Anticipating water infrastructure renewal: A framing perspective on organizational learning in public agencies

Jannes Willems, T Busscher, MA van Brink, J (Janine) Arts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Water authorities in Western countries are increasingly confronted with waterway renewal. Ageing waterway infrastructures put the reliability of the existing network under pressure. Similarly, they open up the need to anticipate long-term uncertainties to ensure network performance. Aligning organizational practices to this new context can be considered an organizational learning process, which concerns improving current practices as well as reconsidering underlying values. Against the background of public management reforms, we aim to understand the organizational learning process in a case study of the Dutch authority Rijkswaterstaat, which is facing a major waterway renewal challenge. By developing a framing perspective on organizational learning, our analysis theoretically provides more insight into agencies anticipating change and empirically into waterway renewal in practice. Our research demonstrates that waterway renewal is primarily framed from a New Public Management viewpoint in which change is approached rather pragmatically. Accordingly, we observed a refinement of existing practice that protects the agency’s mission. Higher levels of learning were discarded as potentially disruptive to waterway management, leaving more fundamental change untouched. We therefore question to what extent water authorities are capable of fully addressing waterway renewal. Nevertheless, the repositioning process resulted in opportunities for reflecting on dominant frames and introducing new concepts. To better seize such opportunities and thus improve alignment to waterway renewal, water authorities can, in addition to improving existing practices, re-interpret dominant frames and construct a new narrative in which future, long-term uncertainties are acknowledged as inherent conditions for agencies to cope with.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1088-1108
Number of pages21
JournalEnvironment and Planning C: Politics and Space
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 5 Oct 2017


Dive into the research topics of 'Anticipating water infrastructure renewal: A framing perspective on organizational learning in public agencies'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this