Flooding between policy science and law: the contribution of STAR-FLOOD to interdisciplinary research

By Silvia Bruzzone

Almost 2,5 years after the start of STAR-FLOOD, what can be said about the possibilities and limits of PAA as a means for interdisciplinary research? And what are the preliminary conclusions about the cooperation between policy and legal research in this specific policy domain? These are questions that some STAR-FLOOD researchers have been dealing with as specific object of the analysis and forthcoming contribution.This column anticipates some their main findings.

Interdisciplinarity is a passage obligé for new and rather complex policy domains like environmental policy where the cooperation between legal scholars and policy scientists becomes fundamental (Hegger et al. 2014). Flood policy is among them: it represents a rather new policy at the cross road of different knowledge domains whereby no single discipline can make a breakthrough.The STAR-FLOOD project is based on the collaboration between legal and policy researchers. Disciplines of public policy and legal studies provide complementary and sometimes overlapping perspectives but also some differences which make cooperation sometimes difficult.

In order to investigate this interdisciplinary object, STAR-FLOOD has used and adapted the so-called “Policy Arrangements Approach” (PAA) (van Tatenhove, Arts and Leroy, 2000) for the purpose of the project. Even if originally the approach was not designed for interdiplinary purposes, STAR-FLOOD has mobilized and adapted the PAA dispositive for conducting interdisciplinary research. As the categories it mobilizes – actors, discourses, rules and resources – are familiar to both disciplines, it provides a common basis to do research work.


In particular three elements can be drawn and discussed concerning STAR-FLOOD as interdisciplinar research framework:

Interdisciplinarity is not the pre-condition of the analysis but a goal to attain. Within the STAR-FLOOD project, the PAA has not been mobilized as an interdisciplinary research method. It rather represents a consistent and rather flexible framework on the basis of which different researcher groups from diverse disciplines may encounter in order to create a common vision of the problem at stake. This common vision is the result of the collective work of adjustment and adaptation of the PAA itself which has taken place all along the project and it is still on-going. So from this point of view, interdisciplinarity is not a precondition of the research work. It is rather the result of a process on the basis of which a community of researchers learns to work together at the definition/reconfiguration of the object at stake.

A more “robust” research object. The previous point bears important consequences on the construction of flooding as a problem. On a general basis, our analysis shows that the collaboration between policy and legal analysts allows a more “robust” and “dense” construction of the researched object. While policy scientists contribute to the integration of different aspects of policy analysis and to the generalization of results, lawyers manage to provide an improved level of precision and detail, especially in terms of “rules of the game”. This is also something valuable as for comparison which becomes somehow easier or less problematic.

Challenging traditional disciplinary borders as condition to tackle environmental policies. The research framework developped within STAR-FLOOD witnesses of the constant reflexive effords – made by policy scientists and legal researchers – to question disciplinary epistemological borders in the intent of reconfiguring complex research object such as flooding. We claim that while this posture is essential to face environmental problem, in practice this might encounter academic resistance. Our warning is that a classical and well defined disciplinary approach might be less fun but better valued in the academic environment!

So, while interdisciplinarity was not a goal per se of the projet, STAR-FLOOD is proven to be a laboratory of interdisciplinar research and discussion. This is something worth exploring and will likely be an unforeseen but verey valuable  ‘side-result’ of the program!



Source for image on main page:

Wilfredo Colón, Parag Chitnis, James P Collins, Janice Hicks, Tony Chan & Joanne S Tornow

Nature Chemical Biology 4, 511 – 514 (2008). Chemical biology at the US National Science Foundation. doi:10.1038/nchembio0908-511