New paper | Strategic openings: On the productivity of blended long-term perspectives in spatial strategy. A Dutch case study

Van de Mosselaer, F., & Duineveld, M. (2021). Strategic openings: on the productivity of blended long-term perspectives in spatial strategy. A Dutch case study. Futures.

In this paper we study the co-evolution of multiple long-term perspectives and their role in the formation of strategy in spatial governance. We conducted a case study of the development of the Brabant Environmental Strategy (BES) in the Netherlands. We observed that in the emergence of the BES four long-term perspectives were articulated and we analysed that the interplay between these long-term perspectives rendered two productive fictions. One is named ‘the unquestionable destination’. It emphasizes the instrumental rationality of good governance in the present and veils debates about the desirability, plausibility and probability of the future that it aims to govern. The second is named ‘buying time’. Here the medium-term future and its inherent contingencies are black-boxed thereby masking the politics that will impact upon the likelihood that the desired future will become reality. We conclude that these fictions are productive as they create what we call strategic openings. Strategic openings are intended or unintended discursive constructs built in strategy which enable a diversity of practices over the course of time to be labelled as consistent with the strategy. These openings are strategic from a governance perspective as they create room for manoeuvre and allow for adaptive planning or emergent strategy. However, they also invoke implicit and tacit selectivity, depoliticization and retrospective and prospective legitimation. Therefore, we argue that the implicit and tacit assumptions behind long-term perspectives and their translation in strategy practice demand critical scrutiny in actual planning practices from which long-term perspectives emerge. The collectively desired future is always subject to politics and societal dispute and hence the negotiated nature of the future and their reality effects in the present cannot be taken-for-granted.