The PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) is the national institute for strategic policy analysis in the fields of environment, nature and spatial planning.
We contribute to improving the quality of political and administrative decision-making by conducting outlook studies, analyses and evaluations in which an integrated approach is considered paramount. Policy relevance is the prime concern in all our studies. We conduct solicited and unsolicited research that is always independent and scientifically sound.
PBL’s mission consists of five core values:
1. Policy-relevant research
Our research focuses primarily on strategic decision-making by the Dutch Government, in other words, on long-term objectives and the policy instruments needed to achieve them. We evaluate current and future policies and explore social trends and policy options. Policy-relevant research must also be opportune; the results become available when they are needed to inform political discussion and governmental decision-making. We provide information and advice primarily to national government, but because policy formulation is increasingly becoming ‘multi-level’ in nature, international and other governmental authorities also belong to our target audience (see footnote). As national policies on environment, nature conservation and spatial planning are increasingly shaped by the European and global context and Dutch standpoints are increasingly incorporated into international negotiations, it is important that the European and international dimensions are included in PBL research. Moreover, much government policy assumes cooperation with local or regional authorities. Our research must therefore provide insight into local and regional developments so that cooperating government authorities are able to base their actions on the best possible scientific knowledge. A key feature of PBL research is taking a broad view of the subject matter and revealing the links between different scales of investigation (local/regional, national, European and transnational) in substantive analyses. Parliament and non-governmental organisations are also important users of our studies. Finally, policy relevance implies a good understanding of the social context within which policies should take effect.
PBL is autonomous in defining its research questions as well as the research methods to be used and how to report results, for both solicited and unsolicited advice. We are free to consider questions within a wider context or examine them from a more interdisciplinary perspective. PBL identifies and draws attention to social topics which are expected to become important for policy in the near future.
Although domain-specific studies and outlooks form the basis of our work, we strive to establish links not only between different scales but also between different domains (economic, ecological, social and cultural). We take this integrated approach from and between environmental, ecological and spatial perspectives, or from other angles if these are considered to be important for environmental, nature conservation and spatial planning policies.
4. Scientifically sound
The scientific quality of PBL research is of the utmost importance. This is guaranteed and reviewed by holding periodic scientific audits and external visitations, which are commissioned by the PBL supervisory board. In our reports we use state-of-the-art theoretical and conceptual approaches, as far as these are available, or we develop such approaches when the work of strategic policymakers raises new research questions. We also make use of expert sounding boards for advice. An important activity is the presenting of PBL approaches and methods to international audiences. Our staff present their work at scientific conferences, participate in international networks and whenever possible publish their results in scientific journals. All PBL research can be reproduced for third parties. We employ a diversity of views and approaches to increase the robustness of our conclusions and recommendations. Our reports and advice on policy-relevant matters are always accompanied by a clear statement on the conditions under which they are issued.
5. Learning organisation
PBL is a learning organisation and invests in the quality of its staff and the continuity and quality of its products. A learning organisation presupposes an alert organisation and so we maintain an active internal discussion about how we fulfil our core tasks. The diversity of approaches and methods we use allows us to learn about the possibilities and limitations of policy-relevant strategic research. By operating in networks with other centres of expertise, such as universities, research institutes and other policy assessment agencies, we draw inspiration from colleagues elsewhere and seek criticism of our work to guarantee and increase the vitality of our organisation and the special position it enjoys. We keenly maintain the specific expertise available within the agency and ensure that the continuity of this expertise is guaranteed.
Core tasks of PBL
The word ‘environment’ is understood in its broadest sense. Our core tasks can be described as follows:
- To investigate and document current environmental, ecological and spatial quality
- To explore future social trends that influence environmental, ecological and spatial quality, and evaluate possible policy options
- To identify social issues of importance to environmental, ecological and spatial quality and raise them for discussion
- To identify possible strategic options for achieving government objectives in the field of environmental, nature and spatial policy
The Protocol for the Policy Assessment Agencies attaches the following condition: ‘with due consideration to the public interest and the costs involved...which primarily fall within the responsibility of the relevant ministers’.