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The majority of Flemish local authorities missed the 2020 climate targets,[1] ust like the Flemish government. However, this did not deter most of them from enthusiastically committing to new goals for 2030. Our survey of 65 local authorities revealed that the road to 2030 will not be easy. A staggering 95% of respondents expressed doubt about achieving these 2030 targets under the current framework of resources and capabilities. With the recent extreme weather in Belgium and various parts of Europe, it is becoming increasingly clear, even to those who were previously oblivious, that climate change is real and approaching rapidly.

To achieve Flemish and local climate objectives, our cities and municipalities will need to adopt a different approach. Yet, beneath the surface of many climate plans, we see politicians clinging desperately to measures and recipes that have been tried in the past and found wanting (subsidies, interest-free loans, etc.). Who was it again who said that it is madness to continue doing exactly the same thing and expect a different outcome? Therefore, we advocate for Flemish and local authorities to open a new front in the fight against climate change. In this article, we argue for fully embracing administrative experimentation and using it as a test case for a decisive mix of climate policies.

[1] Look at

What is administrative experimentation?

As far as we know, there is no official definition of what exactly constitutes administrative experimentation in Flanders. However, we can derive a meaningful interpretation from the words themselves. Moreover, it allows for the freedom to interpret and implement it.

  • Administrative pertains to political governance. This article focuses on the Flemish government and local authorities, emphasizing the synergy and interaction between both levels.
  • An Experiment is a carefully designed and precise observation of a piece of reality that can be conducted to test a scientific hypothesis.

In essence, administrative experiments involve the design, implementation, and evaluation of experimental regulations and policy actions within the context of Flemish and local climate policy. This contrasts with the inertia of how new climate policy is currently formulated.

Why is administrative experimentation necessary?

Innovation is a central factor in making our society climate-neutral and resilient. Technological innovation is a crucial component, but more is needed. Innovation can also involve how actors collaborate. By introducing innovations in the organizational chain, (technological) solutions can sometimes more easily reach users. Policy thus helps shape the environmental conditions in the chain between demand and supply.

By adjusting policy, for example, you can increase or decrease homeowners’ interest in installing a heat pump.

Addressing climate change is largely about rapidly and adequately deploying the technological solutions we already have on a large scale. However, if green technology is already available, and if policy can significantly influence the implementation between demand and supply, why don’t we focus more on seeking and experimenting with policies that truly enhance local climate policy? Asking this question makes it uncomfortably clear that current European and Flemish innovation and subsidy policies primarily focus on technological innovation and much less on administrative or organizational innovation to better utilize existing solutions.

Combating climate change is an unprecedented challenge for humanity. Different solutions are needed from those that caused the problem. Implementing new local climate policy is no exception to this. Policy-making is inherently a slow process where everyone seeks stability. Nobody likes to tinker with the rules after the fact. This “slow nature” is at odds with the challenge that many of the necessary policy solutions need to be introduced for the first time in the coming years (e.g., local energy communities). In such a traditional policy-making approach, there is little room to fail forward. Policy must be “spot on” because in a slow policy cycle, it’s already too late when policymakers begin to realize that something is amiss. This leads us to the insight that we need more flexible experimental space where new local climate policy can be tested, refined, and scaled up “after the proof of concept.”

Experimental space for local climate policy offers numerous benefits:

  • It allows cities or municipalities to serve as test labs to see what policies work and what doesn’t without having to decide for all of Flanders right away. Local authorities that are truly committed can thus take the lead without needing approval from others or the Flemish government.
  • It provides important examples (proofs of concept) for interested authorities, allowing them to overcome their reluctance.
  • It brings science into the political debate on future climate policy and goes beyond argumentation based on presumed effects, ideology, and perceptions.

How could we set this up in Flanders?

Setting up administrative experiments is not about randomly firing shots. It requires some thinking and time to prepare the policy model, evaluation framework, and implementation case properly. Time and resources are scarce. We primarily want to assess policy experiments based on their intrinsic strengths and weaknesses. It would be a shame to discard or praise ideas simply because the circumstances happened to have too much influence on the results.

To get started with administrative experimentation in Flanders, the Flemish government could take several steps:

  1. Compile a long list of possible policy experiment ideas that we could set up in Flanders and local authorities.
  2. Conduct a legal assessment or qualification of that long list to assess which ideas are more or less hampered by current regulations.
  3. Draft project sheets outlining the 5 to 10 most promising or promising experiments.
  4. Where necessary, adjust or create the current regulatory framework to be able to start with the experiments.
  5. Prepare and launch project calls for (coalitions of) local authorities to apply for the administrative experiments.

The important role of Flanders in this regard is manifold:

  • Offering and facilitating the process framework in which local authorities and policy scientists can set up the experiments.
  • Where necessary, creating regulation-free zones or experimental space from Flemish competences.
  • Translating, disseminating, and supporting the lessons learned to further promote successful policy measures.

What could these administrative experiments be about?

Just compiling a long list of possible experiments would be a particularly interesting fact. We strongly believe in the collective intelligence of the many (policy) experts walking around in Flanders. To make it concrete, we’re already making a few suggestions ourselves:

  1. Assessing the impact of artificial intelligence and online data analytics to better reach population groups with communication actions about climate actions.
  2. Creating a local regulatory authority for local heat zoning plans.
  3. Financing extensive energy renovations through the network operator.
  4. The interest bonus-malus for mortgage loans to stimulate extensive energy renovations.
  5. The possibility of tightening the local housing code based on tightened energy requirements for rental properties.
  6. Setting up a frontend & backend platform to streamline and “brand” communication to citizens from the policy offerings of various governments.
  7. Establishing a test fund for “domestic offset projects” to link domestic CO2 offset projects to social objectives and interested funders.
  8. Testing behavioral interventions around effective climate communication and climate action.
  9. Mandatory energy score within 5 years after the sale of the property.
  10. Testing organizational and operational models (such as “pay-per-performance”) for setting up neighborhood renovation projects and transitioning to climate neighborhoods.


With this article, we aim to advocate for more administrative experiments to strengthen local climate policy. Innovation encompasses more than just technology. Our Flemish cities and municipalities can be an immensely interesting testing ground for achieving Flemish climate goals. Through administrative experiments on local climate policy, we can open a new front to combat climate change through policy. The best way to change something is simply to start.

[3] Derived from the Architectural Innovation Model by Henderson & Clark (1990)

Would you like to discuss with us how we can further proceed with this?

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