Triple Access Planning

Be (a)ware of context!

A Note on the Importance of Institutional Aspects in Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning for Triple Access and Uncertainty 

Examining institutional aspects in the SUMP framework 

Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning (SUMP) has been developed and applied throughout the EU during the 2010s, supported by a set of planning guidelines (Rupprecht Consult, 2019) that provide transport planners with key instructions on how to develop and implement sustainable urban mobility in an urban or metropolitan context. Apart from handling subject matters of sustainable mobility, this concerns to a large extent governance and handling a variety of institutional aspects such as horizontal and vertical integration of actors and perspectives, managing regulations, creating legitimate policy solutions and mobilizing capacity for change. Issues such as these may have significant influence over both SUM planning and its implementation.  

Formal, and to some extent informal institutional conditions are touched upon in the guidelines, but mainly at a general level, and in an in-depth supplementary manual for institutional cooperation (Cré et al, 2016). Consideration of Triple Access Planning and uncertainty (Lyons & Davidson, 2016) in SUMP adds to the complexity of SUM-planning, which makes it more important to further consider governance and institutional conditions in SUMP approaches and practices.  

In the TAP for Uncertain Futures project, a literature review on SUMP and SUM-related planning has been carried out with the purpose to address the current state-of-the art knowledge and potential gaps in the current SUMP guidelines concerning formal and informal institutional aspects. The review has specifically focused on how governance and institutional conditions affect SUMP processes and conditions for considering Triple Access Planning and deep uncertainty (see Marchau et al, 2019 for further orientation and in-depth knowledge on deep uncertainty). Here follow some findings from this review and some insights from research literature about how to enhance SUMP further on this subject matter. 

Findings and knowledge gaps about institutional aspects in relation to SUMP, Triple Access Planning and deep uncertainty?  

The studied research literature concerns several relevant themes related to institutional aspects in sustainable urban mobility planning:  

  • General barriers, challenges and recommendations 
  • Policy integration and a multi-level perspective 
  • Participation and co-creation 
  • Attending to context and transferability of knowledge and practices 
  • Factors and mechanisms influencing process dynamics 
  • Some of the themes are sparingly or not at all treated in the literature that specifically concerns SUMP, such as policy integration, multi-level perspectives and influential factors and mechanisms on process dynamics. They are foremost studied in more general research on sustainable urban mobility. Although some of the reviewed studies form part of the basis of the SUMP guidelines, taken together with other studies they show a knowledge gap between research and the guidelines where the literature review contributes concerning: 
  • Mechanisms and factors such as mental models, lock in´s and path dependencies that focuses on the process dynamics and the design of the process and contextual settings rather than the planning content (policy).  
  • The relationship between governance and institutions on the one hand and uncertainty on the other.  
  • An emphasis on local context, informal institutions and governance practice and a meta-perspective on institutions by making them explicit in the process.  

Comparing the guidelines and the findings of the literature review has revealed some gaps and lacking perspectives:  

  • Informal institutions are treated in the guidelines as actors, not as structures or action. As a consequence, there is a focus on organizing stakeholders and their agendas.  
  • Informal practice and contextual and structural aspects are sparsely considered. Here, the literature review has identified the need for a more sensitive and adaptive approach to these aspects.  
  • Governance is consequently related to the formal arrangement of actors in the guidelines, missing out on the tactical and operational levels of tinkering and tailoring of the process as an act of balance between strategic and incremental process management.  
  • Power is discussed only implicitly – if not even made invisible – in many of the prescriptions in the guidelines. Thereby they are also hard to grasp as a characteristic of governance and institutional action while still being a major contributor to institutional uncertainty. The literature review identifies power-struggle as the conflict over diverging discourses and mental models as well as through various barriers and challenges. 
  • Uncertainty, as described by Marchau et al (2019), can be categorized at four levels: level 1) – any uncertainty that can be described adequately in statistical terms, such as in a forecast with a confidence interval; level 2) – alternative, trend-based futures, where some estimate can be made of the probability of each of them; level 3 – deep uncertainty about the mechanisms and functional relationships being studied, often captured in the form of a wide range of plausible scenarios, and finally level 4 – the deepest level of recognized uncertainty, where we only know that we do not know. In the guidelines uncertainty isviewed  mainly as the risk of not achieving a SUMP that is aligned with the guidelines – a level 1 uncertainty. Level 2 uncertainty is considered only when it comes to the development of policy, e. g. as scenario-making. Deep uncertainty (level 3 or 4 uncertainty) and uncertainty from an institutional perspective are generally almost not considered at all.  
What do insights from research literature say about how SUMP guidelines may be further developed to handle the perspective of TAP and uncertainty?  

The literature review has led to some overarching insights about the nature of institutional and governance aspects of SUMP that needs to inform the enhancement of the SUMP guidelines:  

  • Create and maintain awareness of context – stick to principles but allow practical discretion. 
  • Attend to factors and mechanisms that influence dynamics and uncertainties during the entire planning process. 
  • There are limits to integration and participation, as it increases the complexity of the process. Consider which professional, civil society and local competencies and experiences should be represented, and at which stages of the process.  
  • Accommodate processual reflexivity, iteration and local discretion in guidelines. 
  • Develop institutional capacity – knowledge resources, relational resources and mobilization ability – in the planning organization. 

The literature review and gap analysis show that there is indeed need for a developed SUMP process model with regards to institutional and governance aspects from the perspective of TAP and deep uncertainty. The insights and general recommendations from the review provide some ways forward for this. 

Among the lessons are that the 12-step SUMP process could be designed from the eight general principles in the SUMP guidelines framework (see Rupprecht, 2019) but adapted to the local context of the specific urban area to be planned for.  

Also, to emphasize the consideration of informal institutional aspects and to accommodate deep uncertainty, the 12-step SUMP process could be implemented in a more iterative, open, nonlinear and cyclical way in order to accommodate deep uncertainty. 

Continuous activities of mapping, anchoring, co-creation, reflexive learning and adaptation could further be emphasized as part of the process design and take place throughout the process or, concerning some aspects, in a more orchestrated manner, targeting specific activities, such as the mapping of the institutional capacity of the organization and the iterative development and evaluation of both explorative and normative scenarios as a way to systematically investigate and make concrete plausible and preferable futures for sustainable mobility as part of the triple access urban system.  

Adaptive or transformative SUM-planning? – a brief reflection concerning institutional aspects, TAP and uncertainty 

The most fundamental improvement to be made to strengthen the shift to a regime-testing and sustainable mobility paradigm would perhaps be to alter the ontology of mobility planning from a technological-rational dominated worldview to one that is more pluralistic and that better acknowledges the social production of (unknown) futures and the multiplicity of trajectories stemming from such production. An open-minded and learning planning organization appears as an important condition for such a shift. The literature review has shown that a developed awareness and an advanced treatment of institutional aspects can help foster this institutional learning.  

In relation to ambitions of developing more transformative, regime-testing SUM planning which better accommodates Triple Access Planning and uncertainty, it is important to note that strengthening adaptivity both of a specific plan and the planning process as such, comes with the risk of, in effect, contributing to sustaining current planning regimes rather than challenging them. Practices and plans which are made more adaptable might strengthen the resilience and longevity of previous planning approaches and sustain dominant, underpinning planning orientations, and thereby result in an effective avoidance of considering potentially more transformative pathways. In that sense, SUM planning that accommodates uncertainty and TAP with the aim to enforce a transition towards sustainable mobility might be better helped by characteristics such as in-depth reflexivity and scrutiny of practices and its outcomes, rather than reinforcing incremental adaptation of a planning process or a previously decided plan. Or, at least, and based on insights from the reviewed literature, active reflexivity seems to be needed to make way for effective adaptation in practice. 


Cré, I., Mourey, T., Ryder, A., Heckley, S. & Balant, M. (2016). Institutional cooperation. Working jointly with institutional partners in the context of Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans. European Commission, Brussels.  

Lyons, G., & Davidson, C. (2016). Guidance for transport planning and policymaking in the face of an uncertain future. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, 88, 104-116. 

Marchau, V.A.W.J., Walker, W.E., Bloemen, P.J.T.M & Popper, S.J. (2019). Decision Making under Deep Uncertainty. From Theory to Practice. Springer. 

Rupprecht Consult (editor) (2019), Guidelines for Developing and Implementing a Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan, Second Edition. 


Tony Svensson is a researcher on urban and regional studies at The Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Sweden and an assistant professor in Civil planning and construction at Dalarna University and a member of the Triple Access Planning for Uncertainty project team.  

Jacob Witzell is a researcher on strategic transport planning at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) and the National Road and Transport Research Institute (VTI) in Sweden, and a member of the Triple Access Planning for Uncertainty project team.