Drs. Erik Mandersloot, Damien van der Bijl

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Networking .Democratic dialouge

Democratic dialouge - Amsterdam Noord

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The democratic dialogue is an instrument that can be used to align different interests of stakeholders to create a shared vision and support for temporary use with these stakeholders. In 1999 private parties initiated the process Noord Lonkt! to break through the deadlock that existed around the NSM-site in Amsterdam-Noord and create support for a evolutionary development of the site. The Democratic Dialogue was used as part of this process to come up with a shared vision on what the site might look like in the future and how temporary uses could gradually develop the site.

September 1999

December 1999

NSM Wharf, Amsterdam-Noord, The Netherlands (former shipwharf)

A tool for interactive urban planning bridging conflicting interests

STAKEHOLDERS– Their Roles and Economies
Noord Lonkt! was initiated by a number of private organizations who had a shared interest in redeveloping the NSM-site. The first idea was conceived by Frank Bijdendijk of the social housing corporation Het Oosten and prof. dr. Annemieke Roobeek who at the time headed the center for Strategic Action Research of the University of Amsterdam. Together with the Chamber of Commerce, two other social housing corporations and Renaval Foundation they initiated and financed the first phases of Noord Lonkt!

The Democratic Dialogue was preceded by an exploratory research. The goal of this research was to assess whether there was sufficient bearing for an interactive process which would lead to a special approach with a remarkable outcome of the site. To this end, numerous interviews were held and some background research was done on the specific demands of high quality, mixed use waterfront development. The exploratory research was carried out between April and September of 1999. The outcome was that a lot of people were willing to participate in the Democratic Dialogue.

Principles behind the Democratic Dialogue
The Democratic Dialogue is a way to facilitate a process of co-creation with large numbers of stakeholders. The main purpose is to bridge different views and interests by creating a shared view of the problem. The idea is to create practical ideas and solutions by using the (tacit) knowledge of those people who deal with the problem every day.
The process consists of a pre planned sequence of a variety of activities in which different stakeholders share knowledge and ideas to create a shared vision and practical plans to realise that vision.
In the process of creating a shared vision, neutral facilitation is very important. The facilitator is not just people who lead the discussion and organise the meetings. They actively look for bridges between the participants, makes connections where possible and co create with the participants. The shared vision is created by the facilitator on the basis of the input and visions of the participants.
It is important that during the Democratic Dialogue a common language is spoken. Too much professional lingo can be a serious barrier to participation for ‘common people’. It is a Democratic dialogue because all stakeholders participate on an equal basis, regardless of their professional background. The Democratic Dialogue is a process where the content counts, not the power positions.
A crucial prerequisite for success of the Democratic Dialogue is the active participation of key (political) decision makers in the process. Their participation is important for two reasons. Firstly, their presence will keep them informed about the progress that is being made. This means they will not be surprised by the outcome at the end of the process. It also allows them to have some influence in the process, helping the participants in finding politically viable options. Secondly, the participation of the key political stakeholders is a sign to the other participants that the process is being taken seriously. This will encourage the participants to come up with their ideas and invest their time and energy. Being present and active in the process also creates a commitment for the political stakeholders. It will become less easy for them to bail out on (the results of) the Democratic Dialogue.

Typically, the Democratic Dialogue consists of a number of phases. The phases show an alternating movement between focus on details and focus on the whole. This ‘pulsating’ movement provides checks to make sure that the participants do not lose sight of the problem at hand. It does require a clear communication of the results and remaining issues of each phase.
The image shows the different stages of the Democratic Dialogue that was part of the process Noord Lonkt! The Dialogue took place between September and December of 1999 and produced some clear images and criteria for the further (organic) development of the NSM-site in Amsterdam-Noord and the role of temporary users. We will suffice with a short description of each of the different phases.
Cluster meetings: in September, stakeholders met in 7 different round tables: business, construction, environmental experts, representatives of inhabitants, arts & culture, architects and administration. Each cluster discussed the boundaries for the process and set out pickets to demarcate the ‘playing field’. By comparing the different fields of the clusters, the playing field for the democratic dialogue was established. Around 100 people participated in the cluster meetings. The results of these meetings and the background research were bundled into the starting document.
Brainstorm sessions: for the brainstorming sessions, the cluster teams were split up into cross-section teams of mixed expertise. Also, more people were invited to participate in this phase of the planning process. There were two sessions on a Saturday, the ninth of October, so that as many people as possible would be able to attend. The goal was to come up with a limited number of challenging integral, options for making combinations of working and living. The themes that were identified during the brainstorm sessions were: Water, New Economic Activities, Extreme Mix of Functions and Art & Culture. They were further elaborated during the ‘thematic meetings’.
Thematic meetings and expert meetings: in October and November, the stakeholders formed thematic teams to elaborate on the themes that were identified during the brainstorming sessions. In this phase, the goal was to come up with concrete visions of how the themes could be worked out. The teams were supported by external experts when necessary.
Simultaneously, with the thematic meetings, expert teams were formed to elaborate on some of the prerequisites for the development of the themes. The first group of experts consisted of architects. Under the inspiring name ‘Reinventing Architecture’ they investigated the technical design options for extreme mix of functions within buildings. They came up with some innovative ideas for building in such a way that flexible use over time would become possible. The second expert team explored the opportunities and obstacles for strategic synchronisation of procedures and regulations. The third expert team focused on the role of administrators and politicians in the interactive policy making process. Their participation clearly stressed the importance of political commitment and participation to all participants.

around mid-November the results of the thematic and expert teams were discussed during the ‘exchange session’. Links between the different themes were made and the solutions were integrated as much as possible. During this session, the plans were also linked to another interactive process ‘Toekomst Verkenning Noord’ (Exploration of the Future of North) that started after Noord Lonkt! took off. This exploration focused on the entire Amsterdam North area with a time horizon of 25-40 years.
The results of the discussion were presented during an open session where most of the participants were present as well as many other guests. The final document served as a note of starting points for the decision making of the town district council. The note was adopted and formalised by the town district council.

Internal processes of democratic dialogue Procesgang demo…che dialoog.bmp

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