Advancing strategic delta planning

Case

Advancing strategic delta planning

Strategic delta planning is a relatively new approach to policy planning. It took shape over the last years as an approach to address combined impacts of climate change and urbanisation in various deltas around the world. Strategic delta planning highlights the need for integrated, long term and adaptive policy planning, and underscores the importance of participatory processes and stakeholder involvement.

As one of the projects in the Urbanising Deltas of the World programme, the Strategic Delta Planning project focusses on understanding the dynamics of strategic delta planning in three major world deltas: the Netherlands, Bangladesh and Vietnam (Mekong delta). Although in different intensities, these deltas face similar challenges, such as rapid urbanization, climate change and sea level rise. Policy planning as ‘business as usual’ will not comprehensively tackle these challenges; new approaches and tools are required to guide long term sustainable development in deltas. An interview with Wim Douven (project leader) and Chris Seijger (postdoc) from IHE Delft.

Long time horizons

PhD candidates in action: Vo Thi Minh Hoang interviewing farmers on local innovations in Dong Thap

The project is driven by a fascination with new policy approaches, and we focus on a relatively new perspective on developing integrated, long term policies for deltas: strategic delta planning. Strategic delta planning is different from the general policy planning. Its long term time horizon, strategic purpose and providing a development framework instead of sectoral programmes as well as a geographical focus on deltas make it an interesting object of scientific investigation. Does this planning approach live up to expectations? What is its role in enabling change and innovation in preparing deltas for the future? How can local livelihoods be improved, given the various challenges impacting delta communities?

Translation to other contexts

Shahnoor Hasan presenting her insights on the international travel and translation of Dutch Delta Planning

Dutch, Vietnamese and Bangladeshi PhD researchers in the project are conducting research on how delta planning takes shape. An interesting observation from the PhD research of Shahnoor Hasan (IHE Delft) is that via international partnerships, strategic delta planning has travelled from the Netherlands to Bangladesh and Vietnam, as an active process of engagement, negotiation and contestation. In the Vietnamese Mekong delta, PhD researcher Vo Thi Minh Hoang (Wageningen University) shows how the Prime Minister and other key policy actors began to support the new development agenda as outlined in the Mekong Delta Plan. In the Netherlands, it is interesting to see how policy makers respond to experiences with strategic delta planning in the Asian countries, namely that the Dutch delta planning approach is indeed ‘Dutch’ and that time and support are crucial to successfully translate it to other cultural contexts.

We need to reflect on international delta cooperation, and learn from the experiences so far
- Wim Douven

Studying three strategic delta plans simultaneously is useful to identify similarities and differences in the different countries. Especially the exchange between Vietnam and Bangladesh is interesting. Also Dutch water professionals can learn a lot from these interactions. Douven: “We would like to see these learning loops feeding back in the respective national planning systems.”

A Strategy Lab

One of the most practical outcomes of the project so far is the better tailoring of participatory delta planning tools. Tool developers from the Netherlands and Vietnam are part of the project team. They integrate tools like scenario building and landscape design charrettes into a ‘Strategy Lab’, and discuss with practitioners and policy makers to make them more relevant for strategic policy planning.

Strategy Lab Bangladesh: participants draw a land-water strategy for tidal river systems in the Southwest of Bangladesh

The MOTA tool, develop by partner WACC (Center of Water Management and Climate Change) in Ho Chi Minh City, is another example. It stands for Motivation and Ability, and is aimed to understanding abilities and motivations of involved stakeholders to implement projects. This helps to reflect on whether concrete plans, that fit within a strategic delta planning framework, have sufficient local support to become implemented. “This is a very interesting tool”, says project leader Wim Douven, “because it helps to understand what hampers implementation of new delta strategies. It is a bottom-up approach, starting from local abilities and motivations.”

Linking with stakeholders

Although the project had good entry points into strategic delta planning in all countries, as our project partners are closely involved in the ongoing planning processes, it remained difficult to assess the influence of the different stakeholders on the plan development process. Also because strategic delta planning was new, it required a lot of explanation and translation. It was challenging to find a balance between

  1. critical reflections on processes and outcomes of strategic delta planning, and
  2. critical contributions for delta planning (tools) as well as
  3. capacity building, as all were incorporated in the project’s activities.

Initial field visit southwest Bangladesh: talking with a village elder to understand how his livelihood changed with the expansion of polders, infrastructure and schools

Besides investigating a relatively new approach to policy planning, the project leans heavily on developing and using practical tools for strategic delta as well as capacity building. The project established fruitful links between scientific research and practice. In scientific terms, the project is important because there are no other actors or organisations that intensively study strategic delta planning.

Renegotiated consent

Strategy Lab Vietnam: presenting the group-designed strategy to cope with salintiy intrusion in Tra Vinh, Vietnam

Chris Seijger: “Recently we published a Special Issue on strategic delta planning with eleven contributions from Bangladesh, California, Indonesia, Italy, Vietnam, the Netherlands. The main conclusion is that strategic delta planning is one approach that has the potential to alter decision-making on strategic priorities for a delta, for which – in order to be impactful – consent has to be renegotiated across phases and arenas. This is far from easy or straightforward, making strategic delta planning a fine walk balancing between

  1. being strategic and introducing alternatives
  2. adjust and negotiate consent for strategic issues with actors at national-regional-local levels
  3. implementation in policies and projects that reflect new strategic priorities’.

Learning and dialogue

The project aims to create long-lasting impact by advancing the understanding of strategic delta planning, by facilitating learning and dialogue, and by stimulating the use of concepts and practical tools as highlighted above. In particular, the need for mutual learning is highlighted, also in the Netherlands as exemplified by the interest of the Dutch Delta commissariat in the research results. Douven: “We need to reflect on delta cooperation, and learn from the experiences so far. We hope our research findings will encourage future discussion and interaction.”

More information


Key findings

Strategic delta planning is a promising approach to initiate and influence strategic decision-making in deltas *** To have an effect (introducing policy alternatives on diversified agriculture, integrated flood protection), stakeholder involvement and consent on strategic orientations has to be renegotiated across phases and arenas *** A strategic policy planning process needs to employ practical tools to support decision-making and disseminate findings *** Mutual learning on strategic delta planning experiences, achievements, and planning tools is important