Governance – Knowledge context

Practical applications – examples

Sand motor 2011
Sand engine located in front of the Delfland coast, August 2011

Pilot Sand Engine Delfland

Building with Nature is a form of ‘functional integration’: combining nature and infrastructural goals in one design. The pilot Sand Engine Delfland is an example of a project (a dynamic, moving flood defence), in which multiple functions are combined: the projects aims at contributing to nature development, increased safety and recreation development. In 2011, this concentrated mega-nourishment was completed. From the perspective of knowledge arrangements, experiences are reported on

  1. enabling factors,
  2. constraining factors for functional integration,
  3. uncertainty identification,
  4. uncertainty management.

1. Enabling factors

Actors and coalitions

  • The composition of the project team contributed to an integral approach to the design. In the project team, relevant knowledge and information were considered from multiple perspectives: hydraulic engineering, coastal morphology and ecology. Documents such as the EIA report were available to the team and all parties involved had the opportunity to respond. This setting stimulated the learning process among disciplines and different perspectives (stakeholders). In the Sand Engine project team , discussions were held on what was regarded as ‘knowledge’ and what knowledge development methods were appropriate to be used in the further process.
  • The organization of the design process contributed to an integral development of the Sand Engine. The four design alternatives that were assessed in the EIA report resulted from integral design workshops where experts as well as stakeholders cooperated. The interaction contributed to the learning process among people from different backgrounds and disciplines. As one of the morphologists stated: ‘Here I began to understand how ecologists think’.
  • The involvement of the Building with Nature innovation programme in the project team. Among other things, they contributed to development of a ‘beach-dune module’ for the morphological model, which enabled better predictions of more relevance to nature and recreational functions. This stimulated a further integration of the safety, economy and nature policy fields.

Rules and regulations

  • The goals formulated for the Sand Engine had an open character: creating temporary nature and recreation areas, stimulating natural dune growth for safety, and developing new knowledge. These goals were not translated into more specific objectives, such as desired areas of dune growth, or the type of nature or recreation desired. The open character of the project goals contributed to achieving integration as conflicts in weighing different functions could easily be avoided.
  • The lenient requirements from the legal framework: for the time being, the Sand Engine is not critical to coastal safety and no specific nature objectives were identified (e.g. in terms of numbers of individuals of certain species). The only condition was that it should not negatively affect the Basic Coastline, dune erosion buffers, or the Natura 2000 site adjacent to the nourishment. The absence of specific legal requirements facilitated the integration of functions.


  • Financial resources were from two policy actors: the Province and the Ministry of Public Works both contributed to the realisation of the Sand Engine. The resulting mutual dependency stimulated cooperation between the two.

Discourse / the story about the Sand Engine

  • The focus on innovation and experimenting implied acceptance of (and maybe even a desire for) uncertainties. Uncertainties legitimated the project as an experiment (“we need to do this project in order to learn from it and answer our research questions”). This experimental character of the project also promoted science-oriented monitoring and knowledge development.
  • The project was communicated as a ‘building with nature’ project in which nature is allowed to have its course. Although there is a variety of interpretations of the building with nature concept, it did have an effect on knowledge structuring and enabled integration of functions. Parties from the nature as well as the safety policy field were able to identify themselves with this concept. ‘Building with Nature’ had “different meanings in different social worlds but their structure is common enough to more than one world to make them recognizable means of translation” (Star and Griesemer, 1989)
  • The ‘let nature have its course’ approach contrasted with the focus on (cost-) efficiency in terms of contribution to the basic coastline which is common in the safety arrangement. In the Sand Engine project, employees of the Ministry of Public Works repeatedly stated that the underwater design alternative, basically a traditional shore face nourishment, should be preferred, as it was the most efficient and predictable design from a safety point of view.2

2. Constraining factors for functional integration

Below we list a few constraining factors. It should be noted that certain factors may constrain functional integration, whereas they have a positive effect on other aspects on BwN. The ‘brains from Delft’ discourse (referring to the civil engineering expertise from Delft University of Technology), for instance, helped generating public support, but was a constraining factor in working towards an integrated approach.

Actors and coalitions

  • The preferred position of Deltares, a specialised consultancy institute which mainly operates in the civil engineering domain. During the development of the EIA inception note (author: consultancy Grontmij) and the EIA report (author: consultancy DHV), the consultants were instructed to cooperate with Deltares, which was hired under a separate contract. This emphasised the weight attributed to morphological expertise in the project, at the expense of the balance between disciplines that was actually required.
  • Assessing separate effects of design alternatives in the EIA process led to ‘sectoral workshops’, i.e. workshops in which one knowledge discipline was represented. Such a sectoral approach constrains functional integration.
  • Multiple ecological perspectives. Within the nature coalition, different ideas existed on the type of nature that the project aimed at (e.g. one ecologist valued a seal whereas another valued dune nature). In this case, the legal framework gave little to hold on to, as no nature goals were defined. The morphologists, on the other hand, operated from a common perspective. As a consequence, the nature policy field held a relatively weak position in the integration of functions.

Rules and regulations

  • The EIA procedure aims at assessment of effects of the different design alternatives. This approach leads to sectoral knowledge development, not only in sectoral design workshops, but also in sectoral reports. This procedure constrained functional integration.


  • In the project, morphological expertise was highly valued and formed the basis for further knowledge development. In external communication, repeatedly reference was made to the ‘brains from Delft’ to indicate that the best engineers available were involved in the project. Contrastingly, the involvement of the ‘best ecologists’ or the ‘top of Wageningen’ (i.e. referring to the nature and agriculture oriented Wageningen University and Research) was not part of the discourse. No specific knowledge party was hired to supply ecological expertise, although individual ecologists were invited to expert sessions. This balance towards morphological knowledge constrained integration.

3. Uncertainty identification

In the Sand Engine case, three uncertainties were identified as potential threats to the project (Van den Hoek et al., 2012). They were categorised as ambiguities, caused by the existence of multiple (equally valid) interpretations of the situation:

  • Recreational swimmer safety: the project should not endanger human safety. The Sand Engine’s project team and the committee ‘Stop de Zandmotor’ (‘Stop the Sand Engine’) committee of opponents had a conflict regarding this topic. The Sand Engine project team believed the Sand Engine was an innovative and socially acceptable pilot project. The Committee believed that the Sand Engine was a socially unacceptable initiative with adverse effects. The uncertainty was not directly caused by the unpredictability of the (natural) system in which the Sand Engine is positioned: actually, both parties agreed that the conditions of the system are unpredictable. They disagree, however, on whether the area could be kept safe for the recreants and how this should be done.
  • Drinking water quality: this was an essential issue for the same human safety reason. An important stakeholder of the project threatened to file an official complaint against the construction of the peninsula, which would result in a delay causing funding problems. Like in the recreational safety case, the Sand Engine’s project team and the stakeholder actually agreed that there was incomplete knowledge about the effect of the Sand Engine on ground- and drinking water. Whereas the project team initially interpreted this as “not a problem”, the stakeholder claimed that additional research was needed to get a complete picture of the potential effects as a basis for proper judgment of the project.
  • Attractiveness of the project to contractors: as the budget per cubic metre sand was substantially less than that for regular Dutch North Sea nourishments, constructors might either consider the project attractive (because of the Sand Engine’s unique and innovative character, which would draw world-wide attention and become a suitable marketing object) or unattractive (because it would be less profitable).

4. Uncertainty management

In order to cope with these ambiguities, the following strategies were followed:

  • Recreational swimmer safety: the underlying framing difference about the effects of the Sand Engine on swimmer safety was not solved. Nevertheless, an impasse in the project development was successfully prevented by the project team: they chose an oppositional mode of action strategy (selecting one preferred interpretation of the problem and neglecting the other in decision making) and forced a favourable decision, with swimmer safety an acknowledged point of attention.
  • Drinking water quality: as opposed to the swimmer safety issue, the project team was not the powerful actor in this case. Hence, they needed to choose a different strategy. The issue was first addressed by doing additional research (rational problem solving), which led to the adaptation of the project team’s frame (frame accommodation). As a result, negotiations led to the implementation of a pumping station to prevent problems with salt water intrusion into the drinking water reserve.
  • Attractiveness of the project to contractors: this problem was solved by dialogical learning, i.e. involving potential contractors in an early process phase and engaging in a dialogue with them, thereby preventing problems in the later stages of the project development.