Pathways of stakeholders' relations in collaborative planning practices. A case study
It is widely acknowledged that stakeholders’ relations are critical in collaborative planning practices (Booher, 2004; Forester, 1999). Stakeholders’ relations are said to be ‘the medium for collaborative work’ (Foster-Fishman et al., 2001: 251): it is through these relationships that consensus and mutual learning can occur. Hence, scholars repeatedly emphasize the essential role of relationship building in collaborative endeavours (Boelens, 2010; Innes and Booher, 2003; 2004; 2015; Healey, 1997). Planning is approached as an interactive and relational endeavour, involving ‘social processes through which ways of thinkings, ways of valuing and ways of acting are actively constructed by participants’ (Healey, 1997: 29). However, although collaborative planning scholars do attend to relating dynamics in collaborative planning (e.g. Forester, 1999; Healey, 1997; Healey et al., 2003), analytical tools to systematically study stakeholders’ relating dynamics in collaborative planning processes are underdeveloped in this field of literature.
In this paper, we present and apply an analytical framework that intends to capture and explain (here to be understood as a ‘puzzling-out process’, see Schwartz-Shea and Yanow, 2012: 27) stakeholders’ relating dynamics, i.e. the relational pathway (see Vandenbussche et al., 2015). The framework takes a dynamic perspective on stakeholders’ relations – based upon the relational dialectics approach towards relating (see Baxter and Montgomery, 1996; see also Baxter, 2004a; 2011). This approach has been developed and applied within communication theory and social psychology (Baxter and Montgomery, 1996; Baxter 2004, 2011). Relational dialectics’ main argument is that relations are continuously in flux and thus acknowledges change as a central aspect of relating. Relations are seen as ‘dialogic’: as naturally revolving around the dynamic interplay between contradictory, competing values or ‘dialectical tensions’ (Baxter and Montgomery, 1996; see also Baxter, 2004a; 2011; Seo and Creed, 2002). This implies that rather than focusing on how relations should be, and which conditions are desirable – a focus typical for collaborative planning literature - the framework places focus on how and why relations evolve and change over time. As such, it recognizes the evolutionary and dynamic character of collaboration (Gray, 1989). The framework offers conceptual tools for systematic and detailed analyses of relational pathways in collaborative planning practices.
We then apply this analytical framework to a ‘real-life’ collaboratively approached urban planning project in the city of Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Our case study focuses on the collaborative process concerning the comprehensive redevelopment and transformation of the old deteriorated harbour zone of Katendrecht into an attractive residential area. Our study is based on data collected through in-depth narrative interviews with about 25 stakeholders, both stakeholders that are currently involved in the project as stakeholders that were in the past. We further conducted ethnographic fieldwork: we observed the main collaborative meetings organised between 2013-2015. We analysed the collected data using the framework presented in the paper. Based on the framework, we present and reconstruct the relational pathway characterizing the collaborative process concerning the redevelopment of Katendrecht. We discuss our findings and particularly pay attention to discussing and explaining the changes that occurred in stakeholders’ relations.