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Open AccessCase Report
Sustainability 2016, 8(6), 527; doi:10.3390/su8060527

Learning from Regional Sustainable Development in The Netherlands: Explorations from a Learning History

Fontys University of Applied Sciences, Rachelsmolen 1, P.O. Box 347, Eindhoven 5600 AH, The Netherlands
Van HallLarenstein University of Applied Sciences, Velp 6882 CT, The Netherlands
Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen 6525 AJ, The Netherlands
Glen Fielding Consulting, Portland, OR 97229-7584, USA
Yvonne Chang Consulting, Portland, OR 97212-0231, USA
Groene Hart Groesbeek, Groesbeek 6562ZT11, The Netherlands
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Marc A. Rosen
Received: 13 March 2016 / Revised: 22 May 2016 / Accepted: 24 May 2016 / Published: 31 May 2016
(This article belongs to the Section Sustainable Education and Approaches)
View Full-Text   |   Download PDF [221 KB, uploaded 31 May 2016]


This case report is about a regional land-use planning project in the Netherlands. Initiated by the province of Gelderland and Radboud University (RU), the project aimed to create “Communities of Ownership” (CoO’s), local associations of townspeople who would engage in collaborative vision-building related to sustainable land development. The guiding conceptual model was “The Natural Step” (TNS), a systems-level approach to sustainability. We describe the land-use project and the learning history we constructed to help project managers and facilitators learn from the different perspectives that project actors conveyed. The learning history indicated that the project had limited success. We discuss four factors shaping the project’s results and the lessons learned related to those factors. The first lesson concerns the importance of a shared vision for sustainability among stakeholder groups. The second focuses on the preconditions necessary to work with The Natural Step effectively in certain contexts. Lesson three is about what it takes for a learning history to serve as a catalyst for collective learning and project improvement. Lesson four sheds light on the importance of respecting differences in stakeholders’ levels of sustainability awareness. We speculate that these differences may have shared characteristics with the kind of developmental differences that constructivist stage theorists of human development have articulated. Finally, we discuss the implications of our analysis for the leadership of sustainability initiatives. View Full-Text
Keywords: The Natural Step; sustainability; leadership; developmental levels; awareness; action research The Natural Step; sustainability; leadership; developmental levels; awareness; action research
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).

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MDPI and ACS Style

Smulders-Dane, S.; Smits, T.; Fielding, G.; Chang, Y.; Kuipers, K. Learning from Regional Sustainable Development in The Netherlands: Explorations from a Learning History. Sustainability 2016, 8, 527.

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