Social innovations for delivering Blue and Green Infrastructure: connecting multiple benefits, multiple stakeholders, and multiple disciplines

Policy Brief from the Interreg North Sea Region BEGIN project

Dr. Jannes Willems, Prof. Richard Ashley, Dr. William Veerbeek, Dr. Sebastiaan van Herk & Ellen Kelder (July 2020)

RECOMMENDATION 4: Develop asset management principles and processes for BGI

The Challenge: Fitting BGI into established asset management processes

BGI, like other systems and services, provides an important societal function that needs to be maintained over the expected lifetime. Unlike traditional drainage infrastructure, BGI provides multiple benefits, each of which needs to be sustained by appropriate maintenance, repair, renovation and replacement. Traditional infrastructural assets are maintained in accordance with well-established standards like ISO 55000 and owners and operators are clear about how to do this to maximise value.

BGI is different as it provides many functions, or benefits and, being nature-based, is often self-generative16, i.e. may function even without maintenance. Hence managing BGI assets requires a new vision and approach from that used for traditional asset management. Most drainage schemes that include BGI will also include some components of traditional piped drainage, for example, to interconnect each BGI measure, and for some, there may need to be substantial buried infrastructure, depending on local circumstances. Hence many schemes will in future be hybrids, i.e. using both BGI and pipe or tank systems17. Monitoring records and depreciation schemes that are used to manage the lifecycle of existing grey infrastructure need to be adapted or modified for hybrid and BGI assets. Furthermore, the multi-functional nature of BGI requires a wider set of performance indicators. In short: most BGI does not fit with the typical asset management frameworks that have been developed for grey infrastructures. To illustrate, only recently has BGI been considered as an asset, being labelled as ‘a sewer’ in the UK18. Nonetheless, this does not capture the need to maintain the multi-functional nature of BGI.

Widespread applications of BGI are still in their infancy, hampering insight into the long-term requirements and effects of maintaining and operating BGI. Hence, there is considerable uncertainty about the lifecycle performance of BGI and to what extent the BGI can continue to deliver the benefits that have been predicted at the design stage. So far, most attention has been paid to the short-term for BGI use, despite tools like B£ST including a long-term scenario planning option19.

The social innovation: Better monitoring and management of BGI

More experience of the lifecycle performance, as well as the short-term performance and benefits of BGI assets is required, as BGI is increasingly being used. Better monitoring and evaluation of the benefits estimated in the design and planning stages is required. This assessment will allow for refinement in assumptions, useful for planning, designing and operating existing and future BGI. For instance, the assessment can enhance the uptake of BGI, since the benefits of BGI become more evidence-based. This would produce a better demonstration of the benefits that can be expected, and which benefits may be more challenging to achieve and maintain over time. This will help policymakers across Europe in their decision-making and make investing in BGI less of a risky business. Traditional flood risk management infrastructure is invariably designed for the longer term and established processes are being used to assess the robustness, based on asset management processes. The same approaches need to be used for BGI.

The findings will also improve current asset management principles and processes. Consequently, these principles can become better focused on managing BGI assets for maximum value. The ISO-standards used in traditional asset management can be refined in order to fully capture the scope of BGI value provision, rather than trying to force asset management processes used for grey infrastructure to work for BGI schemes.

Evidence from the BEGIN cases

More experience of lifecycle performance


Pilot semi-paved car parking


Monitoring use and identifying trends


Environmental volunteering for BGI maintenance

Improve asset management principles


New decision-making frameworks


Guidelines for BGI in public space manuals

Let’s start a conversation

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