The art of bonding: informational capital in Dutch green urban citizens’ initiatives

The art of bonding: informational capital in Dutch green urban citizens’ initiatives Abstract Today’s western society is characterized by a transition towards self-organization by citizens in communities. Increasingly, societal problems are addressed by groups of citizens who take action to find concrete solutions. A second feature of western society is that it is an information society in which information and communication play a key role. In this paper, we analyse how these two societal trends come together at the community level. Applying a relational and contingent perspective to how green urban citizens’ initiatives develop, we look into the role of information in their interactions with other people, organizations and institutions. We analyse the mechanisms whereby information plays a role in the citizens’ initiatives. This leads to the conclusion that informational capital is fundamental to the realization of citizens’ initiatives and that informational capital is generated, identified, used and enlarged through the relational strategies of bonding, bridging and linking. It is a process that works in both ways and reinforces citizens’ initiatives. Introduction The boundaries of public care provision and private initiative in modern western society are shifting (Lowndes and Pratchett, 2011; Scott, 2011) and the public domain is a shared playing field for societal players, markets and governments (Bourgon, 2011). The welfare state has, according to some, reached its normative, practical and financial boundaries (Yerkes and Van der Veen, 2011). The financial crisis and the related budget cuts in welfare services have further boosted the discourses of active citizenship. New, sometimes viewed as ‘neo-liberal’, governance modes have entered the arena of policy-making in which active citizenship and self-organization have become important concepts which also brings along questions about power and solidarity (Braedley and Luxton, 2010; Meade et al., 2016). In the Netherlands, numerous examples can be found of citizens taking action to find concrete solutions to societal problems. These citizens’ initiatives depend on self-organization. People are working together on the development of sustainable energy, local food networks, small-scale healthcare concepts, ecological neighbourhoods, education, cultural heritage, landscape, etc. The so-called ‘Do-it-yourself-society’ (Marinetto, 2003) concerns a changing social system in which citizens play a vital role in creating public value, and in which other, less tangible, forms of capital such as human and social capital and generalized reciprocity gain importance alongside financial capital and balanced reciprocity (Putnam, 1993; Van Dam et al., 2014a). The importance of these other forms of capital and exchange mechanisms is influenced not just by economic crises and budget cuts but also by informed and proactive citizens. The common denominator in the changing organization of society is making connections and the art of bonding: knowing how to connect and who to connect to. In today’s information society there is a great deal more information than ever before, and information plays a central, strategic role in almost everything we do, from business transactions to leisure pursuits and government activities (Castells, 2011; Webster, 2014). The development of new digital information and communication technologies in recent decades has greatly facilitated access to information, and individuals, therefore, have more opportunities to act autonomously, leading to emancipation and empowerment (Bennett and Segerberg, 2011; Foth et al., 2011). This provides opportunities for dialogue, forming opinions, PR, participations, research, marketing, science, policy, etc. (Shirky, 2008; Van Dijk, 2010). The access to and use of information by citizens leads to a power shift in governance processes, also termed ‘informational governance’ (Fischer, 2000; Mol, 2006). In this paper, we want to examine how the do-it-yourself-society and the information society come together at the community level. There has been considerable research on active citizenship, focussing mostly on citizens’ participation in government policies (Bevir et al., 2003; Irvin and Stansbury, 2004) and increasingly on citizens’ initiatives (Van Dam et al., 2014a, 2014b; Healey, 2015; Wagenaar and Van der Heijden, 2015). But it is unclear how information plays a role in how citizens’ initiatives operate. As a consequence, our research question is: What role does information play in the realization of citizens’ initiatives? As we want to address the mechanisms whereby information plays a role in the citizens’ initiatives, the theoretical framework will, besides addressing the concepts of citizens’ initiatives, various forms of capital, go into the relational strategies which capture the mechanisms whereby they develop. Next, the research methodology is described and nine Dutch green urban citizens’ initiatives introduced. The analysis that follows first examines how informational capital is part of citizens’ initiatives, then explores the dynamics between social, human and informational capital in how citizens’ initiatives operate and finally go into the mechanisms linking informational capital to the relational strategies that are vital to the realization of citizens’ initiatives. The last section contains the conclusion and discussion. Theory We share the dynamic view of forms of governance espoused by many governance scholars (Foucault, 1994; Flyvbjerg et al., 2012). The transition from government to governance manifests itself in the changing roles of citizens and efforts to determine which responsibilities should be public and which should be private. In citizens’ initiatives, assertive citizens proactively take concerted action in a range of fields within the public domain (Bovaird, 2007; Seyfang et al., 2013). Initiators are often driven by passion and idealism, such as a wish to contribute in their own way and in their own field to a better world. Generally, citizens’ initiatives are a combination of self-interest and public interest. They usually organize themselves informally, are action- and solution-oriented and are characterized by their local, small-scale nature and strong personal commitment (Bang, 2009; Van Dam et al., 2014a). The citizens’ initiatives that are the subject of this paper involve groups of people who organize themselves, take action in the public domain, create public values and organize their social, cultural and green living environment. Besides financial capital, citizens’ initiatives possess several other forms of capital, such as social and human capital, which can be seen as ‘resources’ that ‘feed’ the initiative and facilitate its success. Scholars interpret social capital variously (Ling and Dale, 2014), but we follow Bourdieu (1986) and Putnam (1995) which include in their conceptualization of social capital the actual or potential resources that can be accessed. Social capital here refers to social ties, trust, reciprocity and shared norms and values (Putnam, 1995). We distinguish between social capital at the group level and human capital at the individual level. Human capital includes skills and competences such as an enterprising attitude, leadership, networking skills, strategic vision, improvisation talent, empathy and perseverance (Coleman, 1988; Salamon, 1991). Although citizens’ initiatives are characterized by the role and importance of the ‘main’ initiator or initiators, human capital is not restricted to the main initiator but is present in all the individual members. Information too can be seen as a ‘resource’ for citizens’ initiatives. We therefore talk about informational capital. The concept of informational capital originates with Bourdieu (1987), who extrapolated it from the concept of cultural capital. Informational capital is generally used in relation to business organizations and to indicate formal forms of information, also expressed as academic capital (Munk, 2009) and intellectual capital (Arvidsson, 2003). Informational capital is seen as a resource for citizens and can relate to all kinds of data, information, knowledge and expertise that citizens have at their disposal. This includes explicit but also non-formal, tacit kinds. It represents a capability for action based in information. The activity around informational capital can be described as various forms of communication. We take the practice-based view of strategies as something people do rather than something organizations and firms have (Jarzabkowski and Seidl, 2008). We also believe citizens’ initiatives must be seen within their social context: actors do not act in isolation, but draw on socially defined ways of acting (Whittington, 2006). Following the related ideas of Luhmann (1995) and Seidl (2005), we see the realization and inherent strategies of a citizens’ initiative as the contingent product of a self-transforming organization that relates its internal process to the outside world. In the process of self-transformation, interactions between citizens’ initiatives and the outside world influence the identity of the initiative, leading in turn to new strategies (Van Dam et al., 2014a). The organization and realization of citizens’ initiatives can be understood as a continual process of becoming, in which practices repeatedly reconstruct the organization while at the same time providing the grounds for its modification. Theory on relational processes and strategies is relevant to a study of citizens’ initiatives as contingent and related to the outside world. Putnam (2000) sees the relational processes as activities concerning social capital, emphasizing the connections with different actors. He identifies two forms: bonding social capital refers to trusting, cooperative relations between members of a network with a similar social identity, while bridging social capital refers to connections between members who are unlike one other, but are ‘more or less equal in terms of their status and power’. Szreter and Woolcock (2004) expand on this distinction by adding a third form that covers the interaction between individuals and networks that are unequal in terms of power and influence, such as the relationship between government and citizens. This linking social capital connects individuals and groups in different social strata in a hierarchy where power, social status and wealth are accessed to different degrees by different groups. Applied to the practice of citizens’ initiatives, the relational strategy of bonding refers to the interaction between the initiators and, for example, their fellow residents; the relational strategy of bridging refers to the interaction between the initiative and other local groups with different interests or orientations, such as farmers, entrepreneurs or other initiatives; and the relational strategy of linking refers to the interaction between initiators and institutional actors. In their work on social capital, Granovetter (1973) and Lin (2001) distinguish between ‘weak and strong ties’, suggesting that the palette of available resources can be extended by including ‘weak’ ties. Research methodology We have opted for an interpretive approach, which seeks to understand the way in which people give meaning to specific events and practices (Yanow and Schwartz-Shea, 2006). An important feature of this approach, given that this study examines people’s modes of operation, is that it views the social as constructed in the intertwinement of action and meaning (Bevir and Rhodes, 2006). Moreover, this approach places value on a range of ways in which meaning arises, including informal and less rational ways. This makes it suitable for studying citizens’ initiatives, as informal methods are an important part of their practice. The meanings can be articulated in discourses, but can also be embedded in the mechanisms of a practice. In keeping with our interpretive research approach, a qualitative method was used for the research, enabling a deeper understanding of day-to-day practices, interactions and mechanisms. First, interviews were held with four experts concerning the role of information in citizens’ initiatives. Examples were then collected by searching the Internet, social media networks and previous related research on citizens’ initiatives. This resulted in a typology with forty-five examples of green urban citizens’ initiatives. Nine initiatives were then selected using the criterion of variety in the operationalization of objectives, approaches and types of group. They share that they actively do or make somethings in their living environment. An overview of the cases is given in Table 1 below. Table 1 Overview cases   Who  What  Where  1. Duurzaam Soesterkwartier [Sustainable Soester quarter]  Residents of the Soesterkwartier neighbourhood  Activities concerning energy conservation, renewable energy and sustainable construction  Amersfoort  2. Stadsboerderij Caetshage [Caetshage City Farm]  Caetshage Foundation  Organic food production, development of biodiversity, nature and the landscape, and care farm  Culemborg  3. Emma’s Hof [Emma’s Court]  Residents of the Regentesse neighbourhood  Development and maintenance of city garden and organizing all kinds of activities  The Hague  4. Kracht van Utrecht [Power of Utrecht]  Residents of Utrecht  Making integrated proposals for accessibility, economic development and environmental quality in the city of Utrecht  Utrecht  5. Mooi Wageningen [Beautiful Wageningen]  Residents of Wageningen  Vigilant about threats to nature and the landscape, and undertaking a range of activities related to the local landscape  Wageningen  6. Ecovrede [EcoPeace] also called EVS, or ‘ecologisch vernieuwende samenleving’ [ecologically innovative society]  EcoVrede Foundation  New concept for ecologically innovative society/connections between people and nature. The aim is to involve people in ecological projects, so that they experience and connect with nature  Arnhem  7. As We Speak  Young residents of Arnhem  Digital platform that highlights innovative and sustainable projects and initiatives in the city of Arnhem going on ‘as we speak’  Arnhem  8. Singelpark Leiden [Canal Park Leiden]  Friends of Singelpark Foundation  Aiming to transform the banks of the six-kilometre-long canal around Leiden into a continuous park  Leiden  9. Groen Speelplein Vrije School Harderwijk [Harderwijk Steiner School Nature Playground]  Parents of children who attend the Steiner School  Transforming a paved playground into a ‘green play and learning landscape’ and maintaining the playground  Harderwijk    Who  What  Where  1. Duurzaam Soesterkwartier [Sustainable Soester quarter]  Residents of the Soesterkwartier neighbourhood  Activities concerning energy conservation, renewable energy and sustainable construction  Amersfoort  2. Stadsboerderij Caetshage [Caetshage City Farm]  Caetshage Foundation  Organic food production, development of biodiversity, nature and the landscape, and care farm  Culemborg  3. Emma’s Hof [Emma’s Court]  Residents of the Regentesse neighbourhood  Development and maintenance of city garden and organizing all kinds of activities  The Hague  4. Kracht van Utrecht [Power of Utrecht]  Residents of Utrecht  Making integrated proposals for accessibility, economic development and environmental quality in the city of Utrecht  Utrecht  5. Mooi Wageningen [Beautiful Wageningen]  Residents of Wageningen  Vigilant about threats to nature and the landscape, and undertaking a range of activities related to the local landscape  Wageningen  6. Ecovrede [EcoPeace] also called EVS, or ‘ecologisch vernieuwende samenleving’ [ecologically innovative society]  EcoVrede Foundation  New concept for ecologically innovative society/connections between people and nature. The aim is to involve people in ecological projects, so that they experience and connect with nature  Arnhem  7. As We Speak  Young residents of Arnhem  Digital platform that highlights innovative and sustainable projects and initiatives in the city of Arnhem going on ‘as we speak’  Arnhem  8. Singelpark Leiden [Canal Park Leiden]  Friends of Singelpark Foundation  Aiming to transform the banks of the six-kilometre-long canal around Leiden into a continuous park  Leiden  9. Groen Speelplein Vrije School Harderwijk [Harderwijk Steiner School Nature Playground]  Parents of children who attend the Steiner School  Transforming a paved playground into a ‘green play and learning landscape’ and maintaining the playground  Harderwijk  Table 1 Overview cases   Who  What  Where  1. Duurzaam Soesterkwartier [Sustainable Soester quarter]  Residents of the Soesterkwartier neighbourhood  Activities concerning energy conservation, renewable energy and sustainable construction  Amersfoort  2. Stadsboerderij Caetshage [Caetshage City Farm]  Caetshage Foundation  Organic food production, development of biodiversity, nature and the landscape, and care farm  Culemborg  3. Emma’s Hof [Emma’s Court]  Residents of the Regentesse neighbourhood  Development and maintenance of city garden and organizing all kinds of activities  The Hague  4. Kracht van Utrecht [Power of Utrecht]  Residents of Utrecht  Making integrated proposals for accessibility, economic development and environmental quality in the city of Utrecht  Utrecht  5. Mooi Wageningen [Beautiful Wageningen]  Residents of Wageningen  Vigilant about threats to nature and the landscape, and undertaking a range of activities related to the local landscape  Wageningen  6. Ecovrede [EcoPeace] also called EVS, or ‘ecologisch vernieuwende samenleving’ [ecologically innovative society]  EcoVrede Foundation  New concept for ecologically innovative society/connections between people and nature. The aim is to involve people in ecological projects, so that they experience and connect with nature  Arnhem  7. As We Speak  Young residents of Arnhem  Digital platform that highlights innovative and sustainable projects and initiatives in the city of Arnhem going on ‘as we speak’  Arnhem  8. Singelpark Leiden [Canal Park Leiden]  Friends of Singelpark Foundation  Aiming to transform the banks of the six-kilometre-long canal around Leiden into a continuous park  Leiden  9. Groen Speelplein Vrije School Harderwijk [Harderwijk Steiner School Nature Playground]  Parents of children who attend the Steiner School  Transforming a paved playground into a ‘green play and learning landscape’ and maintaining the playground  Harderwijk    Who  What  Where  1. Duurzaam Soesterkwartier [Sustainable Soester quarter]  Residents of the Soesterkwartier neighbourhood  Activities concerning energy conservation, renewable energy and sustainable construction  Amersfoort  2. Stadsboerderij Caetshage [Caetshage City Farm]  Caetshage Foundation  Organic food production, development of biodiversity, nature and the landscape, and care farm  Culemborg  3. Emma’s Hof [Emma’s Court]  Residents of the Regentesse neighbourhood  Development and maintenance of city garden and organizing all kinds of activities  The Hague  4. Kracht van Utrecht [Power of Utrecht]  Residents of Utrecht  Making integrated proposals for accessibility, economic development and environmental quality in the city of Utrecht  Utrecht  5. Mooi Wageningen [Beautiful Wageningen]  Residents of Wageningen  Vigilant about threats to nature and the landscape, and undertaking a range of activities related to the local landscape  Wageningen  6. Ecovrede [EcoPeace] also called EVS, or ‘ecologisch vernieuwende samenleving’ [ecologically innovative society]  EcoVrede Foundation  New concept for ecologically innovative society/connections between people and nature. The aim is to involve people in ecological projects, so that they experience and connect with nature  Arnhem  7. As We Speak  Young residents of Arnhem  Digital platform that highlights innovative and sustainable projects and initiatives in the city of Arnhem going on ‘as we speak’  Arnhem  8. Singelpark Leiden [Canal Park Leiden]  Friends of Singelpark Foundation  Aiming to transform the banks of the six-kilometre-long canal around Leiden into a continuous park  Leiden  9. Groen Speelplein Vrije School Harderwijk [Harderwijk Steiner School Nature Playground]  Parents of children who attend the Steiner School  Transforming a paved playground into a ‘green play and learning landscape’ and maintaining the playground  Harderwijk  In-depth interviews were held with the initiators of these nine Dutch green urban initiatives. These semi-structured interviews were recorded and transcribed. Secondary materials were studied, such as websites, policy documents and scientific reports. Moreover, two learning network meetings were held with the members of these initiatives, in which the role of information in the initiatives was discussed. We used triangulation to enhance the interpretation of the findings from different sources. The interaction of multiple sources of data collection leads to an enrichment of the research (Erlandson, 1993). We investigated that the practice of the citizens’ initiatives: their ideals, their strategies, their organization, and their development. In this exploratory research, we aimed at getting an initial, general overview of the role of information in a wide variety of Dutch green urban initiatives. Although multiple case studies were analysed, our primary aim is not to compare but to analyse its mechanisms. As the interviews focused on everyday meaning and everyday relationships expressed in ordinary language, some quotes are used in the article for illustration. Information in citizens’ initiatives Information and communication are both objective and means The ideals driving an initiative ‘make’ the initiative. The ideals are also what appeals to others and draws them in: ‘That goal, and sharing that goal–creating a platform of young people who map transformations—a lot of people respond to that.’ (respondent from As We Speak). Moreover, ‘People warm to the idea that this was not invented by the municipality, but by residents—who have no vested interests. Not by a civil servant, politician or landowner’ (respondent from Canal Park Leiden). Emphasizing that citizens are acting and achieving things by themselves is what gets people on board too. For several of the initiatives, acquiring or communicating information is part of their objectives. Power of Utrecht, for example, produces reports to inform other actors, while As We Speak is a platform for communicating information about innovative sustainability. For EcoPeace too, a key objective is raising awareness by informing others. However, initiators also see the provision of information as a means to achieving their ends. Take, for example Emma’s Court and Canal Park Leiden, in which communication is used to realize their main objective: developing a city park. The initiators think that poor communication undermines the concept, while good communication helps them achieve their objectives. Information and means of communication The citizens’ initiatives in our study use and emphasize different means of communication. Almost all the citizens’ initiatives have a website but other means of communication are used too, such as flyers and project plans. Moreover, they actively approach media such as local papers and regional and national TV news programmes. Some initiatives, such as Canal Park and As We Speak, make extensive use of social media, while others, such as Power of Utrecht, Emma’s Court and Caetshage, do not. Several citizens’ initiatives found there were groups of people who could not be reached through the Internet or social media (e.g. Sustainable Soester Quarter). According to the initiators, these were mostly the elderly and people with a lower level of education. In those cases, either a personal approach is chosen (e.g. going door to door), or a more institutional one (going through relevant institutions such as housing associations). So different ‘target groups’ are approached in different ways. For Caetshage and Harderwijk Nature Playground, face-to-face encounters are the most important because it is felt that they generate the strongest connections. But for As We Speak, for example, it is the combination of online and offline activities that is important. The people in this initiative are very digitally oriented, both individually and as a group, and their activities blend well with their social lives. The various means of communication are used to inform people, attract attention and stimulate all kinds of activities, as well as to amass informational capital. In Canal Park Leiden, people were asked via Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook to give examples of other, larger cities with city parks. Collecting information about what is happening, where it is happening and who is involved is of great importance to the way a citizens’ initiative operates. Informational capital, social capital and human capital Social capital and informational capital Although most of the citizens’ initiatives in our study (e.g. Canal Park Leiden, EcoPeace, Caetshage, Beautiful Wageningen, Emma’s Court) are legal entities and have officially appointed chairs, secretaries and treasurers, in practice they act informally most of the time. The legal entity and its formal roles are mostly used in relation to the outside world. Most of the initiatives in our study consist of a small core group surrounded by a larger group of people connected to the core with different degrees of intensity, in different ways and at different times. We observe a combination of work and social life that is typical of citizens’ initiatives (Van Dam et al., 2014a, 2014b). This applies to the objectives, and also to the information and knowledge present. In addition to the fact that the initiative often becomes ‘a way of life’, it also gives active professionals a chance to apply their skills in a citizens’ initiative aimed at improving their own living environment (e.g. Harderwijk Nature Playground and Beautiful Wageningen). Canal Park Leiden, for example, uses this appeal to recruit active initiators. In several cases, the day-to-day management and the division roles are a reflection of informational capital. Social capital in this research refers to the group processes, the social ties, trust and shared norms and values. We found that a collective feeling about who they are and what they stand for is very important according to the citizens’ initiative members. For quite a few of these initiatives, part of this collective identity is the appeal of implementing your own ideas and plans—ownership and deciding and acting on your own. Working together, trusting each other and having the feeling that relations are reciprocal are also important aspects. One can say that the informational capital of a group is defined by the social capital of the group. This works the other way around too: the social network of a group is strongly determined by the information flows. Human capital and informational capital The informational capital of an initiative often reflects the competencies the people involved gained from their education and jobs. Take for example the initiators of As We Speak, who studied communication and sustainable innovation at university. Their degrees were directly relevant to the development of a digital platform for sustainability. As some of these initiators work in a relevant field as professionals it is not uncommon for them to have more informational capital than, for example, the civil servants in the municipality or employees at relevant institutions. The plan for Leiden city centre, for example, which includes the idea for the park, was designed by the main Canal Park initiator and then adopted by the municipality. As a rule, implementing a citizens’ initiative is not an easy process. The initiators need to have a great deal of perseverance and passion and to put in a great deal of time and energy. Several respondents describe it as an extra job on top of their ‘day job’ (e.g. Caetshage, Harderwijk Nature Playground and Canal Park Leiden). Some respondents even said if they had known what it entailed, they would never have started. These initiatives make big demands on human capital such as social skills, entrepreneurship, strategic vision, and organizational and communication talent. Human, social and informational capital are inter-related The main initiators are a deciding factor: the initiative bears the stamp of their personality and they guide it towards success. Initiators keep their eyes and ears open in the field and are alert to developments in the local community. The success of a citizens’ initiative is felt to depend on access to a lot of different informational capital. But the main initiators must be careful not to be too dominant, and to ensure that other people are acknowledged for their contribution too. Moreover, it is of strategic importance to show the outside world that other people are involved too. Municipal civil servants, for instance, always want to know how much support an initiative enjoys in the local community. The main initiators tend to be highly educated, to work in a profession that is related to the initiative and to have useful contacts—which contributes to the social capital of the initiative. In short, one could say that the various forms of capital are inter-related and reinforce each other. Informational capital in relational strategies Relational strategies in citizens’ initiatives The activities and strategies of the citizens’ initiatives emerge in interactions with others, resulting in connections with various people and institutions. The citizens’ initiatives have strong links to the outside world and are developed through these links. The citizens’ initiatives make use of bonding as one of the links concern making connections with people with a similar identity such as neighbours, peers, friends and family. They motivate these people through personal contact, through word of mouth and through social media. Many initiators have found that the process of bonding is enhanced by keeping things informal, emphasizing the social side (e.g. having a good time) and celebrating successes (however minor). As an initiator in Emma’s Court puts it: ‘Yes, actually there was a very strong social aspect. Sitting around the table as a group of friends, philosophizing about what could be done over a bottle of wine… We have become a group of friends’. The relational strategy of bonding often takes the form of carrying out activities together and lending a hand, but also includes gaining informational capital. The initiatives of Power of Utrecht and As We Speak, for example, actively seek to involve people who have informational capital, as does Canal Park Leiden. ‘Friends of the Canal Park has six committees, and I approached all those people myself. I visited them all at home or met them in the pub, and they are all top people in their fields. (…) So on those committees we’ve got a water-board official and some directors of big companies; our treasurer is treasurer at KLM—millions go through his hands. The whole Leiden municipal budget is peanuts to him, let alone the budget for the Canal Park. Whereas it makes me very nervous. In this way, you get the best: we’ve got directors of communication in hospitals and other institutions on our communication committee, and bankers on the fundraising committee.’ The citizens’ initiatives also show examples of bridging: connections with others who might have different objectives and are not as close—at least at the start—but are more or less equal in terms of their status and power. Power of Utrecht for example, formed a group linking people from different communities in the region who shared concerns about car use and nature. Other examples of bridging are the connections that were made between different categories of local residents (e.g. Sustainable Soester Quarter, which started out with home owners and then linked up with tenants in rented accommodation), contact with different groups of residents (e.g. Emma’s Court) and contact with other related citizens’ initiatives or associations (e.g. Power of Utrecht). For many citizens’ initiatives, ‘linking’ is another important way of implementing their initiatives. Among our cases, there are many examples of initiators who want or need to connect with the municipality, a project developer or NGOs. In several cases, these actors are contacted out of necessity, because for example a municipality or project developer owns the land on which the citizens’ initiatives’ activities are planned to take place, as in the case of Caetshage City Farm. But the contact can also be strategic, because these parties bring in informational capital. Another reason is simply that you are stronger together, a motive for the cooperation between Power of Utrecht and Natuur en Milieu Federatie Utrecht [the Utrecht Nature and Environment Federation]. The method of communication plays a central role in forging such links between the informal world of citizens’ initiatives and the formal world of the institutions and their systems (Van Dam et al., 2014a). Citizens’ initiatives often start out with a great deal of informational capital of their own, but if they lack certain information they actively seek to obtain it via relational strategies. Informational capital in relational strategies There were many examples of communication activities aiming at reaching and involving people, whether through bonding, bridging or linking. Some of these connections were deliberately pursued, by inviting a municipal councillor, for instance, or approaching civil servants. In the case of Emma’s Court, there was an attempt to make use of personal contacts. The initiators sat around the table and made a list of who would contact whom. They found they were developing all kinds of networks and ideas. But connections are also based on luck, coincidence and the unexpected turn of events. For example, the project developer who owned the land at Emma’s Court turned out to support their idea and gave them a hand. What informational capital is needed is often decided in response to what happens in practice. Citizens’ initiatives act upon changes and grasp opportunities as they arise. So there is often a combination of tactics and ‘luck’, as expressed by a respondent from Power of Utrecht: ‘In that sense, to some extent we are doers and thinkers who weigh up our strategy and tactics, and at the same time you just happen to run into the councillor in town or you suddenly find out that someone has a lot of knowledge on a particular topic.’ With every new connection, more connections and goals emerge and that is how an initiative develops. For example, if an initiative takes on a different task, such as care, this brings in new contacts, who in turn bring in further connections. Another example of reaching people is the crowdfunding campaign from Caetshage to finance the farmhouse. Some initiative groups thought they had missed out on connections and certain chances of success because communication was not handled appropriately, as EcoPeace put it. Their projects tended to only reach a small group, which they relate to ‘inadequate communication’. At Caetshage, too, it was felt that with better communication more could be accomplished and more connections made with other people and institutions. That is why they wanted someone whose specific task was communication: ‘I’ve always done it on the side, somehow: the website and all that. Whereas if someone did it systematically, a lot more could be achieved. A lot of people get very enthusiastic if you just give them the opportunity to get to know about it.’ Information in connecting to the outside world The information the initiative has about what is happening in practice, the images that are formed as a consequence, and the way initiators act as a result are of great importance. This defines how the initiative develops. This process of self-transformation makes clear that citizens’ initiatives are related to the outside world and operate contingently. On the one hand, the initiatives try to keep as many people as possible informed about what they are doing (mass communication). They do this through the Internet, newspapers and social media such as Twitter. On the other hand, the initiators are selective in their approach, recruiting specialists, for example, and asking them what their knowledge and expertise can mean for the initiative and/or the society as a whole, or holding one-to-one discussions. EcoPeace mentioned that people who get involved must support the ideals and objectives. Earlier experiences made them rather hesitant to let just anyone become involved. Informing others about your plans can also encourage an initiative and make it start to become real, partly because other people may hold you to your promises (e.g. Emma’s Court). In some citizens’ initiatives, people also actively ‘steer’ things in a certain direction through the kind of information they give and the tone that is used. For example, Canal Park Leiden has moderated the comments on their Internet site and Facebook page, averting ‘sour’ reactions. The initiatives want to project a particular image. Canal Park Leiden’s image management includes the use of what they call a ‘mantra’: ‘the longest, most beautiful and most exciting city park’. In cases where initiatives oppose certain policy developments, they often present themselves as constructive and formulate an alternative (e.g. Power of Utrecht). They are aware of their image, or that of the subject they focus on, and tackle this proactively. For example, As We Speak wants to give sustainability a sexier image, so they actively promote a certain image through their choice of target groups and media—they do not respond to all offers of publicity from traditional media such as newspapers. The consensus among the initiatives is that image should be taken seriously and is key in convincing other people or institutions to come on board. EcoPeace actually had to struggle to change their image: because one of the initiators was very young, the municipality thought they could not live up to their ambitious plans. Conclusions and discussion In our ‘information society’, it is important for citizens’ initiatives to have informational capital. This can be expertise or certain kinds of knowledge, but when talking about citizens’ initiatives, information on who to contact and connect with has been proven to be most essential. Informational capital and communication play a role in informing other people outside the initiative, as well giving the initiators themselves information. Moreover, informational capital and communication are key in persuading and convincing others to be aware of something or to do something. More specifically, it can mean that others get involved and become active in the initiative itself, thus becoming a way of selecting people and generating human, social and informational capital. Another area in which informational capital plays a role is in creating a group with a collective identity, taking action collectively, selecting members of the group and generating social capital, and tapping into resources and connecting the informal world of the initiatives with the formal system of institutions. Informational capital is formed through the relational strategies of bonding, bridging and linking. Through these relational strategies, initiatives gain informational capital. Different kinds of people and institutions bring in different kinds of informational capital, enabling citizens’ initiatives to interact, cooperate and form relationships in order to realize their objectives. This works both ways, however. Searching for informational capital on the Internet, for example, leads to new and different social relations. This is just one example of the many ways in which using informational capital enables a citizens’ initiative to connect with and enlarge their social networks, both online and offline, through the relational strategies of bonding, bridging and linking. Figure 1 illustrates that the development of a citizens’ initiative in which the dynamics between informational capital, human capital and social capital and the reciprocal relationship between informational capital and the relational strategies of bonding, bridging and linking play a vital role. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Dynamics of informational, human and social capital, and relational strategies in implementing citizens’ initiatives Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Dynamics of informational, human and social capital, and relational strategies in implementing citizens’ initiatives For a citizens’ initiative to be successful, all three relational strategies seem to be important. Which strategy should be emphasized depends on the initiative and the phase it is in. Besides collecting information, it is also important to use information in the ‘right’ way. Good communication, and most importantly, informal and personal communication with a strategic exchange of information, is vital to the success of citizens’ initiatives. Although, we found that citizens’ initiatives can be selective about their informational capital and communication, it seems that more, or more diverse, informational capital generally leads to more success in the development of the initiative. It seems that—depending on the objectives of the initiative—initiatives that use a wider range of relational strategies are more successful in realizing their objectives. In our study, for example, EcoPeace has been less successful in developing connections through bridging and linking and seems—for the moment at least—to be less successful in achieving its objectives. Canal Park Leiden, by contrast, has made the most of the various relational strategies, and, consequently, seems more successful in achieving its objectives. Although this is an exploratory study and more detailed research is recommended, it seems that those initiatives which are able to connect in a variety of ways, using a range of relational strategies to mobilize all kinds of individuals, organizations and institutions (with all kinds of informational capital), are able to acquire a broader palette of information, knowledge, expertise (i.e. informational capital), which helps them to realize their objectives. Much heard questions about citizens’ initiatives concern in- and exclusion, solidarity and representativeness. Especially, if one also sees a process of self-transformation taking place. Citizens’ initiatives are indeed sometimes tight networks in which sometimes mainly highly educated people are involved and although transparent for insiders, they are not always so much transparent for outsiders. In practice, however, many citizens’ initiatives are often aimed at involving a variety of people, including minorities or people who are somehow less able. They often have particularly a social goal, such as social cohesion in the neighbourhood (Van Dam, 2016). And although the ingredients for ‘an old boys network’ seem present, practice in The Netherlands shows that the self-transformation process taking place is most dominant in the relational strategy of linking (Van Dam et al., 2014b). In this processes of self-transformation, we see citizens’ initiatives internalizing the assumptions about what is considered important to the relevant government organizations. As such citizens’ initiatives tend to incorporate policy objectives in advance, to operate in an organization form that is recognized as ‘sound’ and ‘familiar’, to emphasize operating rational, based on ‘valid’ expertise rather than ‘expertise by virtue of experience’ and serving the needs of a wider community. Looking at the adaptation and anticipation of citizens’ initiatives, one could describe them as obedient and submissive, but also as smart and strategic. The latter depiction reflects an awareness that the citizens’ initiatives also exercise power and will go to great lengths to get the things done that they want done. This paper shows that self-organizing citizens are quite capable. They are able to mobilize people and of growing various forms of capital in order to create public value. Part of the idea behind informational capital is that information has ‘intrinsic value, which means that information, gained, used, exchanged, is also a way of gaining, using and exchanging power. Here, Becks’ concept of subpolitics (1997) becomes relevant, which refers to the social action that goes on outside the representative institutions of the political hierarchy and yet is politically significant because of its influence in society. Citizens’ initiatives can also be seen as an expression of an informal and participatory democracy that is giving shape to democratic values. Citizens and governmental organizations both invest in democracy with their own interpretation of the democratic values of freedom, equality, solidarity and good governance values such as transparency and accountability (Salverda et al., 2014). This ‘do-ocracy’ can be seen as a complementary form of democracy that meets a need related to democratic values. Rosalie van Dam, PhD, is a researcher public administration at Wageningen Environmental Research/WUR in the Netherlands and focuses on changing relationships and transitions in the organization of society. Her main research interests are citizens’ initiatives, self-governance, social innovation, informational governance and e-democracy. She has a PhD in self-organization of people with regards to the living environment. Irini Salverda, MSc, is a researcher public administration at Wageningen Environmental Research/WUR in the Netherlands. Her main research interests are citizens' initiatives, cultural entrepreneurship and social innovation by means of social media. Her focus is on the interaction between social and informal mechanisms and processes of self-governance and the formal organization and logic of institutions. Jan Hassink, PhD, is a senior scientific researcher at the business unit Agrosystems Research at Wageningen Plant Research, part of Wageningen University and Research, the Netherlands. His main research focus is on care or social farming. He was educated as an agricultural scientist and received his PhD in 1995. In 1998, he finished his education in psycho-social work. He has been involved in and studied social farming since 1999. Lenneke Vaandrager, PhD, is an associate professor at the Chairgroup Health and Society, Department of Social Science, Wageningen University, the Netherlands. Her main research interests are workplace health promotion and health and the natural environment. Most of her work is inspired by systems thinking and salutogenesis. She has a PhD in communication and organizational change. Carlijn Wentink, MSc, is a lecturer and researcher at the Chairgroup Health and Society, Department of Social Science, Wageningen University, the Netherlands. 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The art of bonding: informational capital in Dutch green urban citizens’ initiatives

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Abstract

Abstract Today’s western society is characterized by a transition towards self-organization by citizens in communities. Increasingly, societal problems are addressed by groups of citizens who take action to find concrete solutions. A second feature of western society is that it is an information society in which information and communication play a key role. In this paper, we analyse how these two societal trends come together at the community level. Applying a relational and contingent perspective to how green urban citizens’ initiatives develop, we look into the role of information in their interactions with other people, organizations and institutions. We analyse the mechanisms whereby information plays a role in the citizens’ initiatives. This leads to the conclusion that informational capital is fundamental to the realization of citizens’ initiatives and that informational capital is generated, identified, used and enlarged through the relational strategies of bonding, bridging and linking. It is a process that works in both ways and reinforces citizens’ initiatives. Introduction The boundaries of public care provision and private initiative in modern western society are shifting (Lowndes and Pratchett, 2011; Scott, 2011) and the public domain is a shared playing field for societal players, markets and governments (Bourgon, 2011). The welfare state has, according to some, reached its normative, practical and financial boundaries (Yerkes and Van der Veen, 2011). The financial crisis and the related budget cuts in welfare services have further boosted the discourses of active citizenship. New, sometimes viewed as ‘neo-liberal’, governance modes have entered the arena of policy-making in which active citizenship and self-organization have become important concepts which also brings along questions about power and solidarity (Braedley and Luxton, 2010; Meade et al., 2016). In the Netherlands, numerous examples can be found of citizens taking action to find concrete solutions to societal problems. These citizens’ initiatives depend on self-organization. People are working together on the development of sustainable energy, local food networks, small-scale healthcare concepts, ecological neighbourhoods, education, cultural heritage, landscape, etc. The so-called ‘Do-it-yourself-society’ (Marinetto, 2003) concerns a changing social system in which citizens play a vital role in creating public value, and in which other, less tangible, forms of capital such as human and social capital and generalized reciprocity gain importance alongside financial capital and balanced reciprocity (Putnam, 1993; Van Dam et al., 2014a). The importance of these other forms of capital and exchange mechanisms is influenced not just by economic crises and budget cuts but also by informed and proactive citizens. The common denominator in the changing organization of society is making connections and the art of bonding: knowing how to connect and who to connect to. In today’s information society there is a great deal more information than ever before, and information plays a central, strategic role in almost everything we do, from business transactions to leisure pursuits and government activities (Castells, 2011; Webster, 2014). The development of new digital information and communication technologies in recent decades has greatly facilitated access to information, and individuals, therefore, have more opportunities to act autonomously, leading to emancipation and empowerment (Bennett and Segerberg, 2011; Foth et al., 2011). This provides opportunities for dialogue, forming opinions, PR, participations, research, marketing, science, policy, etc. (Shirky, 2008; Van Dijk, 2010). The access to and use of information by citizens leads to a power shift in governance processes, also termed ‘informational governance’ (Fischer, 2000; Mol, 2006). In this paper, we want to examine how the do-it-yourself-society and the information society come together at the community level. There has been considerable research on active citizenship, focussing mostly on citizens’ participation in government policies (Bevir et al., 2003; Irvin and Stansbury, 2004) and increasingly on citizens’ initiatives (Van Dam et al., 2014a, 2014b; Healey, 2015; Wagenaar and Van der Heijden, 2015). But it is unclear how information plays a role in how citizens’ initiatives operate. As a consequence, our research question is: What role does information play in the realization of citizens’ initiatives? As we want to address the mechanisms whereby information plays a role in the citizens’ initiatives, the theoretical framework will, besides addressing the concepts of citizens’ initiatives, various forms of capital, go into the relational strategies which capture the mechanisms whereby they develop. Next, the research methodology is described and nine Dutch green urban citizens’ initiatives introduced. The analysis that follows first examines how informational capital is part of citizens’ initiatives, then explores the dynamics between social, human and informational capital in how citizens’ initiatives operate and finally go into the mechanisms linking informational capital to the relational strategies that are vital to the realization of citizens’ initiatives. The last section contains the conclusion and discussion. Theory We share the dynamic view of forms of governance espoused by many governance scholars (Foucault, 1994; Flyvbjerg et al., 2012). The transition from government to governance manifests itself in the changing roles of citizens and efforts to determine which responsibilities should be public and which should be private. In citizens’ initiatives, assertive citizens proactively take concerted action in a range of fields within the public domain (Bovaird, 2007; Seyfang et al., 2013). Initiators are often driven by passion and idealism, such as a wish to contribute in their own way and in their own field to a better world. Generally, citizens’ initiatives are a combination of self-interest and public interest. They usually organize themselves informally, are action- and solution-oriented and are characterized by their local, small-scale nature and strong personal commitment (Bang, 2009; Van Dam et al., 2014a). The citizens’ initiatives that are the subject of this paper involve groups of people who organize themselves, take action in the public domain, create public values and organize their social, cultural and green living environment. Besides financial capital, citizens’ initiatives possess several other forms of capital, such as social and human capital, which can be seen as ‘resources’ that ‘feed’ the initiative and facilitate its success. Scholars interpret social capital variously (Ling and Dale, 2014), but we follow Bourdieu (1986) and Putnam (1995) which include in their conceptualization of social capital the actual or potential resources that can be accessed. Social capital here refers to social ties, trust, reciprocity and shared norms and values (Putnam, 1995). We distinguish between social capital at the group level and human capital at the individual level. Human capital includes skills and competences such as an enterprising attitude, leadership, networking skills, strategic vision, improvisation talent, empathy and perseverance (Coleman, 1988; Salamon, 1991). Although citizens’ initiatives are characterized by the role and importance of the ‘main’ initiator or initiators, human capital is not restricted to the main initiator but is present in all the individual members. Information too can be seen as a ‘resource’ for citizens’ initiatives. We therefore talk about informational capital. The concept of informational capital originates with Bourdieu (1987), who extrapolated it from the concept of cultural capital. Informational capital is generally used in relation to business organizations and to indicate formal forms of information, also expressed as academic capital (Munk, 2009) and intellectual capital (Arvidsson, 2003). Informational capital is seen as a resource for citizens and can relate to all kinds of data, information, knowledge and expertise that citizens have at their disposal. This includes explicit but also non-formal, tacit kinds. It represents a capability for action based in information. The activity around informational capital can be described as various forms of communication. We take the practice-based view of strategies as something people do rather than something organizations and firms have (Jarzabkowski and Seidl, 2008). We also believe citizens’ initiatives must be seen within their social context: actors do not act in isolation, but draw on socially defined ways of acting (Whittington, 2006). Following the related ideas of Luhmann (1995) and Seidl (2005), we see the realization and inherent strategies of a citizens’ initiative as the contingent product of a self-transforming organization that relates its internal process to the outside world. In the process of self-transformation, interactions between citizens’ initiatives and the outside world influence the identity of the initiative, leading in turn to new strategies (Van Dam et al., 2014a). The organization and realization of citizens’ initiatives can be understood as a continual process of becoming, in which practices repeatedly reconstruct the organization while at the same time providing the grounds for its modification. Theory on relational processes and strategies is relevant to a study of citizens’ initiatives as contingent and related to the outside world. Putnam (2000) sees the relational processes as activities concerning social capital, emphasizing the connections with different actors. He identifies two forms: bonding social capital refers to trusting, cooperative relations between members of a network with a similar social identity, while bridging social capital refers to connections between members who are unlike one other, but are ‘more or less equal in terms of their status and power’. Szreter and Woolcock (2004) expand on this distinction by adding a third form that covers the interaction between individuals and networks that are unequal in terms of power and influence, such as the relationship between government and citizens. This linking social capital connects individuals and groups in different social strata in a hierarchy where power, social status and wealth are accessed to different degrees by different groups. Applied to the practice of citizens’ initiatives, the relational strategy of bonding refers to the interaction between the initiators and, for example, their fellow residents; the relational strategy of bridging refers to the interaction between the initiative and other local groups with different interests or orientations, such as farmers, entrepreneurs or other initiatives; and the relational strategy of linking refers to the interaction between initiators and institutional actors. In their work on social capital, Granovetter (1973) and Lin (2001) distinguish between ‘weak and strong ties’, suggesting that the palette of available resources can be extended by including ‘weak’ ties. Research methodology We have opted for an interpretive approach, which seeks to understand the way in which people give meaning to specific events and practices (Yanow and Schwartz-Shea, 2006). An important feature of this approach, given that this study examines people’s modes of operation, is that it views the social as constructed in the intertwinement of action and meaning (Bevir and Rhodes, 2006). Moreover, this approach places value on a range of ways in which meaning arises, including informal and less rational ways. This makes it suitable for studying citizens’ initiatives, as informal methods are an important part of their practice. The meanings can be articulated in discourses, but can also be embedded in the mechanisms of a practice. In keeping with our interpretive research approach, a qualitative method was used for the research, enabling a deeper understanding of day-to-day practices, interactions and mechanisms. First, interviews were held with four experts concerning the role of information in citizens’ initiatives. Examples were then collected by searching the Internet, social media networks and previous related research on citizens’ initiatives. This resulted in a typology with forty-five examples of green urban citizens’ initiatives. Nine initiatives were then selected using the criterion of variety in the operationalization of objectives, approaches and types of group. They share that they actively do or make somethings in their living environment. An overview of the cases is given in Table 1 below. Table 1 Overview cases   Who  What  Where  1. Duurzaam Soesterkwartier [Sustainable Soester quarter]  Residents of the Soesterkwartier neighbourhood  Activities concerning energy conservation, renewable energy and sustainable construction  Amersfoort  2. Stadsboerderij Caetshage [Caetshage City Farm]  Caetshage Foundation  Organic food production, development of biodiversity, nature and the landscape, and care farm  Culemborg  3. Emma’s Hof [Emma’s Court]  Residents of the Regentesse neighbourhood  Development and maintenance of city garden and organizing all kinds of activities  The Hague  4. Kracht van Utrecht [Power of Utrecht]  Residents of Utrecht  Making integrated proposals for accessibility, economic development and environmental quality in the city of Utrecht  Utrecht  5. Mooi Wageningen [Beautiful Wageningen]  Residents of Wageningen  Vigilant about threats to nature and the landscape, and undertaking a range of activities related to the local landscape  Wageningen  6. Ecovrede [EcoPeace] also called EVS, or ‘ecologisch vernieuwende samenleving’ [ecologically innovative society]  EcoVrede Foundation  New concept for ecologically innovative society/connections between people and nature. The aim is to involve people in ecological projects, so that they experience and connect with nature  Arnhem  7. As We Speak  Young residents of Arnhem  Digital platform that highlights innovative and sustainable projects and initiatives in the city of Arnhem going on ‘as we speak’  Arnhem  8. Singelpark Leiden [Canal Park Leiden]  Friends of Singelpark Foundation  Aiming to transform the banks of the six-kilometre-long canal around Leiden into a continuous park  Leiden  9. Groen Speelplein Vrije School Harderwijk [Harderwijk Steiner School Nature Playground]  Parents of children who attend the Steiner School  Transforming a paved playground into a ‘green play and learning landscape’ and maintaining the playground  Harderwijk    Who  What  Where  1. Duurzaam Soesterkwartier [Sustainable Soester quarter]  Residents of the Soesterkwartier neighbourhood  Activities concerning energy conservation, renewable energy and sustainable construction  Amersfoort  2. Stadsboerderij Caetshage [Caetshage City Farm]  Caetshage Foundation  Organic food production, development of biodiversity, nature and the landscape, and care farm  Culemborg  3. Emma’s Hof [Emma’s Court]  Residents of the Regentesse neighbourhood  Development and maintenance of city garden and organizing all kinds of activities  The Hague  4. Kracht van Utrecht [Power of Utrecht]  Residents of Utrecht  Making integrated proposals for accessibility, economic development and environmental quality in the city of Utrecht  Utrecht  5. Mooi Wageningen [Beautiful Wageningen]  Residents of Wageningen  Vigilant about threats to nature and the landscape, and undertaking a range of activities related to the local landscape  Wageningen  6. Ecovrede [EcoPeace] also called EVS, or ‘ecologisch vernieuwende samenleving’ [ecologically innovative society]  EcoVrede Foundation  New concept for ecologically innovative society/connections between people and nature. The aim is to involve people in ecological projects, so that they experience and connect with nature  Arnhem  7. As We Speak  Young residents of Arnhem  Digital platform that highlights innovative and sustainable projects and initiatives in the city of Arnhem going on ‘as we speak’  Arnhem  8. Singelpark Leiden [Canal Park Leiden]  Friends of Singelpark Foundation  Aiming to transform the banks of the six-kilometre-long canal around Leiden into a continuous park  Leiden  9. Groen Speelplein Vrije School Harderwijk [Harderwijk Steiner School Nature Playground]  Parents of children who attend the Steiner School  Transforming a paved playground into a ‘green play and learning landscape’ and maintaining the playground  Harderwijk  Table 1 Overview cases   Who  What  Where  1. Duurzaam Soesterkwartier [Sustainable Soester quarter]  Residents of the Soesterkwartier neighbourhood  Activities concerning energy conservation, renewable energy and sustainable construction  Amersfoort  2. Stadsboerderij Caetshage [Caetshage City Farm]  Caetshage Foundation  Organic food production, development of biodiversity, nature and the landscape, and care farm  Culemborg  3. Emma’s Hof [Emma’s Court]  Residents of the Regentesse neighbourhood  Development and maintenance of city garden and organizing all kinds of activities  The Hague  4. Kracht van Utrecht [Power of Utrecht]  Residents of Utrecht  Making integrated proposals for accessibility, economic development and environmental quality in the city of Utrecht  Utrecht  5. Mooi Wageningen [Beautiful Wageningen]  Residents of Wageningen  Vigilant about threats to nature and the landscape, and undertaking a range of activities related to the local landscape  Wageningen  6. Ecovrede [EcoPeace] also called EVS, or ‘ecologisch vernieuwende samenleving’ [ecologically innovative society]  EcoVrede Foundation  New concept for ecologically innovative society/connections between people and nature. The aim is to involve people in ecological projects, so that they experience and connect with nature  Arnhem  7. As We Speak  Young residents of Arnhem  Digital platform that highlights innovative and sustainable projects and initiatives in the city of Arnhem going on ‘as we speak’  Arnhem  8. Singelpark Leiden [Canal Park Leiden]  Friends of Singelpark Foundation  Aiming to transform the banks of the six-kilometre-long canal around Leiden into a continuous park  Leiden  9. Groen Speelplein Vrije School Harderwijk [Harderwijk Steiner School Nature Playground]  Parents of children who attend the Steiner School  Transforming a paved playground into a ‘green play and learning landscape’ and maintaining the playground  Harderwijk    Who  What  Where  1. Duurzaam Soesterkwartier [Sustainable Soester quarter]  Residents of the Soesterkwartier neighbourhood  Activities concerning energy conservation, renewable energy and sustainable construction  Amersfoort  2. Stadsboerderij Caetshage [Caetshage City Farm]  Caetshage Foundation  Organic food production, development of biodiversity, nature and the landscape, and care farm  Culemborg  3. Emma’s Hof [Emma’s Court]  Residents of the Regentesse neighbourhood  Development and maintenance of city garden and organizing all kinds of activities  The Hague  4. Kracht van Utrecht [Power of Utrecht]  Residents of Utrecht  Making integrated proposals for accessibility, economic development and environmental quality in the city of Utrecht  Utrecht  5. Mooi Wageningen [Beautiful Wageningen]  Residents of Wageningen  Vigilant about threats to nature and the landscape, and undertaking a range of activities related to the local landscape  Wageningen  6. Ecovrede [EcoPeace] also called EVS, or ‘ecologisch vernieuwende samenleving’ [ecologically innovative society]  EcoVrede Foundation  New concept for ecologically innovative society/connections between people and nature. The aim is to involve people in ecological projects, so that they experience and connect with nature  Arnhem  7. As We Speak  Young residents of Arnhem  Digital platform that highlights innovative and sustainable projects and initiatives in the city of Arnhem going on ‘as we speak’  Arnhem  8. Singelpark Leiden [Canal Park Leiden]  Friends of Singelpark Foundation  Aiming to transform the banks of the six-kilometre-long canal around Leiden into a continuous park  Leiden  9. Groen Speelplein Vrije School Harderwijk [Harderwijk Steiner School Nature Playground]  Parents of children who attend the Steiner School  Transforming a paved playground into a ‘green play and learning landscape’ and maintaining the playground  Harderwijk  In-depth interviews were held with the initiators of these nine Dutch green urban initiatives. These semi-structured interviews were recorded and transcribed. Secondary materials were studied, such as websites, policy documents and scientific reports. Moreover, two learning network meetings were held with the members of these initiatives, in which the role of information in the initiatives was discussed. We used triangulation to enhance the interpretation of the findings from different sources. The interaction of multiple sources of data collection leads to an enrichment of the research (Erlandson, 1993). We investigated that the practice of the citizens’ initiatives: their ideals, their strategies, their organization, and their development. In this exploratory research, we aimed at getting an initial, general overview of the role of information in a wide variety of Dutch green urban initiatives. Although multiple case studies were analysed, our primary aim is not to compare but to analyse its mechanisms. As the interviews focused on everyday meaning and everyday relationships expressed in ordinary language, some quotes are used in the article for illustration. Information in citizens’ initiatives Information and communication are both objective and means The ideals driving an initiative ‘make’ the initiative. The ideals are also what appeals to others and draws them in: ‘That goal, and sharing that goal–creating a platform of young people who map transformations—a lot of people respond to that.’ (respondent from As We Speak). Moreover, ‘People warm to the idea that this was not invented by the municipality, but by residents—who have no vested interests. Not by a civil servant, politician or landowner’ (respondent from Canal Park Leiden). Emphasizing that citizens are acting and achieving things by themselves is what gets people on board too. For several of the initiatives, acquiring or communicating information is part of their objectives. Power of Utrecht, for example, produces reports to inform other actors, while As We Speak is a platform for communicating information about innovative sustainability. For EcoPeace too, a key objective is raising awareness by informing others. However, initiators also see the provision of information as a means to achieving their ends. Take, for example Emma’s Court and Canal Park Leiden, in which communication is used to realize their main objective: developing a city park. The initiators think that poor communication undermines the concept, while good communication helps them achieve their objectives. Information and means of communication The citizens’ initiatives in our study use and emphasize different means of communication. Almost all the citizens’ initiatives have a website but other means of communication are used too, such as flyers and project plans. Moreover, they actively approach media such as local papers and regional and national TV news programmes. Some initiatives, such as Canal Park and As We Speak, make extensive use of social media, while others, such as Power of Utrecht, Emma’s Court and Caetshage, do not. Several citizens’ initiatives found there were groups of people who could not be reached through the Internet or social media (e.g. Sustainable Soester Quarter). According to the initiators, these were mostly the elderly and people with a lower level of education. In those cases, either a personal approach is chosen (e.g. going door to door), or a more institutional one (going through relevant institutions such as housing associations). So different ‘target groups’ are approached in different ways. For Caetshage and Harderwijk Nature Playground, face-to-face encounters are the most important because it is felt that they generate the strongest connections. But for As We Speak, for example, it is the combination of online and offline activities that is important. The people in this initiative are very digitally oriented, both individually and as a group, and their activities blend well with their social lives. The various means of communication are used to inform people, attract attention and stimulate all kinds of activities, as well as to amass informational capital. In Canal Park Leiden, people were asked via Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook to give examples of other, larger cities with city parks. Collecting information about what is happening, where it is happening and who is involved is of great importance to the way a citizens’ initiative operates. Informational capital, social capital and human capital Social capital and informational capital Although most of the citizens’ initiatives in our study (e.g. Canal Park Leiden, EcoPeace, Caetshage, Beautiful Wageningen, Emma’s Court) are legal entities and have officially appointed chairs, secretaries and treasurers, in practice they act informally most of the time. The legal entity and its formal roles are mostly used in relation to the outside world. Most of the initiatives in our study consist of a small core group surrounded by a larger group of people connected to the core with different degrees of intensity, in different ways and at different times. We observe a combination of work and social life that is typical of citizens’ initiatives (Van Dam et al., 2014a, 2014b). This applies to the objectives, and also to the information and knowledge present. In addition to the fact that the initiative often becomes ‘a way of life’, it also gives active professionals a chance to apply their skills in a citizens’ initiative aimed at improving their own living environment (e.g. Harderwijk Nature Playground and Beautiful Wageningen). Canal Park Leiden, for example, uses this appeal to recruit active initiators. In several cases, the day-to-day management and the division roles are a reflection of informational capital. Social capital in this research refers to the group processes, the social ties, trust and shared norms and values. We found that a collective feeling about who they are and what they stand for is very important according to the citizens’ initiative members. For quite a few of these initiatives, part of this collective identity is the appeal of implementing your own ideas and plans—ownership and deciding and acting on your own. Working together, trusting each other and having the feeling that relations are reciprocal are also important aspects. One can say that the informational capital of a group is defined by the social capital of the group. This works the other way around too: the social network of a group is strongly determined by the information flows. Human capital and informational capital The informational capital of an initiative often reflects the competencies the people involved gained from their education and jobs. Take for example the initiators of As We Speak, who studied communication and sustainable innovation at university. Their degrees were directly relevant to the development of a digital platform for sustainability. As some of these initiators work in a relevant field as professionals it is not uncommon for them to have more informational capital than, for example, the civil servants in the municipality or employees at relevant institutions. The plan for Leiden city centre, for example, which includes the idea for the park, was designed by the main Canal Park initiator and then adopted by the municipality. As a rule, implementing a citizens’ initiative is not an easy process. The initiators need to have a great deal of perseverance and passion and to put in a great deal of time and energy. Several respondents describe it as an extra job on top of their ‘day job’ (e.g. Caetshage, Harderwijk Nature Playground and Canal Park Leiden). Some respondents even said if they had known what it entailed, they would never have started. These initiatives make big demands on human capital such as social skills, entrepreneurship, strategic vision, and organizational and communication talent. Human, social and informational capital are inter-related The main initiators are a deciding factor: the initiative bears the stamp of their personality and they guide it towards success. Initiators keep their eyes and ears open in the field and are alert to developments in the local community. The success of a citizens’ initiative is felt to depend on access to a lot of different informational capital. But the main initiators must be careful not to be too dominant, and to ensure that other people are acknowledged for their contribution too. Moreover, it is of strategic importance to show the outside world that other people are involved too. Municipal civil servants, for instance, always want to know how much support an initiative enjoys in the local community. The main initiators tend to be highly educated, to work in a profession that is related to the initiative and to have useful contacts—which contributes to the social capital of the initiative. In short, one could say that the various forms of capital are inter-related and reinforce each other. Informational capital in relational strategies Relational strategies in citizens’ initiatives The activities and strategies of the citizens’ initiatives emerge in interactions with others, resulting in connections with various people and institutions. The citizens’ initiatives have strong links to the outside world and are developed through these links. The citizens’ initiatives make use of bonding as one of the links concern making connections with people with a similar identity such as neighbours, peers, friends and family. They motivate these people through personal contact, through word of mouth and through social media. Many initiators have found that the process of bonding is enhanced by keeping things informal, emphasizing the social side (e.g. having a good time) and celebrating successes (however minor). As an initiator in Emma’s Court puts it: ‘Yes, actually there was a very strong social aspect. Sitting around the table as a group of friends, philosophizing about what could be done over a bottle of wine… We have become a group of friends’. The relational strategy of bonding often takes the form of carrying out activities together and lending a hand, but also includes gaining informational capital. The initiatives of Power of Utrecht and As We Speak, for example, actively seek to involve people who have informational capital, as does Canal Park Leiden. ‘Friends of the Canal Park has six committees, and I approached all those people myself. I visited them all at home or met them in the pub, and they are all top people in their fields. (…) So on those committees we’ve got a water-board official and some directors of big companies; our treasurer is treasurer at KLM—millions go through his hands. The whole Leiden municipal budget is peanuts to him, let alone the budget for the Canal Park. Whereas it makes me very nervous. In this way, you get the best: we’ve got directors of communication in hospitals and other institutions on our communication committee, and bankers on the fundraising committee.’ The citizens’ initiatives also show examples of bridging: connections with others who might have different objectives and are not as close—at least at the start—but are more or less equal in terms of their status and power. Power of Utrecht for example, formed a group linking people from different communities in the region who shared concerns about car use and nature. Other examples of bridging are the connections that were made between different categories of local residents (e.g. Sustainable Soester Quarter, which started out with home owners and then linked up with tenants in rented accommodation), contact with different groups of residents (e.g. Emma’s Court) and contact with other related citizens’ initiatives or associations (e.g. Power of Utrecht). For many citizens’ initiatives, ‘linking’ is another important way of implementing their initiatives. Among our cases, there are many examples of initiators who want or need to connect with the municipality, a project developer or NGOs. In several cases, these actors are contacted out of necessity, because for example a municipality or project developer owns the land on which the citizens’ initiatives’ activities are planned to take place, as in the case of Caetshage City Farm. But the contact can also be strategic, because these parties bring in informational capital. Another reason is simply that you are stronger together, a motive for the cooperation between Power of Utrecht and Natuur en Milieu Federatie Utrecht [the Utrecht Nature and Environment Federation]. The method of communication plays a central role in forging such links between the informal world of citizens’ initiatives and the formal world of the institutions and their systems (Van Dam et al., 2014a). Citizens’ initiatives often start out with a great deal of informational capital of their own, but if they lack certain information they actively seek to obtain it via relational strategies. Informational capital in relational strategies There were many examples of communication activities aiming at reaching and involving people, whether through bonding, bridging or linking. Some of these connections were deliberately pursued, by inviting a municipal councillor, for instance, or approaching civil servants. In the case of Emma’s Court, there was an attempt to make use of personal contacts. The initiators sat around the table and made a list of who would contact whom. They found they were developing all kinds of networks and ideas. But connections are also based on luck, coincidence and the unexpected turn of events. For example, the project developer who owned the land at Emma’s Court turned out to support their idea and gave them a hand. What informational capital is needed is often decided in response to what happens in practice. Citizens’ initiatives act upon changes and grasp opportunities as they arise. So there is often a combination of tactics and ‘luck’, as expressed by a respondent from Power of Utrecht: ‘In that sense, to some extent we are doers and thinkers who weigh up our strategy and tactics, and at the same time you just happen to run into the councillor in town or you suddenly find out that someone has a lot of knowledge on a particular topic.’ With every new connection, more connections and goals emerge and that is how an initiative develops. For example, if an initiative takes on a different task, such as care, this brings in new contacts, who in turn bring in further connections. Another example of reaching people is the crowdfunding campaign from Caetshage to finance the farmhouse. Some initiative groups thought they had missed out on connections and certain chances of success because communication was not handled appropriately, as EcoPeace put it. Their projects tended to only reach a small group, which they relate to ‘inadequate communication’. At Caetshage, too, it was felt that with better communication more could be accomplished and more connections made with other people and institutions. That is why they wanted someone whose specific task was communication: ‘I’ve always done it on the side, somehow: the website and all that. Whereas if someone did it systematically, a lot more could be achieved. A lot of people get very enthusiastic if you just give them the opportunity to get to know about it.’ Information in connecting to the outside world The information the initiative has about what is happening in practice, the images that are formed as a consequence, and the way initiators act as a result are of great importance. This defines how the initiative develops. This process of self-transformation makes clear that citizens’ initiatives are related to the outside world and operate contingently. On the one hand, the initiatives try to keep as many people as possible informed about what they are doing (mass communication). They do this through the Internet, newspapers and social media such as Twitter. On the other hand, the initiators are selective in their approach, recruiting specialists, for example, and asking them what their knowledge and expertise can mean for the initiative and/or the society as a whole, or holding one-to-one discussions. EcoPeace mentioned that people who get involved must support the ideals and objectives. Earlier experiences made them rather hesitant to let just anyone become involved. Informing others about your plans can also encourage an initiative and make it start to become real, partly because other people may hold you to your promises (e.g. Emma’s Court). In some citizens’ initiatives, people also actively ‘steer’ things in a certain direction through the kind of information they give and the tone that is used. For example, Canal Park Leiden has moderated the comments on their Internet site and Facebook page, averting ‘sour’ reactions. The initiatives want to project a particular image. Canal Park Leiden’s image management includes the use of what they call a ‘mantra’: ‘the longest, most beautiful and most exciting city park’. In cases where initiatives oppose certain policy developments, they often present themselves as constructive and formulate an alternative (e.g. Power of Utrecht). They are aware of their image, or that of the subject they focus on, and tackle this proactively. For example, As We Speak wants to give sustainability a sexier image, so they actively promote a certain image through their choice of target groups and media—they do not respond to all offers of publicity from traditional media such as newspapers. The consensus among the initiatives is that image should be taken seriously and is key in convincing other people or institutions to come on board. EcoPeace actually had to struggle to change their image: because one of the initiators was very young, the municipality thought they could not live up to their ambitious plans. Conclusions and discussion In our ‘information society’, it is important for citizens’ initiatives to have informational capital. This can be expertise or certain kinds of knowledge, but when talking about citizens’ initiatives, information on who to contact and connect with has been proven to be most essential. Informational capital and communication play a role in informing other people outside the initiative, as well giving the initiators themselves information. Moreover, informational capital and communication are key in persuading and convincing others to be aware of something or to do something. More specifically, it can mean that others get involved and become active in the initiative itself, thus becoming a way of selecting people and generating human, social and informational capital. Another area in which informational capital plays a role is in creating a group with a collective identity, taking action collectively, selecting members of the group and generating social capital, and tapping into resources and connecting the informal world of the initiatives with the formal system of institutions. Informational capital is formed through the relational strategies of bonding, bridging and linking. Through these relational strategies, initiatives gain informational capital. Different kinds of people and institutions bring in different kinds of informational capital, enabling citizens’ initiatives to interact, cooperate and form relationships in order to realize their objectives. This works both ways, however. Searching for informational capital on the Internet, for example, leads to new and different social relations. This is just one example of the many ways in which using informational capital enables a citizens’ initiative to connect with and enlarge their social networks, both online and offline, through the relational strategies of bonding, bridging and linking. Figure 1 illustrates that the development of a citizens’ initiative in which the dynamics between informational capital, human capital and social capital and the reciprocal relationship between informational capital and the relational strategies of bonding, bridging and linking play a vital role. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Dynamics of informational, human and social capital, and relational strategies in implementing citizens’ initiatives Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Dynamics of informational, human and social capital, and relational strategies in implementing citizens’ initiatives For a citizens’ initiative to be successful, all three relational strategies seem to be important. Which strategy should be emphasized depends on the initiative and the phase it is in. Besides collecting information, it is also important to use information in the ‘right’ way. Good communication, and most importantly, informal and personal communication with a strategic exchange of information, is vital to the success of citizens’ initiatives. Although, we found that citizens’ initiatives can be selective about their informational capital and communication, it seems that more, or more diverse, informational capital generally leads to more success in the development of the initiative. It seems that—depending on the objectives of the initiative—initiatives that use a wider range of relational strategies are more successful in realizing their objectives. In our study, for example, EcoPeace has been less successful in developing connections through bridging and linking and seems—for the moment at least—to be less successful in achieving its objectives. Canal Park Leiden, by contrast, has made the most of the various relational strategies, and, consequently, seems more successful in achieving its objectives. Although this is an exploratory study and more detailed research is recommended, it seems that those initiatives which are able to connect in a variety of ways, using a range of relational strategies to mobilize all kinds of individuals, organizations and institutions (with all kinds of informational capital), are able to acquire a broader palette of information, knowledge, expertise (i.e. informational capital), which helps them to realize their objectives. Much heard questions about citizens’ initiatives concern in- and exclusion, solidarity and representativeness. Especially, if one also sees a process of self-transformation taking place. Citizens’ initiatives are indeed sometimes tight networks in which sometimes mainly highly educated people are involved and although transparent for insiders, they are not always so much transparent for outsiders. In practice, however, many citizens’ initiatives are often aimed at involving a variety of people, including minorities or people who are somehow less able. They often have particularly a social goal, such as social cohesion in the neighbourhood (Van Dam, 2016). And although the ingredients for ‘an old boys network’ seem present, practice in The Netherlands shows that the self-transformation process taking place is most dominant in the relational strategy of linking (Van Dam et al., 2014b). In this processes of self-transformation, we see citizens’ initiatives internalizing the assumptions about what is considered important to the relevant government organizations. As such citizens’ initiatives tend to incorporate policy objectives in advance, to operate in an organization form that is recognized as ‘sound’ and ‘familiar’, to emphasize operating rational, based on ‘valid’ expertise rather than ‘expertise by virtue of experience’ and serving the needs of a wider community. Looking at the adaptation and anticipation of citizens’ initiatives, one could describe them as obedient and submissive, but also as smart and strategic. The latter depiction reflects an awareness that the citizens’ initiatives also exercise power and will go to great lengths to get the things done that they want done. This paper shows that self-organizing citizens are quite capable. They are able to mobilize people and of growing various forms of capital in order to create public value. Part of the idea behind informational capital is that information has ‘intrinsic value, which means that information, gained, used, exchanged, is also a way of gaining, using and exchanging power. Here, Becks’ concept of subpolitics (1997) becomes relevant, which refers to the social action that goes on outside the representative institutions of the political hierarchy and yet is politically significant because of its influence in society. Citizens’ initiatives can also be seen as an expression of an informal and participatory democracy that is giving shape to democratic values. Citizens and governmental organizations both invest in democracy with their own interpretation of the democratic values of freedom, equality, solidarity and good governance values such as transparency and accountability (Salverda et al., 2014). This ‘do-ocracy’ can be seen as a complementary form of democracy that meets a need related to democratic values. Rosalie van Dam, PhD, is a researcher public administration at Wageningen Environmental Research/WUR in the Netherlands and focuses on changing relationships and transitions in the organization of society. Her main research interests are citizens’ initiatives, self-governance, social innovation, informational governance and e-democracy. She has a PhD in self-organization of people with regards to the living environment. Irini Salverda, MSc, is a researcher public administration at Wageningen Environmental Research/WUR in the Netherlands. Her main research interests are citizens' initiatives, cultural entrepreneurship and social innovation by means of social media. Her focus is on the interaction between social and informal mechanisms and processes of self-governance and the formal organization and logic of institutions. Jan Hassink, PhD, is a senior scientific researcher at the business unit Agrosystems Research at Wageningen Plant Research, part of Wageningen University and Research, the Netherlands. His main research focus is on care or social farming. He was educated as an agricultural scientist and received his PhD in 1995. In 1998, he finished his education in psycho-social work. He has been involved in and studied social farming since 1999. Lenneke Vaandrager, PhD, is an associate professor at the Chairgroup Health and Society, Department of Social Science, Wageningen University, the Netherlands. Her main research interests are workplace health promotion and health and the natural environment. Most of her work is inspired by systems thinking and salutogenesis. She has a PhD in communication and organizational change. Carlijn Wentink, MSc, is a lecturer and researcher at the Chairgroup Health and Society, Department of Social Science, Wageningen University, the Netherlands. 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Community Development JournalOxford University Press

Published: Dec 11, 2017

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