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Noor Verberne – 10557423 Supervisor: Dr. H.J.L.M. Verrest

Second reader: Dr. S. Özogul

MSc International Development Studies Graduate School of Social Sciences

June 18th 2021 Word count: 23.565 Reference: APA 7th


“I am so glad you are doing this. Honestly, I do not have the energy for it myself.”

-& A resident thanking a citizen initiative volunteer



This study examines how citizen initiatives and public participation affect acceptance of the urban energy transition in The Netherlands. The desired energy transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy requires adjustments to the existing energy infrastructure in the built environment. Increasingly, it is being recognized that this is as much a social as technological transition. Adapting to new technologies that require social change, complicates the transition process. In uncovering the social challenges, there is a great interest in public participation in the energy transition discourse. This study examines the influence of citizen initiatives and public participation on public acceptance of the urban energy transition in two urban districts in The Netherlands. Public acceptance is defined from a value-centered approach focusing on psychological factors: trust, place-identity, place-attachment, and individual values. Primary data was collected through interviews and an online survey. The results suggest that high levels of place-identity and place-attachment are positively related to the emergence of citizen initiatives. Collaboration between initiatives and local government could increase support for the energy transition. However, the political and commercial interests of stakeholders should be made transparent. Based on ecological values, a positive general agreement concerning the energy transition was found. However, public acceptance decreased when residents perceived energy alternatives as experimental, a short-term solution, or limiting their freedom of choice.

Policymakers can mobilize positive public interest in the energy transition more effectively by setting flexible goals that focus on continuous improvement. Finally, different participation methods are advised for advancing the acceptance of individual and collective solutions. To conclude, the conceptual model helps to explain why the involvement of citizen initiatives in the urban energy transition process in the Netherlands is successful in some instances but not in others.

Keywords: urban energy transition, citizen initiatives, public participation, public acceptance, The Netherlands



This research was conducted as a thesis project for the master’s program International Development Studies at the University of Amsterdam during the academic year 2020/2021.

This year offered a novel context for conducting research as a result of COVID-19 restrictions.

Against this background, I want to give a special note of thanks to my supervisor Hebe Verrest for helping me explore new research topics, connecting me with the right people, remaining flexible throughout the process, and providing me with helpful feedback. I also want to thank all research participants who were so kind to give me some of their time. My research would have been impossible without their contribution. Finally, I want to show my appreciation for the resilience and positive energy I found in the citizen initiatives part of this study (Statenwarmte, Aardgasblij, Zwik EN, and BEPT).




























6.1TRUST 60

6.2VALUES 64









Figure 1: Types of problem structures………...(p.15) Figure 2: Conceptual model………..(p.19) Figure 3: Public participation methods (Arnstein’s Ladder) ……….(p.44) Figure 4: Observed participation paths (Split Ladder)………...(p.47) Figure 5: Proposed participation paths (Split Ladder)………...(p.59) Figure 6: Adjusted conceptual model………(p.74)


Appendix 1: Operationalization table Appendix 2: Flyer online survey Appendix 3: Interview guide Appendix 4: Survey statements

Appendix 5: Survey statements on trust

Appendix 6: Documents included in the document analysis Appendix 7: Coding scheme

Appendix 8: Results opinion poll Statenkwartier Appendix 10: Survey results - trust

Appendix 11: Survey results - importance citizen initiatives Appendix 12: Survey results - ecological values



NGO Non-governmental organization NPO Non-profit organization


BES Buurtenergie Statenkwartier Neighbourhood-energy Statenkwartier PAW Programma Aardgasvrije Wijken Program Natural Gas Free


RES Regionale Energiestrategieën Regional Energy Strategies BEPT Bewonersplatform Twekkelerveld Resident platform Twekkelerveld Zwik EN Zwik Energie Neutraal Zwik Energy Neutral

WEP Wijkenergieplan Neighbourhoud energy plan

WUP Wijkuitvoeringsplan Neighbourhood implementation plan


1. Introduction

If the European Union wants to keep its promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95%

by 2050 over 1990, a transition to renewable energy is needed. Following neoliberal shifts in governance over the past decades, responsibilities in achieving an energy transition are increasingly decentralized and include many different actors. Moreover, there has been an increasing interest in the role of participatory governance in achieving an energy transition (e.g.

Urquiza et al., 2018; Xavier et al., 2017). Hence, it is not a surprise to see many local governance initiatives on energy transition.

The challenges that come with realizing the desired energy transition are complex and appear at different governance levels. Examples of these challenges are the geopolitics of the fossil fuel industry at the global level (Creti & Nguyen, 2018), energy security interests at the national level (Mata-Pérez, Scholten, & Smith Stegen, 2019), and infrastructural obstacles at the urban level (Juwet & Ryckewaert, 2018). The path towards a fossil fuel free future should not be understood as a process of technological innovation only, but as a process in which the ‘social’

and ‘technical’ are inextricably interwoven (Corsini et al., 2019). Because… Building on this, one could argue that new energy technologies ‘co-evolve’. The proposed study will contribute to this debate by exploring the ‘social’ by focusing on public participation within the urban energy transition process.

Public acceptance is said to be key in realizing an energy transition but is often misjudged or addressed too late (Perlaviciute et al., 2018). This is a problem because energy alternatives will not be viable unless people adopt and adequately use new infrastructure and technology, reduce overall demand, change their behavior to adjust to the (renewable) energy supply, and accept policies surrounding an energy transition (Perlaviciute et al., 2018). It is argued that public participation involving a two-way exchange of communication between citizens and other stakeholders has the potential of enhancing public acceptance (Perlaviciute et al., 2018).

However, questions remain about when and how participation should be organized; whom to invite; which form of participation to choose; how much time, effort, and knowledge it should require from participants; and how an effective and socially acceptable consensus can be reached (Perlaviciute et al., 2018).


In The Netherlands, an important component of the energy transition to decouple houses from natural gas. When developing transition strategies for urban neighbourhoods, local governments are required to consult citizens by means of public participation. The development of these strategies is an ongoing process and local governments are still trying to find the right methods to involve residents. At the same time, citizen initiatives are emerging in which residents organize themselves to influence the transition process. This study explores whether citizen initiatives could be helpful allies in organizing public participation. The role of citizen initiatives in the transition process is explored in two urban neighbourhoods in The Netherlands:

Statenkwartier in The Hague and Twekkelerveld in Enschede.

The following two chapters present the theoretical framework and the methodology. After this, the research context is discussed. Chapters 5 and chapter 6 present and discuss the results of the study. Chapter 5 focuses on the observed participation methods and the structure of the urban energy transition as a policy problem. Chapter 6 debates the influence of trust, values, place-identity and place-attachment on public acceptance of the energy transition. Finally, Chapter 7 offers a conclusion and suggestions for future research.

Source: Google Earth


2. Theoretical Framework

This chapter elaborates on the theoretical points of departure from which the studied phenomena in the research are approached. Section 2.1 introduces the concept of the energy transition. Section 2.2 presents the concept of governance and explores environmental governance theory and participatory governance theory as analytical tools. Next, section 2.3 introduces the Split Ladder of Participation (Hurlbert & Gupta, 2015). Subsequently, the concept of public acceptance is explored taking a value-centered approach. The research gaps are discussed in section 2.5. The chapter concludes with the conceptual framework in section 2.6.

2.1 Energy transition

The concept of ‘energy transition’ is widely discussed in the academic world and has been integrated into the national energy policies of various countries. However, there is a significant difference in the desired end state across countries. In parts of the global South, the energy transition implies an increase in the availability and affordability of modern energy services. In some contexts, this may imply an increase in carbon intensity (Bradshaw, 2010). In ‘transition economies’ in Central Europe and the former Soviet Union energy transition is primarily a liberalization of the energy sector, changing the structure of ownership and the role of competition (Bouzarovski, 2009). In The Netherlands, the energy transition is framed as a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, targeting a 95% emission reduction in 2050 over 1990.

The energy transition has to be understood from the perspective of multiple actors and multiple levels. Based on multi-actor perspectives, Sung & Park (2018) reviewed and identified actors and their roles in promoting the energy transition. Five actors were identified: government, the public, markets, the ‘third’ sector (NGOs and NPOs), and the traditional energy industry (Sung

& Park, 2018). The traditional energy sector negatively and directly affects the transition, whereas government and public actors -e.g. citizen initiatives- have a positive indirect influence on the transition by interacting with the market (Sung & Park, 2018). Public actors can indirectly affect the interaction between government and market actors, hence Sung & Park (2018, p.16) suggest that ‘the transition cannot -and should not- be radical but should instead


be considered as a process of social innovation that induces gradual change with the participation of various stakeholders and members of society’.

Finally, ensuring the availability and accessibility of renewable energy services will require new ways of producing, living, and working with energy. According to Bridge et al. (2013, p.333), the geographies of the energy transition are i) ‘the distribution of different energy- related activities across a particular space – for example The Netherlands – and the underlying processes that give rise to these patterns, and ii) the geographical connections and interactions between that space and other spaces’ (i.e. The Netherlands’ position in a wider political economy of states, transnational firms, and international agreements).

2.2 Governance

The concept of government is central in understanding how states are governed. In Anglo- American political theory, ‘government’ is used to refer to formal institutions of the state and their monopoly of legitimate coercive power (Stoker, 2018). Moreover, government refers to the formal and institutional processes that maintain public order and facilitate collective action at the level of the nation-state (Stoker, 2018). Governance emerged as a concept that signifies a change in the meaning of government, focusing on a shifting pattern in styles of governing.

Governance explores new processes of governing, emphasizing the possibility of diverse actors.

Hence, governance is used in a variety of ways and has a variety of meanings across disciplines (Stoker, 1997). In this study, governance is understood as ‘the changing boundaries between public, private, and voluntary sectors’ in relation to ‘the changing role of the state’ (Rhodes, 2012: p.33). This definition was chosen because public participation indicates a changing role of the traditional government. In the context of the energy transition, boundaries between sectors blur as the public sector (the state) demands a change in the private sector (energy sector), with help of the voluntary sector (citizen initiatives).

When theorizing governance, one can take a variety of approaches regarding governance actors and spatial dimensions (Gupta, Verrest, & Jaffe, 2015). Governance actors are (a set of) institutions, state, and non-state actors who are involved in collective action. In the context of the energy transition, all of the aforementioned actors are involved. As in this research, there is an increase of interest in the relations between governance actors and the identification of shifts in responsibilities for tackling social and economic issues (Stoker, 1998). The spatiality of


governance refers to issues of place, space, scale, and human-environment interactions (Gupta, Verrest, & Jaffe, 2015).

For the proposed research, theories of environmental and participatory governance will be used as analytical tools. The theories discussed below will help understand how, by whom, and at what scale, urban energy transition projects in The Netherlands are governed.

2.2.1. Environmental governance

Governance entered environmental debates after the 1987 Brundtland report and has been a core topic in sustainable development theory ever since (Adger & Jordan, 2009). Theories of environmental governance are well established in political science and development studies and are central in current global collaboration initiatives such as the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement. Environmental governance deals with policy problems on ecospace.

Ecospace is defined as the environmental utilization space that people can use if they want to sustain the earth’s resources and continuously reuse them (Gupta, 2016a).

Policy problems on ecospace have geographical and geopolitical implications relating to the physical sovereignty and control over resources compared to who needs these resources and who does not (Gupta, 2016a). These implications have resulted in environmental injustice, meaning that poor communities, indigenous communities, and communities of colour get fewer environmental goods, more environmental bads (or risks), and less environmental protection (Schlosberg, 2007). Some researchers of environmental justice have emphasized the importance of procedural justice and participation in combatting injustice (Lake, 1996; Shrader- Frechette, 2002). An example of an environmental bad is energy poverty and energy inequality, as access to adequate and affordable sources remains unequally distributed on the planet (Habitat for Humanity, 2021).

Next to energy poverty, climate change is a policy problem that is caused by the global energy market. The current fossil fuel driven energy market produces greenhouse gasses that overburden our ecospace with climate change as a result. In an effort to limit climate change, the Paris Agreement advocates collective action to achieve emission reduction. These reductions cannot be realized without a global energy transition in which fossil fuels are replaced by renewable energy sources. A rapid energy transition as envisioned in the agreement depends on far-reaching government interventions in energy markets (Clémençon, 2016).


These interventions pose a challenge because governance can be rigid, relying on institutionalized structures and procedures of the current energy market.

The strength of institutionalization is that it builds capacity to persist in the face of challenges, shared values, symbols, and routines provide structure and reliable procedures (Torfing et al., 2012). The challenge of institutionalized governance is that procedures can become overly rigid, preventing adaptation to changing environmental conditions (Torfing et al., 2012). Hence, we could say that there is a trade-off between secured efficiency on one side and flexibility in the light of a changing environment on the other. The problems caused by our limited ecospace demands flexibility of the current institutionalized governance of the energy market.

The problem of limited ecospace is universal in scope and requires global action. However, global environmental governance is contested as national sovereignty and decision-making override global interests. The Paris Agreement dropped the legally binding emission targets as decided upon in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol because of a lack of support for top-down governance at a global level. Domestic politics in countries as the United States, India, and China would not accept internationally determined commitments that would urge them to move away from strong negotiation positions (Clémençon, 2016). Furthermore, critics argue that the Paris Agreement is a meaningless document because of strategically ambiguous wording (Spash, 2016). Firm plans for action are absent in the Paris Agreement, making it ‘a fantasy which lacks any actual plan of how to achieve the targets for emissions reductions’ (Spash, 2016, p.930).

Nevertheless, the Paris Agreement represents a universal agreement to tackle climate change, which for the first time is signed by all countries. The plans reflect an unprecedented national level process involving a wide array of actors, including civil society organizations, subnational governments, and businesses, all in search of a clear market signal that the fossil age is on its decline and that investing in renewable energy technologies and energy conservation will pay off (Clémençon, 2016).

As an answer to growing concerns about the space of influence and impact of global environmental governance, interactive governance theories provide an alternative approach (Torfing et al., 2012). Environmental issues such as climate change are increasingly addressed by interactive means of action that involve civil society actors (Scholte, 2002). Interactive governance approaches can be useful for assessing environmental governance as it offers a style of governing that contests traditional top-down forms: ‘interactive governance assumes that


decisions will be made either from the bottom-up or through interactive processes, and empowered participation is orchestrated, and even sometimes initiated, by government agencies’ (Torfing et al., 2012, p.3). The next section will elaborate on how participatory governance theory can be used as an analytical tool to assess how interactive governance is applied in the context of the urban energy transition.

2.2.2 Participatory governance

After a period of technocratic environmental policymaking in the 70s and 80s (Fischer, 2000), concerns grew about citizens’ role within this technical turn in the environmental movement.

Additionally, a neoliberal rise posed much distrust towards the state and promoted the state as a facilitator to a strong private sector. The 1992 Earth Summit in Rio lobbied for more transparency, local-level decision-making, and nongovernmental public-private partnerships to bring public engagement back to the fore. The call for more public involvement continued with the 1998 Aarhus ‘Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision- making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters’.

Theories of participatory governance help to assess the role of citizens within environmental governance, providing active and empowering forms of citizen participation (Fischer, 2017). If well-applied, community participation can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of environmental governance (Newig & Fritsch, 2009) and might lead to more equity as decisions are made by community members rather than traditional elites (Fischer, 2000). Next to this, participatory practices potentially facilitate the creation of new professional forms of environmental expertise and recognize the value of local environmental knowledge (Fischer, 2000). Following this, I define participatory environmental governance as a variant of governance that provides means to individuals and organizations outside the traditional government to influence the processes and outcomes that concern governing our ecospace.

Participation of citizens in environmental governance can take many forms. Arnstein’s (1969) Ladder of Citizen Participation provides a typology of eight levels of participation. She defines citizen participation as ‘the strategy by which the have-nots join in determining how information is shared, goals and policies are set, tax resources are allocated, programs are operated, and benefits like contracts and patronage are parceled out’ (Arnstein, 1969, p.216). In Arnstein’s (1969) ladder of participation, meaningful participation depends on the decision power of


that share the information they receive in participatory governance practices. Next to this, accountability is important. A well-organized community that holds citizen participants accountable contributes to a true redistribution of decision-making power (Arnstein, 1969).

Finally, it should not be overlooked that financial resources are important for communities to organize themselves (Arnstein, 1969).

The Split Ladder of Participation by Hurlbert & Gupta (2015) expands Arnstein’s (1969) ladder by questioning the assumption that the greater the participation, the better the chances for improving governance. Hurlbert & Gupta (2015) combine problem structure and social learning in their Split Ladder in order to decide what choice of participatory mechanism suits a policy problem. The Split Ladder provides an understanding of whether the modalities of participation are in line with the nature of the problem and desired results (e.g. free of natural gas, circular economy, renewable energy). Hence, the Split Ladder will be used as an analytical tool to assess the choice of participation methods within urban energy transition projects.

2.3 Split Ladder of Participation

The Split Ladder of Participation (Hurlbert & Gupta, 2015) considers three elements essential to assess if, when, and in what fashion participation is necessary. The first element is the nature of the policy problem. A policy problem is defined as ‘a gap between a current situation and a more desirable future one’ (Hoppe, 2010, p.66). The desired urban energy transition in The Netherlands is a policy problem as it demands adaptive capacities of traditional stakeholders in energy supply such as the municipality and grid companies. The nature of a policy problem refers to how a problem is embedded in science, values, and goals that pertain to the future desired state (Hurlbert & Gupta, 2015). A distinction between structured and unstructured problems is used to categorize the type of policy problem (figure 1):

•& Structured problems exist “when policy designers perceive unanimity or near consensus on the normative issues at stake, and are very certain about the validity and applicability of claims to relevant knowledge”;

•& Unstructured problems are perceived “when policy makers observe widespread discomfort with the status quo, yet perceive persistent high uncertainty about relevant knowledge claims, and high preference volatility in mass and elite opinion, or strong, divisive, even community-threatening conflict over the values at stake”;


•& Moderately structured problems (ends) occur “when policy makers observe a great deal of agreement on the norms, principles, ends and goals of defining a desirable future state; but simultaneously considerable levels of uncertainty about the relevance and/or reliability of knowledge claims about how to bring it about”;

•& Moderately structured problems (means) arise ‘when relevant and required knowledge leads to high levels of certainty, but there is ongoing dissent over the normative claims at stake’ (Hoppe, 2010, p.72-73).

Figure 1: Types of problem structures Source: Hoppe (2010, p.73)

The second element for the analysis is the nature of learning needed. In order to solve a policy problem, actors have to learn about how the problem can be addressed. This study will apply the social learning approach developed by Keen et al. (2005). Social learning is defined as ‘a process of iterative reflection that occurs when we share our experiences, ideas, and environments with others’ (Keen et al., 2005, p.9). In the data analysis, considering social learning helps to break loose from Arnstein’s (1969) interpretation of participatory typologies as a continuum from bad (e.g. informing, therapy, manipulation) to good (e.g. citizen-control, delegated power, partnership). The social learning approach acknowledges that learning and engagement can result from different participation methods across different stages of a project.

Three kinds of social learning in participatory governance can be identified (Gupta 2016b;

Hurlbert & Gupta, 2015):

•& Single-loop learning: Learning within the existing normative framework and leads to


•& Double-loop learning: Learning that commands that assumptions are questioned and is required to solve moderately structured problems;

•& Triple-loop learning: Learning that occurs when the deep underlying causes and context are taken into account in redefining, relearning, and unlearning what is learnt before.

This kind of learning is needed when problems are unstructured.

The last element that has to be considered is the relevance of trust and information flow. Trust is a prerequisite for learning and can provide an indication of people’s willingness to defer to the judgments of other stakeholders in the policy process (Hurlbert & Gupta, 2015). A link exists between trust and the levels of citizen involvement and quality of information flows.

High levels of trust coincide with more public involvement and increased quality of information flows (Dorcey et al., 1994). In order to build trust, information flows have to be two-way and iterative processes of citizen involvement are required (Pahl-Wostl, 2009).

2.4 Public acceptance

As explained above, there is a revival of interest in engaging citizens in the creation and production of environmental policy. Drivers for this are the possible positive effects on efficiency, effectiveness, and equity of policy outcomes produced through stakeholder participation (Newig & Fritsch, 2009; Fischer, 2000). The proposed study will add to these findings by studying the emergence of citizen initiatives and the influence of accompanying participation methods on public acceptance of urban energy transition. Especially in the context of the energy transition, it is argued that public acceptance determines successful implementation of projects (Perlaviciute et al., 2018). Public acceptance is often misjudged by policymakers and project developers and addressed too late (Perlaviciute et al., 2018.).

Much research defines public acceptance as a simple positive or negative evaluation of something, focusing on basic preferences. However, this approach does not account for the conditionality (e.g. particular policy, geographic, or social context) of public attitudes (Demski et al., 2015). Thus, the study will focus on the energy transition process in two city districts in The Netherlands, allowing to consider the conditionality of public acceptance in a local setting.

In the context of the energy transition, studying basic preferences will not provide a comprehensive picture of public acceptance. An energy transition is a highly complex process


including the adoption of new technologies that are unfamiliar to people, and inherently unknown. As a result, it is unlikely that people have fully informed views and engagement with processes surrounding an energy transition have a great influence on developing an opinion (Macnaghten, 2010). Instead, an individual’s value system could provide a basis for understanding core reasons for public acceptance or rejection as it goes beyond a conceptualization of basic preferences (Demski et al., 2015). Following this, the proposed study will adopt a value-centered approach when conceptualizing public acceptance. Values are defined as life goals or ideals that define what is important to people in life (Rokeach, 1973).

Because of the local nature of the projects studied in this research, the focus is on community- level acceptance of the energy transition. Following the value-centered approach, Perlaviciute

& Steg (2014) found that general psychological factors are a key component in defining the acceptability of energy alternatives. Three psychological factors were identified by Perlaviciute

& Steg (2014):

•& Place-attachment and place-identity: Place-attachment and place-identity is a psychological factor that is an alternative to the over-simplified NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) approach. Place-attachment is defined as an individual’s emotional bonds with the local area, whereas place-identity refers to the extent to which physical and symbolic aspects of the place contribute to one’s sense of self or identity. When an energy transition disrupts place-attachment or threatens place-identity, public acceptance decreases (Devine!Wright, 2009).

•& Trust: An energy transition is a complex process that relies on stakeholders with specific knowledge and expertise. Hence, the public relies on these parties when evaluating costs and benefits. According to various studies, the extent to which people trust these people is an important factor for acceptability (Midden & Huijts, 2009;

Huijts, Molin, & Steg, 2012).

•& Individual values: Values define what is important to people and are psychological factors that guide specific attitudes, beliefs, preferences, and behaviors. In the environmental domain, ecological values are relevant for explaining a persons’

evaluation of environmental governance (Harraway et al., 2012). Following Perlaviciute & Steg (2014), values define which costs and benefits of an energy transition are prioritized by people and hence guide their acceptability ratings.


2.5 Gaps in research

Participatory governance has the potential to correct for failures of the traditional representative government (Fischer, 2017). However, there is no one size fits all solution in applying participatory methods for solving policy problems (Hurlbert & Gupta, 2015; Perlaviciute et al., 2018). Not all outcomes of participatory governance are positive, there are ‘empirical questions as to the extent to which participative processes actually contribute to an improved implementation of environmental policy and thus to a more sustainable usage of the environment’ (Newig, 2007, p.52). As such, by increasing knowledge of local experience of participatory governance, this study hopes to advance the effective adoption of participation methods in urban contexts.

Cultural dimensions such as community cohesion and sense of place mediate society’s response to climate change, (Adger et al., 2013), this study aims to further explore this claim by studying the influence of place-attachment and place-identity on public acceptance of the urban energy transition. Next to this, existing research claims that individual values have overarching effects on public acceptance (Perlaviciute & Steg, 2014). However, values are culturally dependent making it difficult to generalize these findings (Adger et al., 2013). Following this, the study aims to contribute to the knowledge of public acceptance in the context of urban energy transition in The Netherlands, providing a thick description of the cultural context in which the concept is researched. The results might provide insights for improved dialogue, more robust decision-making, and avoidance of possible points of conflict within participatory governance practices.

2.6 Conceptual model

Figure 2 provides the conceptual model building upon the theoretical framework. The conceptual model helps to provide an overview of relevant relations to consider when answering the research question that guides this study: How is public participation facilitated by citizen initiatives and how does this contribute to the planning process and public acceptance of urban energy transition in the Netherlands?

The arrows in the conceptual model represent the theorized relationships between the concepts.

The model includes three main components of the process loop of participatory governance


practices. The first is the policy problem, this concept was explained in section 2.4 and will be analyzed with the Split Ladder of Participation (Hurlbert & Gupta, 2015). The ladder will yield participation methods that suit the urban energy transition as a policy problem. The participatory methods that are used in reality can differ from the ones proposed by the Split ladder. Following the participatory policy-making processes, the outcome represents the result of the urban energy transition process that leads to a policy solution or new policy problems.

Central to the model is public acceptance as explained in section 2.4. Because of the complex nature of the internal world of individuals, the model depicts two-way arrows with all three components of the process loop. In reality, all components will be influenced by the internal world of individuals to some extent. And the other way around: the internal world of individuals is influenced by the world around them. However, the focus of the proposed research will be on how participatory mechanisms contribute to public acceptance, as this is where policymakers actively interact with the public.

Figure 2: Conceptual model


3. Methodology

This study follows a comparative case study design in the context of qualitative research. The comparative design ‘entails studying two contrasting cases using more or less identical methods’ (Bryman, 2012). Analytical conclusions that arise independently from two cases are more powerful than those coming from a single case, this approach can explore what findings are case-specific and what holds beyond the case. In this study, two urban neighbourhoods in The Netherlands will be treated as cases.

The central research question that guides this research is: How is public participation facilitated by citizen initiatives and how does this contribute to the planning process and public acceptance of urban energy transition in the Netherlands? In order to answer this research question, the following sub-questions are addressed:

SQ1 What participation methods are used to include residents in the urban energy transition process?

SQ2 What is the structure of the urban energy transition as a policy problem?

SQ3 What is the nature of learning needed to come to an energy transition solution?

SQ4 How does participation aid to residents’ trust in stakeholder organizations within the energy transition

SQ5 How do citizen initiatives on urban energy transition embody residents’ values?

SQ6 How do place-identity and place-attachment influence public acceptance of an urban energy transition?

The key concepts in this research are public participation, public acceptance, and nature of the policy problem. The key concepts are operationalized along the lines of dimensions and indicators (appendix 1). These dimensions and indicators set the boundaries of the research and are derived from theoretical (chapter 2) and contextual knowledge (chapter 4).


3.1 Unit of analysis and observation

This research project analyses public acceptance of the urban energy transition at a neighbourhood level. Following a value-centered approach, residents are the hosts of psychological factors that define acceptance of energy alternatives. Thus, the unit of analysis of this research is neighbourhood communities involved in urban energy transition projects in The Netherlands.

The units of observation are documents, representatives from the municipality, and residents.

For triangulation purposes, primary data from the interviews and surveys were combined with secondary data retrieved from scrupulous document analysis.

The first step in the sampling process was to find two urban energy transition projects that would provide the right context for answering the research question. A project was considered as a possible case when it (i) was executed at neighbourhood level in an urban area, (ii) actively included a citizen initiative and/or resident group, and (iii) was still in progress or recently finalized (not longer than one year ago). In search of two relevant cases, various energy cooperatives, resident groups, and municipalities were contacted over email and phone.

Eventually, an agreement was reached with representatives of two citizen initiatives, one in Statenkwartier and one in Twekkelerveld.

The first two interviews were conducted with the aforementioned contact persons, both being key figures from within the citizen initiatives as well as neighbourhood residents. Snowball sampling was used to expand the sample, emphasizing the need for different perspectives. This resulted in two interviews with municipality representatives, six interviews with actively involved residents, and one interview with a representative from the independent foundation

‘Duurzaam Den Haag’ in The Hague.

The aim was to continue sampling until reaching theoretical saturation, which means ‘until no new or relevant data seem to be emerging regarding a category, the category is well developed in terms of its properties and dimensions demonstrating variation, and the relationships among categories are well established and validated’ (Strauss & Corbin, 1998, p.212). After the completion of the in-depth interviews, I was not convinced that I had reached theoretical


saturation. Especially for RQ4, RQ5, and RQ6. Hence, I decided to complement my data collection with a survey.

In order to obtain survey respondents, I distributed 400 flyers in Twekkelerveld and 300 in Statenkwartier. See appendix 2 for an example of the flyer that was distributed in Statenkwartier.

Due to time constraints, the minimum quantity of 300 flyers was chosen. Twekkelerveld includes many apartment buildings, giving me time to distribute 100 flyers more than in The Hague. In light of receiving a representative sample of respondents, I started with biking through the neighbourhood. After that, I choose approximately 15 streets evenly spread over the neighbourhood that offered housing diversity. I visited Twekkelerveld on a weekend day, enabling me to go ring the bell at roughly 50 houses so I could personally speak with residents about my research and the online survey. Unfortunately, I had to visit The Hague on a Thursday morning, which I considered ill timing to ring residents’ doorbell.

3.2 Data collection methods

Three data collection methods were used to gather primary and secondary data: document analysis, interviews, and an online survey. The core data collection method was the semi- structured interview for which the sampling has been explained above. The sections below will elaborate on the three consecutive data collection phases applied in the research project.

First, the document analysis generated a first impression of the lay of the land concerning the core concepts: public acceptance, public participation, and energy transition as a policy problem in the context of the energy transition process in Twekkelerveld and Statenkwartier. Guided by RQ1 and RQ2, documents published by the municipality and citizen initiatives concerning the energy transition process were reviewed. The document analysis provided information that secured informed and reflective interviews. All documents were retrieved from websites of the aforementioned organizations. After the document analysis, the semi-structured interviews were conducted in the second phase of data collection. A semi-structured interview is an interview in which ‘the interviewer has a series of questions that are in the general form of an interview schedule but is able to vary the sequence of questions’ (Bryman, 2012, p.212). The interview guide is provided in appendix 3. I choose this interview technique to maintain an open mind about what I wanted to learn about my concepts. The interviews expanded the quality


of information that was collected in the first phase. In total, 11 semi-structured interviews were held: five for Twekkelerveld and six for Statenkwartier.

In the third phase, an online survey was distributed in Twekkelerveld and Statenkwartier. The survey consisted of three building blocks. The first component included six questions about the respondent’s age, living situation, and familiarity with citizen initiatives. In the second component, twelve statements were given to which the respondent could answer (i) agree, (ii) disagree, or (iii) no opinion. Respondents were encouraged to explain their answer by selecting the fourth option ‘explanation’, but this was not mandatory. The twelve statements were divided into blocks of four, all relating to different key concepts. The first four statements addressed the respondent’s interest in the energy transition and view on the role of citizen initiatives in the local energy transition process. After that, four statements on the respondent’s connection with their neighbourhood followed. The final four statements were derived from the New Ecological Paradigm (Harraway et al., 2012), indicating the respondent’s standpoint on ecological values. Appendix 4 provides an overview of the statements with the corresponding key concepts.

The last component of the survey included seven statements derived from Hon & Grunig (1999) that indicate an organization’s relationship with the public. The key organizations involved in the energy transition process were listed and respondents were asked to select the statements that they thought best described the listed organizations. When respondents indicated that they were familiar with the local citizen initiatives, these organizations were listed as well. Appendix 5 provides the list of statements with the corresponding dimensions that relate to the key concept trust.

Survey respondents could fill in their contact information if they were willing to speak further about the subject. Thus, the last round of data collection consisted of follow-up interviews of approximately 20 minutes. Within these interviews, residents elaborated on their interest in the energy transition, knowledge of citizen initiatives, and personal interest in participation.

To conclude, due to COVID-19 restrictions all data was collected digitally. The semi-structured interviews were conducted over Zoom and the follow-up interviews with survey respondents were done over the phone. When going door-to-door in Twekkelerveld I made sure to keep 1.5


meters distance when residents answered the door. When handing over the flyer keeping distance was not possible, but this was only done in agreement with residents.

3.3 Data analysis

3.3.1 Qualitative analysis documents, interviews, and survey comments

Following the qualitative nature of the data collection, I used qualitative content analysis to structurally assess the interviews and documents. A qualitative content analysis ‘comprises a searching-out of underlying themes in the materials being analyzed’ (Bryman, 2012, p.557).

For this study, the software program Atlas.ti was used to support the process of qualitative content analysis. Atlas.ti allows comprehensive qualitative data analysis by providing tools to locate, label, and define findings in primary data material (Silver & Lewins, 2014). All documents, interview transcripts, and comments from the survey were compiled in Atlas.ti using separate projects for Statenkwartier and Twekkelerveld.

All the transcripts that were uploaded in Atlas.ti were made anonymous. Several respondents requested to remain anonymous. Because of the small sample size that was interviewed, all comments in this study have been made anonymous in order to ensure the anonymity of those who requested it. For the interviews, the code SRx refers to Statenkwartier Respondent and TRx refers to Twekkelerveld respondent. For the comments left in the online survey, the codes RxSurveyST for Statenkwartier and RxSurveyTW for Twekkelerveld were used.

After collecting all data, the first step of the qualitative content analysis was to skim primary and secondary data in Atlas.ti, during which notes were made expressing the first impression.

An overview of the documents included in this analysis is given in appendix 6. Next to these documents, the transcript of the semi-structured interviews and follow-up interviews were included. Finally, the comments that respondents placed within the online survey were compiled in one document and uploaded in Atlas.ti as well.

The documents were read thoroughly once more before assigning codes. A combination of deductive and inductive coding was applied. Based upon the first impression, the following a- priori codes were derived from the theoretical framework: one-way information, two-way


information, single-loop learning, double-loop learning, triple-loop learning, uncertainty in science, and insufficient knowledge. After this, the coding process started by labeling relevant sections such as words, sentences, tables, images, and actions. Sections could be identified as relevant for a variety of reasons. For example, because an opinion was repeated, information was contradicting, or novel ideas were presented. As a result of inductive coding, many new codes emerged. With every new code, a comment was added with a description of the code.

The latter was done to ensure coherence when assigning codes.

After the first round of open coding, the total number of codes for Statenkwartier was 85 and for Twekkelerveld 75. Special interest went out to identifying themes that relate to how the energy transition is recognized and addressed as a policy problem in the projects. After the first round of coding was finalized, the codes were reviewed. Notes were taken of connections between codes and some were merged or deleted when considered to have low relevance.

Finally, a coding schedule was made including 93 original codes (appendix 7). The coding schedule includes the first, second, and third-order codes. The first-order codes have the same labels as the codes used in the analysis. The second-order represent the key concepts, while the third-order codes encompass the core themes of the research.

3.3.2 Survey and follow-up interviews

The online survey received 19 responses in Statenkwartier and 27 responses in Twekkelerveld.

The response rate was too low to support any quantitative data analysis tests. However, the results were put next to the qualitative data analysis to solidify findings or search for contradictions. Furthermore, five residents in Twekkelerveld were contacted for a follow-up interview to discuss the subject further. Notes were taken during these interviews and included in the data analysis.


3.4 Limitations

Observations were not part of the data collection, complicating triangulation in the data analysis.

Attending community gatherings would have been of additional value for the research. Prior to the start of the research, several community meetings were organized in Statenkwartier and Twekkelerveld. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, there were no public gatherings to attend during my fieldwork period. However, respondents have been asked to elaborate on how they experienced community meetings prior COVID-19. Also, secondary data providing information about these community meetings have been included in the data analysis.

3.5 Methodological reflection

This section evaluates the data collection and analysis methods along the lines of four quality criteria, namely credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability. These criteria assess whether the inquiry measures what it proposed to measure while recognizing that there are no absolute truths about the social world.

The chosen quality criteria for this study are mentioned in Bryman (2012) and derived from the works of Lincoln & Guba (1985) and Guba & Lincoln (1994), in which trustworthiness and authenticity are suggested as primary quality criteria for assessing qualitative research.

Trustworthiness is a set of four criteria that parallel with reliability and validity standards in quantitative research. These qualitative research criteria rest on the idea that ‘there is no single absolute account of social reality, there can be more than one and possibly several accounts’

(Bryman, 2012, p.390). All four criteria will be discussed below. Authenticity concerns the wider political impact of the research and will not be discussed. Whilst the research does not aim to impact the politics of the community in which it is conducted, it cannot be ruled out from happening. However, making authenticity claims would be speculative as the data that is collected does not provide any information on how the research was processed by the community.



Traditionally, a distinction is made between internal validity and external validity. In qualitative research, credibility parallels internal validity, whereas transferability parallels external validity.

Thus, credibility in this study refers to the validity of inferences about the relationship between public participation and public acceptance of urban energy transition in the cases studied. To establish credibility, triangulation of sources was strived for. The intention was to collect data through document analysis, semi-structured interviews, and observations. However, it was not possible for me to do observations, as no participatory activities were planned during the data collection period. Observations would have strengthened credibility because it enables a more neutral analysis of public participation methods.

As a substitute for primary observational data, I used secondary data, such as personal accounts and reports on community meetings. These personal accounts were gathered from interviews and public documents. However, it is important to bear in mind that all interviewees have had an interest in the participatory practices, either as resident or professional. Hence, the omission of observations in the data collection weakens credibility as it impedes receiving full information. Still, credibility can withstand. All interviews were conducted in a confidential and transparent fashion in which participants could freely speak their minds on participation practices. By conveying objectivity and anonymity, it can be taken that they have provided me with accurate information that is true for them. The credibility of this study is strengthened by an adjusted method of triangulation, replacing observations with official reports on community meetings such as ‘Questions and Answers’ from the municipality of Enschede.


The transferability of this study refers to the applicability of the findings to groups outside of the sample and to other time periods (Bryman, 2012). Almost all sources have acknowledged that neighbourhood characteristics have a great impact on the complexity of the urban energy transition process. These characteristics pertain to both social factors like residents’ socio- economic background and technical factors such as poorly insulated buildings. Next to this, the physical location of a neighbourhood can be decisive in the complexity as some neighbourhoods are close to alternative energy sources while some are more remote. All the aforementioned contributed to the fact that the effect of participation methods on public acceptance is highly context-dependent. The transferability of the findings will go as far as


other neighbourhoods that are similar to the ones that have been researched. To be able to identify similar cases, a thick description of the research context is provided.

Transferability to other time periods is mostly dependent on how energy technology develops over time. One of the causes of tension surrounding public participation is insecurities about technology that is still in its infancy. Many respondents refer to these technologies as being

‘experimental’. The latter description is normal for technology in its pilot phase, hence the name

‘pilot neighbourhood’ for areas that are currently advancing in the urban energy transition process. As long as no significant technological developments occur in energy technology, the findings of this study are transferable to other time periods in similar cases.


Dependability refers to the consistency of the findings and can be strengthened by adhering to a transparent research process (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Within this, I have to acknowledge the impact of my subjectivity of the data analysis. To increase consistency in the coding process, I tried to code in sessions of 45 minutes without distractions as much as possible. Between each 45-minute session, I took a break for approximately 20 minutes. I structured the coding process this way to allow my mind to be fully focused on the data. This focus made it possible to be consistent in coding relevant pieces of information. Next to this, I added a description to every novel code so that my interpretation of it would show when assigning existing codes.

The coding process remains an informal effort in which I did not only code information that was repeated by multiple sources but also pieces of information that I found remarkable. Of course, this latter criterion is one that rests on my subjectivity and might not be identified by others as remarkable. For the same reason, I might have missed information that did not stand out for me while it would have for others. This incorporation of a personal bias is inherent in qualitative research. In the result chapters, I try to be transparent about my choices by explaining why certain pieces of information were considered to be important. In the ethical reflection, personal biases are addressed.



Confirmability is the last criterion and refers to the consideration of my neutrality in the research (Bryman, 2012). Public acceptance of urban energy transition was a relatively new topic for me when I started the research. Hence, I did not bring with me strong values or beliefs on this specific topic. However, I have been concerned with the short- and long-term effects of our current energy consumption system and I would like to see it change to being more sustainable. This wish for change should impact the research as little as possible because it could be picked up by respondents or affect how I interpret things. During the interviews, I did not contest respondents who were not in favor of change and I listened carefully to their argumentation. After each interview, I made an entry in a reflexive journal in which I summarize how the interview went and what issues the interviewee seemed particularly invested in. When coding the interview transcripts, the journal reminds me of what the respondents find important. The latter supports me in assuring that the codes are weighted according to the respondents’ original views. Finally, the interpretation process is described in detail in the methodology chapter and can be used as an audit trail.

3.6 Ethical reflection and positionality

In this section, I will elaborate on the ethical issues that surfaced during data collection.

The first step in collecting data was to find two urban citizen projects concerning local energy transition in the Netherlands. I did an extensive internet search and sent emails to organizations involved in potential case studies. Within these emails I did not elaborate too much on the research itself, I only mentioned the research topic and research question as it served as an introductory message. In addition to mentioning the research topic, I made sure to note that the research would be conducted as part of a master thesis in International Development Studies at the University of Amsterdam. Within follow-up emails or phone calls with potentially interested organizations, I elaborated more on the research objective by sharing the sub-research questions and preferred methods of data collection. By doing this, I hoped to convey transparency and objectivity.

When I found two cases in The Hague and Enschede, I started with in-depth interviews over Zoom. All interviewees were informed beforehand on the subjects that would be discussed and


saving the audio file for transcribing. Out of privacy considerations, no personal information of respondents was included when naming the audio and transcription file. Cross-references by respondents to other respondents were anonymized. The only way to identify a respondent would be the transparency document which will only be shared with my thesis supervisor. Some respondents did not ask to be anonymized, however, I decided to not disclose their identity to ensure the anonymity of the other respondents.

The second round of data collection was the distribution of a survey in both citizen project areas;

Enschede and The Hague. For potential respondents to be fully informed, the flyer included information about the research goal and information about the set-up of the survey. I was aware that people might feel some distrust towards opening an unknown online survey with their telephone or laptop, hence I communicated that no personal information would be asked from them. I included my name and email address in case a resident had any questions or remarks, enhancing transparency and approachability.

At the end of the survey, respondents could fill in their e-mail address if they were willing to talk further about energy transition in their neighbourhood. Hence, the third round of data collection consisted of short interviews with these survey respondents. Voluntary participation was ensured as respondents took the initiative to leave their contact information. These follow- up interviews were conducted over the phone in which I asked for consent to take notes and to use these for my data analysis.

When starting the data collection, I anticipated participant’s concerns to mainly surround privacy, anonymity, and confidentiality. However, I found that participants were most interested in the goal and intentions of the research. Therefore, I gave due attention to explaining my objectivity and sharing data analysis procedures, so participants could make an informed decision on their willingness to participate in the research.


Within this final section of the ethical reflection, my positionality will be made explicit as far as possible. Acknowledging my positionality is important as it might limit the rigour of the data collection, analysis, and interpretation. As a result of personal values or personal opinions on the subject energy transition I might have rejected evidence that does not support my own views.


Thus, I will be as transparent as possible about my position within the energy transition discourse.

Before starting this research, the urban energy transition was not a subject that I was interested in much. Especially the technical aspects of the energy transition have made me hesitant to really engage with the subject. Thus, when it comes to discussing different energy alternatives, I do not think that my position was biased. Nevertheless, I do fully support a change in how we organize our energy markets as I recognize the negative environmental and social impacts of the current fossil fuel driven market. In general, I would argue that I am in favour of a fast transition. But not at all costs. I am aware of the little knowledge I have concerning the social and technical aspects of the energy transition and hope to have been an objective listener for all interviewees.

4. Research context

As a case study approach is taken for this research, this chapter will provide a thick description of the research context. The research was conducted in two urban neighbourhoods in The Netherlands: Statenkwartier in The Hague and Twekkelerveld in Enschede. The national approach towards the energy transition is discussed before moving on to the description of Statenkwartier and Twekkelerveld. The national approach has to be considered because the urban energy transition process is embedded in national policy-making.

After examining the national context, the local research context is discussed. Information on neighbourhood characteristics is provided in combination with city policy ambitions concerning the energy transition. The descriptions conclude with a short description of the citizen initiatives active in the neighbourhood. Both neighbourhoods were selected as a result of convenience sampling. As a result of the time constraints of this study, it was not possible to select cases based on certain similarities or differences.


4.1 Regional Energy Strategies in The Netherlands

After signing the Paris Agreement in 2015, the Dutch government presented the Climate Agreement in 2019 with emission reduction as the objective. In the Climate Agreement, the Dutch government decided to decentralize strategy-making for how to reach the emission reduction goals. In total, 30 separate regions were appointed and asked to generate a Regional Energy Strategy or RES. Within these regions, local authorities (municipalities, provinces, and regional water authorities) work together in composing a plan to realize the energy transition.

The National Program RES was established to assure coherence between these Regional Energy Strategies.

Within the RES, every region describes its own decisions about how to give substance to the energy transition. When making these decisions, it is important to consider the impact on the living environment. For example, new wind and solar parks are placed on land that was used for other purposes before and therefore change the landscape. At the receiving end of the energy cycle where energy is not generated but consumed, changes to the living environment might be necessary as well. For example, buildings that rely on natural gas for heating are often required to make changes to the internal heat distribution infrastructure to be able to channel heat from new energy sources. This latter issue is explored within the national program PAW, which translates to ‘Program Natural Gas Free Neighbourhoods’.

Within the PAW, municipalities share their experience and knowledge of making neighbourhoods natural gas free. In order to accelerate the learning process there are urban labs in which concrete steps are taken to decouple neighbourhoods from natural gas. Municipalities can register neighbourhoods for the program by handing in a WUP1 or ‘neighbourhood execution plan’ to the PAW. An advisory committee looks at all applications and hands out a subsidy to the ones that meet the quality criteria. Next to adhering to quality criteria, the advisory committee aims for a diverse selection of urban labs that reflects the various types of living environments found in The Netherlands. So far, there have been two application rounds from which 46 urban labs were selected. The third application round starts at the beginning of July in 2021.

1 Wijkuitvoeringsplan




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