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 2: Link the BGI to communities by demonstrating the value to them

The Challenge: Making BGI a joint responsibility of public and private actors

BGI is typically built on the surface and is much more visible to citizens compared with traditional grey infrastructure that is usually invisible (underground) and therefore often unknown to the general public9. Managing water on the surface means water visibly flows from place to place and may pass through various spaces and properties, collecting in low lying areas. Communities will occasionally need to understand and accept the need to have water on the surface where they do not normally see it. Much of these spaces can be blue or green and managing them as BGI can best be achieved by integrating them in urban plans for both public and private space. Consequently, managing BGI will need to become a shared responsibility for public and private actors10. Therefore, enterprise and community engagement become much more important in delivering BGI than for traditional infrastructure11 12.

Establishing effective engagement (so activating citizens, communities and enterprises) has been challenging for urban water and city managers. Urban water management has traditionally been a highly-specialised field. Approaches need to be found, to better relate the need for technical solutions, such as managing water on the surface, to citizens’ daily life. Citizens and others need incentives to engage in this, because they consider ‘water management’ as someone else’s responsibility for which they already pay taxes or a utility bill.

The social innovation: Activating communities through city-wide campaigns
and neighbourhood champions

The BEGIN-project recommends two pathways in order to transform passive communities into more active BGI engaged communities. These need to be tailored to the community, cultural context and local conditions.

Firstly, citizen interests can be activated through innovative awareness-raising campaigns. The BEGIN-project demonstrates the importance of relating BGI (and use for climate change challenges) to the daily life of residents and the wider community, thus emphasising the human benefits and value from using BGI. How could, for example, BGI contribute to citizens’ wellbeing? City partners developed both city-wide branding strategies (showing how BGI climate change measures could improve the city) and activation techniques targeted at different stakeholder groups. Since BGI interventions are typically constructed on the surface rather than underground, the newly constructed blue-green elements can have multiple uses (see recommendation 1). The multiple benefits offer opportunities to link the use of BGI with residents’ and other daily life in the neighbourhood. Translating benefits clearly into how these help with residents’ daily life will engender support at the neighbourhood-level for the BGI.

Secondly, a different strategy is needed for community engagement in specific projects. A major component is in finding a way in through “local champions” who can help in actively involving the community in the design, construction and maintenance of the BGI. Champions should ideally either live or work in the neighbourhood, such as voluntary groups, welfare workers, school representatives or social entrepreneurs. Or they could be businesses engaging through corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. Relating champions’ interests to the BGI can provide a driving force for others to become engaged in the BGI. In parallel, interactions with local champions can be formalised through voluntary agreements or partnerships between the municipalities and the community for taking care of the BGI. This can ensure longer-lasting interest in the BGI and potentially save costs for maintenance. For urban water managers, this often requires the relinquishing of control when handing over responsibilities to communities, albeit while still keeping an overview of the continuing performance of the BGI.

Evidence from the BEGIN cases

City-wide branding

Targeted activation

  Finding local champions


Rain Gothenburg


Engaging communities through new service designs


Partnership with Friends of the Park

Let’s start a conversation

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