Tackling uncertainties in infrastructure sectors through strategic planning: the contribution of discursive approaches in the urban water sector

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Courtesy of IWA Publishing

Several strategic planning approaches have been proposed for dealing with future uncertainties in the urban water infrastructure sector. We identify three well established perspectives that address uncertainties in strategic decisions: an adaptive perspective, focusing on an incremental adaptation of existing structures as a reaction to unforeseen developments, a modeling perspective, focusing on an improved characterization of future context conditions and a managerial perspective, focusing on increasing the flexibility of the infrastructure organization. Despite their virtues, these approaches have definite weaknesses in their approach to uncertainty: they often consider a restricted scope of alternatives, they face substantial difficulties in predicting context conditions over time periods of decades and often consider objectives and tradeoffs only implicitly. We elaborate and illustrate with a case study a fourth perspective that may compensate for these specific weaknesses and complement the established strategic planning approaches. This perspective is based on a discursive, qualitative assessment of key elements in the strategic planning process among a selected set of local stakeholders and decision makers. We maintain that this approach leads to a more explicit and reflexive treatment of future uncertainty, conflicting objectives and a broadening of the considered alternatives and therefore to a more robust decision-making process.

Keywords: Foresight, Public participation, Strategic planning, Water sector infrastructure

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