Involving citizens in designing integrated pathways for climate resilient & sustainable cities


Cities in urbanising deltas face numerous challenges at once: adapting to the impacts of climate change, improving sustainability and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, soil subsidence, urban renewal, increasing housing demand and goals, unemployment and other economic challenges, and a need for more social cohesion. While municipalities have knowhow and budgets, and are now developing plans, it is the local citizens who will be living in these cities. Consequently, they should be involved in designing, planning, and building future urban deltas. While authorities and citizens may both desire a resilient city and want to collaborate, research by one of Utrecht University’s MSc thesis students showed that they do have very different narratives of how climate, weather, and water affect their life-realities and how the city should develop into the future (Marschütz et al., 2020). One particular observation was that authorities tended to have a fairly topic-specific (e.g. water-focused) and managerial approach, whereas citizens interpret climate change from much more practice-based and holistic/multi-issue perspective. For instance, they would prefer to combine adaptation and mitigation in their approaches to improve the quality of the neighbourhood. This has consequences for how citizens and authorities might best collaborate. It may also offer opportunities for stimulating approaches that integrate multiple goals and topics, such as Sustainable Development Goals and the Dutch ‘Omgevingswet’, the upcoming Dutch law which combines and simplifies numerous laws and regulations related to the physical environment, including water, air, soil, nature, infrastructure, built environment, and cultural heritage.

Project approach

We explored how to best involve citizens in co-designing pathways for resilient & sustainable delta cities, based on their own narratives of how climate, water, and weather impact and are embedded in their history, life realities, and perspectives on the future. We took an explicitly multi-challenge approach – deltas face multiple, interacting problems. Governments often still try to tackle these from their departmental silos (but face legally required integration through the Omgevingswet), whereas citizens already narrate delta challenges as integrated issues. This provides an opportunity for the Water, Climate & Future Deltas hub to pioneer new methods and tools for using storylines to develop delta pathways (including visions, forces that impact the delta, policy objectives, and actions) and enhance the potential for co-developing these with societal partners and delta citizens.

We took an innovative new look at involving citizens in climate adaptation, by (a) pioneering new methods for involving citizens in designing future pathways, (b) explicitly looking at combined challenges, and (c) developing a practical toolkit that is easy to use by policymakers and consultants. To achieve this, we combined methods and lessons learned from multiple disciplines (climate adaptation, water management, environmental governance, citizen participation, narrative studies, and scenario/foresight studies), and tested them in a transdisciplinary setting. The project engaged policymakers and citizens of a delta city (Dordrecht) directly through local visioning and a pathways-workshop. It engaged with policymakers, politicians, knowledge institutes, academics, and media through interaction with UU research programs CoCliServ and CCAFS and with the Dutch National Knowledge Programme on Water & Climate (NKWK) with the Dutch City Deal Climate Adaptation.


In Marschütz et al. (2020) we collected ‘narratives of change’ on how policymakers and residents in the city of Dordrecht experience weather, water and climate change. Based on these, we developed three integrative future visions:

  • Close-knit Island Community.
    This focused on social resilience, taking care of vulnerable groups, maintaining local identity and community in a changing neighbourhood and changing climate.
  • Innovative Connections.
    This focused on the interlinkages between climate adaptation and other local themes, such as the energy transition (mitigation), mobility, the local housing challenge, urban renewal, and new technology.
  • Water Safe & Water Wise.
    This was a more classic view on water safety, flooding, heavy precipitation, and the impacts and options for the area. However, it also posited that the Dordrecht people had experience in living with water, and could approach water-related challenges from a positive perspective.

In a transdisciplinary workshop with researchers, policymakers, residents, climate experts, and graphic designers, we reflected on what such visions (focusing on the first two) might mean for the future of Dordrecht’s Vogelbuurt neighbourhood. This was a collaboration with CoCliServ. We developed more detailed future visions with practical options, designed pathways to reach these desired futures, and reflected on potential ‘forks in the road’ where the future might unfold differently. We also discussed the knowledge that is needed to navigate these critical moments successfully (Wardekker et al., 2019).

Following the experiences in the Dordrecht workshop and those in the wider CoCliServ and CCAFS projects, we’re developing a practical toolkit for citizen participation in developing climate-resilient and sustainable futures (Van den Ende et al., 2020). This toolkit combines two challenging areas: citizen participation & cocreation, and foresight methods. It gives hands-on tips and tricks to policymakers (e.g. municipalities) and consultants on how to organize participatory exercises to develop pathways to the future.
In addition to these specific events and products, we integrated our experiences into the ongoing societal knowledge programs of NKWK’s Climate Proof Cities working group and the City Deal Climate Adaptation. These led to two spin-off proposals for NKWK’s 2020 program; (a) developing learning modules for local and regional policymakers on participation, cocreation and governance, and (b) a new research line on social/community resilience. These have since been greenlit.



  • CCAFS (2020). “CCAFS: Research program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security”. CCAFS, Wageningen. Website visited 25-02-2020
  • CoCliServ (2020). “CoCliServ: Co-development of place-based climate services for action”. CoCliServ, Guyancourt. Website visited 25-02-2020
  • Marschütz, B., S. Bremer, H. Runhaar, D. Hegger, H. Mees, J. Vervoort, A. Wardekker (2020). “Local narratives of change as an entry point for building urban climate resilience”. Climate Risk Management, in press.
  • Van den Ende, M., A. Wardekker, H. Mees, D. Hegger, J. Vervoort (2020). “Citizen participation for climate-resilient and sustainable futures: A toolkit with practical methods and tools”. Utrecht University, Utrecht, in press.
  • Wardekker, A., M. Pijnappels, S. Hofland, M. van den Ende, J. Bessembinder, B. Marschütz, H. Runhaar, H. Mees, D. Hegger (2019). “Verslag workshop Een veerkrachtige Vogelbuurt in een toekomstig klimaat”. Universiteit Utrecht, Utrecht.