Beyond disciplines: STAR-FLOODIES meet for the first time

By Maria Kaufmann and Adam Choryński

June 6, 2013 marked a special day within the European STAR-FLOOD project. It was the day when the young “STAR-FLOODIES” met up for the first time in the Dutch city of Utrecht. The sunny and warm weather underlined the comfortable atmosphere in which we discussed how to analyse Flood Risk Governance Arrangements in Europe. For some of the participants it even might have felt surreal considering that greater parts of central Europe were suffering from disastrous flooding during that time.

MariaThe project itself started in October 2012, however this Academic Master Class was the first of its kind and the first occasion where all young researchers were present. The purpose of the class was to meet and get to know each other, to exchange knowledge, and to discuss possibilities to integrate the different disciplines in an efficient way, which is not a simple task considering that the geographical origin of the partners (Sweden, Belgium, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Poland and France) is as multifaceted as the background of the researchers – lawyers, spatial planners, political scientists, economists, geographers, and sociologists.

The beautiful weather and the relaxing atmosphere could have nearly given the impression of a holiday-like two days… not quite. Introductory, Peter Driessen and Dries Hegger welcomed the participants and updated everyone on the status of the project. A lot of work had already been done, but the bulk was yet to come, especially for the young researchers. Mark Wiering introduced the analytical framework used within the STAR-FLOOD project: the Policy Arrangements Approach, and explained its evolution. Even though the framework might still be slightly abstract for some young researchers, one thing became clear: “especially the whys are important” for the analysis. Afterwards Zbigniew Kundzewicz discussed the more tangible topic of “Floods in Europe” and started the discussion of what do we actually need to adapt to if flood risk governance is adaptation to climate change?

adam_chorynskiHowever, not just the senior researchers but also the young researchers had to get active and present selected papers, which offered the possibility to dig deeper into certain topics and discuss aspects of (flood) governance, flooding, adaptation, comparative research, legal aspects et cetera. Every presentation initiated discussions, not in the least because the participants come from various disciplines, and have different definitions for relevant concepts. One thing became clear: communication will be the essential for the success of the project.

The evening offered the perfect balance to the heated discussions: canal biking. Everybody realized quickly that it looked a lot easier than it actually was. It goes without saying that the Italian dinner at the end of the evening was highly appreciated.

On the second day, Marleen van Rijswick emphasized the role of law in flood risk management. Considering that “lawyers have their own special way of doing research” the lecture caused animated discussions regarding possibilities to combine legal and social-political research. An introduction to the methodology of case study research was given by Carel Dieperink, who explained the KISS- approach: “Keep it simple and stupid”.

MaeslantkeringThe closing highlight of the two days was the excursion to the Maeslantkering near Rotterdam – a moveable storm surge barrier consisting of two floating sector doors each as large as the Eiffel Tower. Additionally, an enthusiastic guide from the information centre explained in an informative and entertaining way the history and strategy of Dutch flood risk management.

The first Master Class in Utrecht was definitely a promising start-up for the further progression of the project. Now we know who we are actually working with and we can put faces to the names in e-mails. Even though combining the different disciplines successfully will be a discussion-rich endeavour in the future, the first Master Class made clear that the inter- disciplinary setting of the STAR-FLOOD project offers above all a source of inspiration and motivation.