Performance and durability of citizen initiatives

Malika Igalla’s PhD project is part of the RePolis program. She examines the durability and performance of citizen initiatives focused on self-organising public services.

Nowadays, citizens take matters into their own hands generating services or goods themselves for local communities. Furthermore, receding governments are keen to seize the benefits of this civil strength in order to tackle social issues. Expectations of citizen self-organisation are high. However, little is known about the performance and durability of citizen initiatives. To what extent are they able to shape public services and goods in a durable manner, how do they perform and what are important factors in this respect?

Research on the outcomes of citizen initiatives and the effects of determinants is scarce and needed. Recent literature that is especially based on (single) case studies, does provide three relevant determinants affecting success and growth of citizen initiatives. These are network characteristics, government strategies and leadership styles of citizen initiators.

In this PhD research, effects of these determinants on the durability and performance of citizen initiatives will be explored and explained by using a mixed-method approach. During her research, Malika Igalla will be supervised by prof. dr. Jurian Edelenbos (promotor), dr. Ingmar van Meerkerk (co-promotor) and dr. Arwin van Buuren (RePolis).

Boundary spanning for community based urban regeneration

International research project ‘Boundary spanning for community based urban regeneration’. Projectleader: Dr. Ingmar van Meerkerk.

In this international comparative research, the evolution of the interplay between community self-organization and government is examined. The main question addressed in this projects is: How does the interplay between community self-organization and local governments in the context of urban regeneration evolve, how can that be explained and what are important boundary spanning skills, activities and challenges in this respect?

There is a lack of knowledge about the interplay between citizen initiatives and governments. The type of interplay (co-production, co-destruction, avoidance, etc.) can be very different. This research tries to gain more knowledge about how we can explain the type of relationship emerging. It uses an international comparative case study approach. An important factor in which is considered in this research concerns the interplay between so-called boundary spanners at both sides of the state – community boundary. Previous research has indicated the importance of these boundary spanners for effective and sustainable interaction and collaboration between citizen initiatives and governments (Van Meerkerk, 2014; Van Meerkerk et al., 2013). This research will therefore particularly focus on their activities, skills and challenges. In this way specific knowledge about how sustainable relationships between governments and community self-organization can emerge can be further developed. The specific focus on community leaders’ and civil servants’ boundary spanning skills and boundary spanning activities also enables the valorization of research results and aims to assist governments and community leaders in developing sustainable co-production in dealing with urban regeneration. Comparison between countries further provides the opportunity for taking the institutional context into account. For this research different cases of community self-organization (particularly community enterprises) in the Netherlands, India and the United Kingdom are examined.

Valorisation program water boards

The 5 research questions of the RePolis program will be explored for the public authorities that are responsible for a large part of Dutch water management, the regional water boards. We will examine how they relate to the proactive involvement of citizens, entrepreneurs and land owners in the implementation of water management tasks. The institutional context of water management in the Netherlands is more complicated than in other policy domains because the water boards are an additional administrative layer (next to national, provincial and local government). This means that self-organizing or civic initiatives in the urban environment will have to deal with a different ‘receiving’ public authority – the municipality – than initiatives in more rural areas, with the water boards as first administrative body. In addition, in rural areas the provincial government will play a more prominent role in water management tasks than in urban areas.

Water management is a policy issue that calls for collective action in the Netherlands for centuries. As a consequence the water board is the oldest Dutch administrative entity and closely situated to the local community. Water managing organization show an increased interest for new ways for organizing and implementing their tasks, in co-production with citizens, entrepreneurs and land owners. This interest in the managing and implementation capacity of the local community is vested in the expectation that the resources will increase in the coming period, whereas the tasks will become more comprehensive. The execution of EU-policy (Water Framework Directive), of the national water safety program (Deltaprogram) and changing societal preferences with regard to landscape management and (water related) recreation, will expectedly put more strain on the water boards. Next to this, the societal trend that people want to take more responsibility for their own living environment, becomes more prominent. Citizens and entrepreneurs are literally more willing to take up the shovel and improve their own environment. Lastly, with the new spatial planning act (the Environment Act / Omgevingswet), public authorities are stimulated to organize the spatial visioning and implementation more in a more integrated and participatory fashion.

Many water managing organizations already have gained much knowledge and experience with environment management, through interactive planning processes for integrated water resources management form the mid-90s onwards. In these processes, the interaction with citizens, entrepreneurs and landowners was initiated, facilitated and terminated (when their objectives were met) by the water managing organizations themselves. The current challenge is how water management may deal with actions and efforts that are initiated and organized by citizens, entrepreneurs and/or landowners, aimed at the implementation of water managing tasks. In other words, how may water boards participate in processes that are initiated and organized by other organizations in a productive way?

Database citizen initiatives

The RePolis program develops a database in which data will be systematically and transparently stored about civic initiatives in the Netherlands and other countries. In this way, these data will become of use for the development of trend studies regarding civic initiatives. Moreover, these data can be used for scientific and evidence based analyses, and testing of theoretical models. In the database information will be collected and stored about leadership styles, organization structures, evolution of civic initiatives (growth, phases), and output and outcomes of civic initiatives.


Prof.dr. Arwin van Buuren

Arwin van Buuren (1980) is Professor of Public Administration and program manager of the RePolis Research Program. His research is about new forms of governance capacity, and how public, private and societal actors can effectively combine their capacities for solving complex, wicked issues. He is frequently asked to advise public agencies about issues regarding collaboration and governance. He is especially interested in design-oriented research and publishes regularly about action-oriented research approaches. He has a strong focus on knowledge valorization and bridging the gap between science and society.

Prof. dr. Jurian Edelenbos

Jurian Edelenbos (1971) is professor of Interactive Governance at the Department of Public Administration and Sociology, Erasmus University Rotterdam. He conducts research in the fields of interactive governance networks, trust-building, network management, boundary spanning, and community and civic self-organization. He combines quantitative (surveys) and qualitative research (single, multiple and comparative case study designs) and holds an applied scientific research perspective. He is also Academic Director of IHS (Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies) and is Director of the International PhD Program on Urban Governance and Development.
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Prof. dr. Victor Bekkers

Prof. dr. Victor Bekkers is professor of public administration and public policy and dean of the Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences. Between 2013 and 2016, he coordinated the EU Seventh Framework program on social innovation in the public sector, called LIPSE. In this program self-organizing citizen groups are being studied as an example of co-creation in public service delivery innovation ( His research interests are focused on how and under what conditions innovation processes – also in relation to the use of ICT – are shaped in the public sector in order to develop more responsive policy and public service programs.

Dr. Ingmar van Meerkerk

Dr. Ingmar van Meerkerk (1986) is assistant professor at the Department of Public Administration and Sociology at Erasmus University Rotterdam. His research activities are focused on community-based initiatives and interactive governance, specifically in the field of urban regeneration. He uses theories on interactive governance and boundary spanning to analyze the interaction between citizen initiatives, professionals and traditional institutions of policy and politics. He focuses on the role, activities and challenges of boundary-spanners in such encounters, as well as their mutual interaction and effects on legitimacy and performance of citizen self-organization. Currently he is participating in an international research project on the performance and durability of community-based initiatives (in particular community enterprises). He is also involved in an evaluation of the governance model of the municipality of Rotterdam. In analyzing community-based initiatives, he uses both quantitative survey research and qualitative comparative case study research.

Keywords of research activities / publications: Citizen Self-Organization; Citizen Participation; Boundary Spanning; Governance networks; Democratic (Throughput) Legitimacy; Network Performance

Dr. Astrid Molenveld

Astrid Molenveld is assistant professor at the Department of Public Administration of the Erasmus University Rotterdam. Astrid obtained her PhD in social and political science in June 2016. In the thesis she studied the determinants explaining coordination and ‘organizational adaptation’ of cross-cutting policy programs. Her current research activities include comparative research on coordination of cross-cutting (i.e. ‘wicked’) policy issues and community self-organization.

At the moment she is involved, together with part of the Repolis team, in the BEGIN project (Interreg North Sea Region – Blue green Infrastructure through social innovation) which examines the possibilities to implement and maintain Blue and Green infrastructures through social innovation and participation of a variety of stakeholders, both public and private as well as individual citizens. Astrid has a particular interest in applying multiple research-methods in her work, like Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA), Q-methodology and statistics.

Dr. Philip Karré

Dr. Philip Marcel Karré (1978) is affiliated with Erasmus University Rotterdam as assistant professor in Public Administration and with Inholland University of Applied Sciences as associate professor in the field of Urban Governance. He is coordinator of an Urban Knowledge Lab, in which Erasmus University Rotterdam and the municipality of Rotterdam cooperate in developing evidence-based policies on quality of life issues in the city. His research topics are hybrid organizations and hybrid governance, social enterprises and other forms of social innovation on the interface between state, market and society.

José Nederhand MSc

José Nederhand is assistant professor at the Department of Public Administration and Sociology at Erasmus University Rotterdam. Her research focuses on collaborative governance, public-private partnerships and community-based collectives. She is involved in the program management of the interdisciplinary Vital Cities and Citizens (VCC) research program in which multiple faculties collaborate to improving the quality of life in cities and increase the social and economic impact of the Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Keywords of research activities / publications: Citizen Self-Organization; PPS partnerships; Social Innovation; Governance networks; Co-Production

Dr. Jitske van Popering-Verkerk

Dr. Jitske van Popering-Verkerk is post-doctoral researcher in the research program RePolis at the department of Public Administration and Sociology of the Erasmus University Rotterdam. Her research focuses on collaboration in decision making and the capacities of actors to contribute to successful decision making. She is also involved as researcher and advisor in the valorization center GovernEUR and conducted several studies on complex issues in spatial planning, like water management, climate change adaptation, energy and soil. In these studies, she applies interactive and participative methods.

Dr. William Voorberg

William Voorberg (1985) is a post-doctoral researcher at the department of Public Administration and Sociology of the Erasmus University Rotterdam. His current research aims at understanding co-creation between governments and citizens. In this, the focal point lies on whether co-creation can be considered as a valuable asset to public service delivery and what is needed in order to facilitate that. In collaboration with prof. dr. Arwin van Buuren, Voorberg initiated the Erasmus Governannce Design Studio. In this studio, concrete policy instruments and interventions are developed for concrete challenges within the public domain.

Malika Igalla MSc

Malika Igalla, Msc. is a PhD candidate at the department of Public Administration and Sociology and supports the Repolis program. Her PhD is about performance and durability of citizen initiatives for which she received a NWO Research Talent grant. Her focus is on how core factors, such as the attitude and support of governments, and characteristics of networks in which citizen initiatives operate, affect performance and durability of citizen initiatives. In this regard, she conducts an impact measurement for citizen initiatives and uses both qualitative and quantitative methods to carry out her research activities.

Keywords of research activities: self-organization, citizen initiatives, community initiatives, durability, performance, network structures, social capital, government support

Margot Hermus MSc

Margot Hermus is a PhD candidate at the department of Public Administration and Sociology of the Erasmus University Rotterdam. Her research is focused on the contribution of citizens to public problem solving, policy making and service provision. She studies the perceived benefits of community-based initiatives, the amount and kind of support governments provide and the resulting relationship with and embedding of these initiatives within traditional institutions of policy making and service provision. Part of her PhD-project entails the use of design methods to combine the insights of governmental and societal stakeholders to find new ways to organize complementarity between community-based initiatives and traditional governmental institutions.

Steven Blok MSc

Steven Blok (1992) is a PhD candidate at the department of Public Administration and Sociology. His research is, on the one hand, focused on the question of collective action with respect to citizen initiatives. On the other hand, his research is concerned with the effect of governmental interventions on how well citizen initiatives function. He aims to find out what measures have a positive effect and what measures possibly ‘crowd out’ citizen initiatives. As a part of his research he works part time at Berenschot, a consultancy firm, on themes related to citizen initiatives and citizen participation.

Vivian Visser MSc

Vivian Visser is a PhD candidate at the department of Public Administration and Sociology. Of the Erasmus University Rotterdam. Her research focuses on how public authorities ‘create space’ for citizen initiatives, especially in the spatial domain. She concentrates on the changing relation between governments and citizens, and the inherent power structures that affect this relation. She is also involved as researcher and advisor in the valorization center GovernEUR, on themes related to participative planning, citizen participation and citizen initiatives. In her research, she uses both qualitative (interviews, document analysis, participatory observations) and quantitative (survey experiments) methods.

Gijs Custers MSc

Gijs Custers is a PhD candidate at the department of Public Administration and Sociology at the Erasmus University. His research focuses on developments in volunteering and neighbourhood involvement in Rotterdam. More specifically, he investigates whether differences between neighbourhoods in participation have changed in the past decade, thereby using the Wijkprofieldata (see Furthermore, he studies how neighbourhood organisations mediate between citizens and government.

Joëlle van der Meer MSc

Joëlle van der Meer is a PhD candidate at the department of Public Administration and Sociology at Erasmus University. Her research focuses on the relation between democratic innovation and the craft of civil servants. Within this research project, she aims to study the effects of the shift towards governance and its consequences for the competences of civil servants. Moreover, she investigates how public organizations can influence the development of civil servants and what the effects are for the individual, the organization and society. As part of her research, she works one day a week at the municipality of Rotterdam.

Dr. Mike Duijn

Mike Duijn (1966) works from November 2012 onwards as senior scientific researcher at the department of Public Administration of the Erasmus University Rotterdam. His specific experience, expertise and interest focuses on governance issues in the domains of urban and spatial planning, decentralized energy supply, subsurface, soil and water management, and climate adaptation. For these issues he makes use of qualitative and participatory research methods (workshops, scenario sessions, gaming/simulation) and he organizes and facilitates interactive policy and learning processes in the public sector. Next to his academic job, Mike also works as senior researcher/consultant in the team Environmental Planning of TNO Strategy and Policy, from 1998 onwards.

Dr. ir. Jasper Eshuis

Jasper Eshuis is assistant professor in Public Administration at Erasmus University Rotterdam. He researches self-organization in urban communities and urban regeneration initiatives. Self-organization is largely driven by enthusiasm and energy from various actors, rather than hierarchical policy making. Jasper is especially interested in the question how citizens, firms and public parties work together in more or less horizontal relationships, based on enthusiasm and appealing initiatives, and how this co-evolves with classic top-down policy making through rules and regulations. Jasper carries out quantitative research through surveys and experiments, as well as qualitative research through interviews and (participant) observations. Currently he is involved in action research in the Zomerhof-area in Rotterdam.

Prof. dr. J.F.M. Koppenjan

Joop Koppenjan is professor of public administration and senior staff member of the Netherlands Institute of Governance (NIG). He studies governance networks, public-private partnerships and innovation. Koppenjan has been involved in a large number of research projects for various public authorities. Currently he is project leader of two NWO funded research projects: Managing Complex System Disruptions (carried out by EUR and VU Amsterdam, in the context of ProRail’s ExploRail programme) and Smart governance of Public private partnerships, carried out bij the EUR and University of Twente, in collabaration with RWS, Deltares, NSOB, Rebel group, Resetmanagement and Twijnstra Gudde.

Saskia Ruijsink MSc

Saskia Ruijsink is a senior lecturer, trainer, advisor and researcher in the field of urban planning and development at the IHS (Institute for Housing and Urban Development studies). Her topics include strategic planning, participation, self-organisation and social innovation in urban planning and governance and sustainable urban development. She combines practical work in (international capacity development) projects with academic research and has experience in Europe, Africa, Latin America and Asia. She is currently a researcher in the EU funded TRANSIT project on Social Innovation ( She combines her work with her PhD research on the way people deal with chance, uncertainty and unpredictability in multi-stakeholder forms of urban planning.

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About the program

Self-organizing citizen initiatives can be a valuable source of governance capacity (Ostrom, 1990), especially when viable connections arise between more government-induced forms of problem-solving and service delivery and self-organizing citizens initiatives. However, much is unknown about how self-organizations effectively and legitimately develop in interaction with existing political and governmental institutions (Stolle and Hooghe, 2005). It is therefore important to improve our understanding on how governmental actors can deal with self- organizing initiatives, how they can stimulate or give room for them and how they can synchronize them with public policy and service delivery (Goldstein, 1999; Van Meerkerk & Edelenbos, 2012).

Within the RePolis program (started in 2015) the Department of Public Administration and Sociology, together with the Institute of Housing and Urban Studies, TNO and Deltares, study citizen initiatives in the field of water management, energy, local welfare and urban regeneration within comparative perspective.

Main aim

The goal of this research project is a) to analyze and explain the conditions under which processes of self-organization in the fields of health care, sustainable energy, water management and urban development result in increased governance capacity, b) to analyze how these processes can contribute to formal processes of public service delivery and c) to develop governance strategies that strengthen the synergy between governmental action and self-organization.

Research questions

  • Which forms and processes of self-organization can be distinguished, what are the patterns and mechanisms that characterize them and what are its main consequences?
  • To what extent do these forms of self-organization differ in the different sectors of urban management, water management, sustainable energy and health care and different state governance traditions, and how can we explain these differences and similarities?
  • Which factors stimulate or hamper the emergence of self-organization, how do they differ or resemble in different institutional contexts and how can these patterns be explained?
  • What are effective governance strategies in different contexts to enhance the governance capacity of self-organization and the synergy between self-organization and traditional service delivery?


The number and impact of self organizing citizens initiatives is growing fast. Many citizens organize themselves to produce sustainable energy, to provide care to each other or to manage outdoor areas. Public authorities have to think about what these initiatives imply for them and how they have to react upon them.

The RePolis Research Program studies these initiatives from a Public Administration perspective. We analyze how they contribute to the governance capacity of society. We compare initiatives within the domains of water management, energy, care and area development (placemaking) and in different countries.

The program is financed by the Erasmus University Rotterdam. It combines a scientific ambition (to explain patterns of self organization and strategies that facilitate self organization) and a valorization ambition. With regard to the latter we aim to come to proven interventions that contribute to the effective interplay between citizen initiatives and institutions.