All for one and one for all: how co-creation processes of urban nature-based solutions in The Netherlands facilitate the delivery of co-benefits.


  • Joey Koning University of Groningen


Nature-based solutions, boundary spanning, Co-creation, Climate adaptation, Co-benefits




Cities across the globe are struggling with finding appropriate responses to growing climate change effects in combination with other urban challenges, rising population densities, and contestations for space. Accordingly, government bodies on all scales call for more integrated and synergetic adaptative measures that can deal with multiple challenges simultaneously. While primarily intended to mitigate issues related to climate change effects, Nature-based Solutions (NBS) as cost-effective interventions inspired by nature are often characterised by their ability to provide multiple benefits to public, private and natural actors at once. However, these co-beneficial outcomes are not achieved automatically and require deliberate attention in development processes.

Currently, NBS initiatives are often characterised by top-down, technocratic and fragmented approaches, which pose structural barriers to developing NBS that deliver co-benefits (Dorst et al., 2022). In response, more collaborative approaches to developing NBS are proposed as a way forward that include a wider range of interests, knowledge types and benefits in decision-making. However, such approaches can also negatively impact NBS through power imbalances, problem-fixation and incomplete coalitions (Van Dijk, 2021). Hence, there is a lack of understanding of how different co-creation mechanisms either enable or hinder the delivery of co-benefits in NBS. Since the nexus between nature-based solutions and participatory approaches covers a relatively young field of research (Kiss et al., 2022), a recurring gap in literature revolves around a shortage of empirical evidence to establish “the actual contribution of diverse forms of citizen participation to achieve sustainability objectives‘’ (Kiss et al., 2022, p. 258) of NBS.

Hence, this research project focuses on the question ‘’how are co-creation processes for NBS in Dutch cities structured to facilitate co-beneficial outcomes?’’ The research is in the first place an assessment of the co-creation process designs in Dutch cities. Additionally, it explores principles for achieving co-benefits and how different co-creation designs enable or hinder them and evaluates the extent to which co-creation processes in Dutch cities meet these principles. Exploring such linkages is an important step in understanding how co-creation processes lead to co-beneficial NBS in practice. This offers, next to overcoming a gap in academic literature, valuable insights for project managers and policy developers who work with NBS.

The research follows a multiple case study approach with a focus on small-scale urban NBS projects that have been recently developed in existing urban environments across The Netherlands. Based on their potential for offering co-benefits to a wide range of actors, the NBS that are included are rain gardens, pocket parks, bioswales, green roofs and water squares. In a first step, different structure possibilities for co-creation processes are captured in a conceptual framework, relating to questions on why co-creation processes take place, who participates when and how (Uittenbroek et al., 2019) and what is co-created. The framework links these variations to principles for achieving co-benefits, based on game theory, social choice dilemmas and boundary spanning theory (Haase et al., 2012; Kabisch et al., 2022). Next, these principles are developed into metrics to evaluate the extent to which co-creation approaches facilitate the delivery of co-benefits. For each NBS project, these structures are captured through semi-structured interviews with policymakers and project developers. Using a comparative analysis, the results show patterns of how co-creation processes are structured in NBS projects throughout the Netherlands, and where they can be improved to facilitate the delivery of co-benefits.


Dorst, H., Van Der Jagt, A., Toxopeus, H., Tozer, L., Raven, R. & Runhaar, H. (2022). 'What’s behind the barriers? Uncovering structural conditions working against urban nature-based solutions.' Landscape and Urban Planning: 220, 104335. Available at:

Kabisch, N., Frantzeskaki, N. & Hansen, R. (2022). 'Principles for urban nature-based solutions.' Ambio: 51(6), pp. 1388–1401. Available at:

Kiss, B., Sekulova, F., Hörschelmann, K., Salk, C.F., Takahashi, W. & Wamler, C. (2022). 'Citizen participation in the governance of nature-based solutions.' Environmental Policy and Governance: 32(3), pp. 247–272. Available at:

Uittenbroek, C.J., Mees, H.L.P., Hegger, D.L.T. & Driessen, P.P.J. (2019). 'The design of public participation: who participates, when and how? Insights in climate adaptation planning from the Netherlands.' Journal of Environmental Planning and Management: 62(14), pp. 2529–2547. Available at:

Van Dijk, T. (2021). 'What collaborative planning practices lack and the design cycle can offer: Back to the drawing table.' Planning Theory: 20(1), pp. 6–27. Available at: