Keywords: local initiatives, policy arrangements, participation, sub-politicization, depoliticization, discourse, duality of agency and structure, space for policy innovation, interpretive analysis, urban-rural relationships
This thesis presents three case studies about private actors aspiring to realize their innovative ideas on land management and design in three different areas in the Netherlands. In appearance, these three areas are very different but they are all dynamic and are all located near cities. In size, the areas range from seventy to a few hundred hectares. Socially, they are highly dynamic as well, with various groups and organizations seeking either to make changes or to conserve what they value, and taking action to promote their ideas. However, it was clear from the start that the ways in which the initiators of these ideas gave meaning to the three areas differed from the ideas enshrined in existing policies. It is argued that the initiatives must be looked at in the context of various pleas for ‘interactive policy making’, since these generate expectations about the scope for initiatives to come from private actors. The question is whether these pleas really imply scope for two-way traffic, allowing ‘space for policy innovation’ through local initiatives which do not originate from government actors. Indeed, the three case studies show that there is ample innovative potential at the local level and that ideas do get implemented after considerable efforts. The fact that these initiatives were implemented was also due to other factors, such as the personal zeal and perseverance, trust and empathy that could develop among people involved ‘in the field’. However, the cases also show that there is only limited politicized discussion about the possible wider policy implications of these local innovations.
This study revealed this asymmetry between local innovative potential and a seeming lack of responsiveness on the part of established policy by means of an analysis of 1) the relationships between discourses, actor coalitions, rules and resources at the level of day-to-day interactions between the initiatives and established policy, and 2) the influence of structural forces such as Europeanization, distantiation, juridification and sectoralization on these everyday practices. The study explored how these structural forces contributed to a form of depoliticization in the case study areas.