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 1: Identify the beneficiaries and their interests when making the case for BGI

The Challenge: There are multiple business cases

Traditional grey infrastructure typically requires a single business case, because it provides a single function, although there may be multiple funders each of which may require a tailored business case.  Since traditional grey infrastructure usually has a single purpose (e.g. flood risk reduction), the costs and benefits are usually well defined and making the case is relatively straightforward. In contrast, BGI provides multiple benefits, including to ecology, recreation, economic development, and residents’ wellbeing, each potentially with overlapping and different beneficiaries. Because of the integrative character of BGI projects, these are inherently more complex in planning, delivery and operation and require the collaboration of multiple stakeholders. Hence BGI usually requires bespoke business cases tailored for each of the many stakeholders and beneficiaries involved8. This means that for a BGI project there will be a wide range of potential benefits that need to be identified, requiring the valuation of these benefits and identification of beneficiaries. Partnerships will need to be established for funding to ensure that the wealth of benefits from using BGI will be delivered and sustained over time.

The social innovation: Define the benefits of your BGI and associate these with beneficiaries

Water managers need to become more familiar with the overlapping ambitions and requirements of using BGI to create synergies between the different services that may be provided. This means working with others in interdisciplinary teams, especially land-use managers. Managing surface water runoff or reducing heat stress is just one purpose of using BGI. Branding the broader benefits of BGI will create broad support for the use of BGI. The multiple benefits of BGI have been defined in numerous guidance and supporting documents, for which tools, such as B£ST (Benefits Estimation Tool) and TEEB-stad, can be used to identify and monetise the financial, social and environmental benefits provided by BGI4. Cities should develop strategic vision documents for BGI that illustrate the range of benefits and includes compelling messages to inspire and convince stakeholders to collaborate, and/or partner in the delivery of BGI. Strategic vision documents should clearly identify who benefits from BGI, including landowners and communities benefitting from enhanced liveability, new recreation areas, better ecology or improved health. These elements have to be sequenced in a way that enables a compelling brand to be created, presenting the BGI as an opportunity that will boost the whole neighbourhood. A strong, integrative brand can be sold more easily to politicians, policymakers and citizens alike.

Stakeholder mapping can be used to identify who needs to be involved. Strategic vision documents should relate the BGI to developments in an area and reach out to the stakeholders involved. Moreover, collaboration becomes more likely if water managers and urban planners understand what drives these stakeholders. Potential stakeholders could include other departments within the municipality, water and environmental authorities, regional governments, businesses, or local NGOs. The BGI intervention, then, becomes a joint effort in which each party contributes resources (financial, human, technology, land) and receives rewards. To this end, different types of business cases can be made, such as combined or aligned budgets of different municipal departments or partnerships with communities and businesses, providing the means to build the BGI and maintain it over time. For example, communities can maintain with the support of the municipality, who provide the materials.

Evidence from the BEGIN cases

Strategic visioning for BGI


A blue-green vision 


Water Plan


Green Climate Axes

Stakeholder and opportunity mapping


Lightrail development with BGI opportunities


Private investment for BGI


Engagement with adjacent landowners


Opportunity mapping through B£ST

Let’s start a conversation

If you have any questions or remarks about the policy brief, get in touch with the authors: