In integrated water management, the issues are often complex by nature, they are capable of subjective interpretation, are difficult to express in standards and exhibit many uncertainties.

For such issues, an equilibrium approach is not appropriate. A non-equilibrium approach has to be applied. This implies that the processes to which the integrated issue pertains, are regarded as “alive”’. Instead of applying a control system as the model for tackling the issue, a network is used as the model. In this network, several “agents”’ are involved in the modification, revision and rearrangement of structures. It is therefore an on-going renewal process (perpetual novelty).

In the planning process for the development of a groundwater policy for the municipality of Amsterdam, a non-equilibrium approach was adopted. In order to do justice to the integrated character of groundwater management, an approach was taken, containing the following features: (1) working from global to detailed, (2) taking account of the history of the system, (3) giving attention to communication, (4) building flexibility into the establishing of standards, and (5) combining reason and emotions.

A middle course was sought, between static, rigid but reliable on the one hand; dynamic, flexible but vague on the other hand.