijn, 2004, In ‘t Veld 2000, Turnhout 2007). The figure represents a conceptualisation of this interface.


This section deals with

  • the knowledge perception,  Read more
  • the knowledge opportunities  Read more and
  • the knowledge pitfalls in decision making  Read more



d)  How to deal with uncertainties in a BwN project?

  • What is uncertainty?  Read more
  • What is ambiguity?  Read more
  • Three types of scientific uncertainty  Read more
  • Uncertainty identification: which uncertainties are most important?  Read more
  • Uncertainty management: how to cope with it?  Read more

Lessons learned regarding uncertainties

BwN initiatives will benefit from the following lessons and best BwN practices:

  1. Uncertainties  occur in almost every phase, but their influence on policy development is mostly indirect.  Read more

  2. BwN projects, having both longer temporal and larger spatial scales are usually not yet taken into account in the policy development process.  Read more

  3. A higher level of unpredictability requires a different approach to uncertainty.  Read more

  4. Use the media to expose the general public to the BwN philosophy.  Read more


Practical applications - examples


Pilot Sand Engine Delfland

Building with Nature is a form of 'functional integration': combining nature and infrastructural goals in one design. The pilot Sand Engine Delfland is an example of a project (a dynamic, moving flood defence), in which multiple functions are combined: the projects aims at contributing to nature development, increased safety and recreation development. In 2011, this concentrated mega-nourishment was completed. From the perspective of knowledge arrangements, experiences are reported on

  •  enabling factors,
  •  constraining factors for functional integration,
  •  uncertainty identification
  •  uncertainty management. 



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