Professor Hendrik Wagenaar

Professor of Town and Regional Planning

Room number: D16
Telephone (internal): 26924
Telephone (UK): 0114 222 6924
Telephone (International): +44 114 222 6924
Email: h.wagenaar@sheffield.ac.uk  
Twitter: @spiritofwilson


I completed my PhD at the Department of Urban Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1987. I was a mid-career student, having worked for 6 years as an official in a research funding agency. It was there that I became fascinated by the perplexities of public policy – partly by engaging in it myself, partly by observing the director of the agency, Chris van Seventer - a brilliant public manager who deeply influenced me. My six years as a practitioner have turned out to be an invaluable resource for my academic work. They have enabled me to ground what I have learned in academia in real world experiences, and they have prevented me from indulging in speculative grand theory.

After I obtained my PhD (Virtual Institutions: Community Relations and Hospital recidivism in the Life of the Mental Patient) I spent three rewarding years as a Research Associate in the Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School (1987-1991), where I developed, tested and applied outcome measures for assessing the outcomes of mental health service systems. I also taught Public Policy Analysis at Northeastern University, Boston.

In 1991 I returned to the Netherlands to take up a position as Associate Professor at the Department of Public Administration at Leiden University. I was lucky to engage with a number of excellent Dutch scholars. With one of them, Maarten Hajer, I began to teach classes in interpretive policy analysis which resulted in our book Deliberative Policy Analysis (2003). We could not have predicted that the book would become a classic in the field; one of those ‘obligatory passage points’ that leads to instant name recognition. Over the years I have interviewed many practitioners to understand the subtle and intricate processes of practical judgment that make up their work. This work has resulted in a number of theoretical papers that I co-wrote with one of my friends from my MIT days, the philosopher Noam Cook.

In 2006, I was approached by a young scholar, Robert Duiveman, who asked me for advice about a project that he was developing with the Department of Education, Culture and Welfare in the city of The Hague. The Department, one of those vast bureaucratic local government agencies, was interested in transforming its governance processes by including ciitizens and other stakeholders in the policy process. They wanted some researchers to study their reforms and help them to reflect upon it. I was duly intrigued, and, when I was asked to lead a small research institute in which this project was to be embedded (Centre for Governance Studies), I agreed. For five years we worked in close collaboration with city officials, citizens and stakeholders to understand how governance can be made more responsive and democratically inclusive. When I also obtained a large grant to study prostitution policy in the Netherlands, Austria and Sweden, and another grant to study innovations in social servce delivery to frequent offenders, both again in close collaboration with local policy makers, I felt that I was developing, through a difficult process of learning by doing, a new hybrid form of research, somewhere halfway between inquiry and advice, knowledge acquisition and action. 

Since November 2011, I have worked as Professor in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the University of Sheffield, where I hope to extend and develop my work on the topics I mentioned and contribute to the exciting work that the staff and the students engage in.


Research Interests

Participatory democracy and local governance, interpretive policy analysis in the fields of: urban governance, prostitution policy, social welfare, policy implementation and the (unintended) consequences of public policy making. Practice theory.

Research Methods

Qualitative interviewing and analysis of qualitative research data (“Grounded Theory”), action research with citizens and policy makers, interpretive theory and methods, practice theory in policy making and public administration: practical judgement, narrative and discourse analysis.



I have extensive teaching experience with a wide variety of audiences. I currently teach the following modules:

  • TRP215, European Field Class
  • TRP326, Values, Theory and Ethics in Spatial Planning
  • TRP458/658, Principles of Public Policy
  • TRP4270/6280, Public Participation
  • TRP6406, Dissertation

PhD supervision 

I am primary supervisor for the following PhD students:

  • Emma Morales, Middle Class Gatedness: Interplay of global economic forces, national policies and individual behaviours in the proliferation of middle-class gated communities. The Mexican case
  • Pu Niu, How ‘deliberative democracy’ could contribute to integrate the urban village into the city
  • Zhen Lu, Housing and schools - social justice in China


  • Wagenaar H (2011) Meaning in Action: Interpretation and Dialogue in Policy Analysis. M.E. Sharpe.

Journal articles

Edited Books

View full list of publications