Peer review of The Netherlands National Strategy for Sustainable Development

IIED led a project to peer review processes to monitor the progress and implementation of National Strategies for Sustainable Development, and develop an options-based peer review approach that was adopted by the government.

2003 - 2007

Various mechanisms were used to monitor the progress and implementation of National Strategies for Sustainable Development (NSDS), such as internal reviews, external auditing, parliamentary and budgetary reviews, and indicator-based monitoring.

From 2004 to 2005, at the request of the French government, Barry Dalal-Clayton, IIED senior fellow and director of the strategic planning and assessment programme, developed an options-based peer review approach.

It sought to meet several guiding factors: cost-effective, relatively simple and replicable approach, relatively short time, non-judgemental (not to 'name and shame'), and have the sharing of experience and lessons.

The approach was successfully applied to the French NSDS with the peer team (representatives from government and an NGO) from Belgium, Ghana, Mauritius and the UK.

This approach was then adopted by the European Commission for the voluntary peer review of EU member state strategies – a commitment made in the 2006 European Union Sustainable Development. And a similar approach, based on shared learning, has been promoted by UNDESA in other countries, such as Korea.

Project objectives

The Netherlands

In response to the EU call, in 2006, the Netherlands decided to undertake a peer review of its National Strategies for Sustainable Development. The process was managed by the Netherlands Council for Research on Spatial Planning, Nature and the Environment (RMNO). Dalal-Clayton was engaged to advise on the process and act as facilitator.

Twelve experts from three countries (Finland, Germany and South Africa) were invited to serve as peers (four per country representing government, business and science, civil society (NGO) and academia). The peers were asked to review the existing Dutch NSDS and to make recommendations on how best to develop a new Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS) based on their own and other international experiences.

The review involved several steps:

  • A background report setting the scene for addressing SD in the Netherlands and describing the various plans and process that, together, could be taken to represent the Dutch strategy. But the main focus was on the Action Programme on Sustainable Development 'Sustainable Action' (2003).
  • A scoping workshop to agree the scope of the review and the methodology
  • Interviews and telephone conferences with key actors
  • A peer review week in April 2007 that included a field trip to Rotterdam harbour (focusing on sustainable city issues and energy); workshops involving 90 Dutch participants (with representatives form government, NGOs & business, politicians, planning bureaus, science and education); and sessions on rural areas and agriculture, water, and energy). A youth delegation participated throughout.

Presentation of recommendations

A summary of 46 recommendations was presented to and discussed with the prime minister and key ministers in May 2007, and the final report was launched at the 8th Midsummer Festival in Amsterdam on 21 June 2007.

Influencing the new government

The peer review appears to have had significant influence. It was concluded when the new Dutch government was in its first 100 days of office and was developing its policy programme.

The coalition agreement had already, and perhaps uniquely, placed sustainable development as a cornerstone of its objectives. But the peers' recommendations made it very clear that the 2003 Action Programme on Sustainable Development could not be regarded as a sustainable development strategy for many reasons:

  • The focus was dominantly environmental – the social and economic dimensions were missing
  • It was a set of actions without a framing vision, guiding principles and quantified headline indicators
  • As a result, activities led by different actors (government, business, civil society) were not linked
  • It lacked ownership in society and the business sector, and
  • Effective cooperation between government departments and levels was missing.

They strongly urged the government to clearly commit in its policy programme to initiate the development of a new NSDS to provide an overarching umbrella for existing and future policies, plans and actions, and recommended possible mechanisms to manage the process.

The prime minister and key ministers signalled that they agreed that an appropriate process was needed to help mobilise the rest of society around sustainable development, building on the coalition agreement.

Additional resources

A new sustainable development strategy: an opportunity not to be missed, Barry Dalal-​Clayton, Fieke Krikhaar (2007) RMNO, Den Haag, The Netherlands