Energy policy by beauty contests: the legitimacy of interactive sustainability policies at regional levels of the regulatory state

Maurits Sanders, Michiel A. Heldeweg, Elly G.P. Straatman, Johan F.D.B. Wempe

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10 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: To achieve the ambition of the energy transition in the built environment, Dutch local governments try to motivate citizens to participate as communities in policy processes. There is a general expectation that such an interactive approach will foster a more rational policy output and will create stronger support from citizens towards policy outcomes. The emphasis put on this output-outcome effectiveness should not eclipse another major criterion of government policy- and decision-making and implementation: the legitimacy of political authority. Major building blocks of such legitimacy are the principles of liberal democracy and of the rule of law. The aim of this contribution is to identify safeguards for a legitimate exercise of political authority in interactive regional governance initiatives.

Methods: The empirical data about ‘Sustainable Community Overijssel’ is gathered by document study, including research reports, policy plans, and project documents, and by studying recent publications and news items. The analysis uses Beetham’s multidimensional approach of legitimacy as point of departure.

Results: Beetham’s legitimacy dimensions are elaborated upon from a liberal democracy viewpoint and a regulatory state pragmatic choice between various institutional environments. From this, legitimacy dimensions of ‘shared values’ and ‘consent’ emerge as most sensitive to interactive policy-making, necessitating proper safeguards, safeguards with relevance to the legitimacy of initiatives such as Sustainable Community Overijssel.

Conclusions: Legitimacy is never a given standard, it may be designed into structures and ambitions, but it will still need to be achieved by proper practice. This is certainly the case in projects concerning sustainability challenges of which effective solutions are by no means clear and readily deployable. The Overijssel case should be seen as one of many interesting cases towards evidence-based effective and legitimate policy practices.
Original languageEnglish
Article number4
Number of pages13
JournalEnergy, sustainability and society
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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