A multilevel governance system is characterized by activities or phases in the policy cycle that occur at different spatial levels. In a typical centralized system, strategic goals and policies are only formulated at the national level, and regional levels implement according to orders from above. Actors from the national level have a leading role. In more polycentric or decentralised systems regional authorities develop their own strategic goals and tailor made policies (Pahl-Wostl et al., 2013). Whereas current flood risk management planning in the Netherlands is for instance rather centralized, in Sweden the system is heavily decentralized. This can be explained by the fact that in the Netherlands flood risk is much larger than in Sweden, and flood events can have an impact on the whole country. In Sweden, flood risk is much lower and the impact of an event is much more local.
Both types of systems and systems in-between have their advantages and disadvantages. Centralized regimes often have more (legislative) power and resources. On the other hand, decentralized systems tend to develop more tailor-made solutions and have a higher adaptive and transformative capacity. In decentralised systems it is important to have effective coordination mechanisms in place and to find a balance between bottom-up and top-down processes (Pahl-Wostl et al., 2013). The struggle for a good balance is also visible in the STAR-FLOOD countries. In Sweden we see a call for more coordination, knowledge and financial support from the national level now climate in increasing flood risk, whereas in the Netherlands municipalities like Dordrecht (see §4.5.1) and Nijmegen (see §5.3.2) are more and more involved in order to develop solutions that are accepted by local stakeholders.
The Island of Dordrecht in the southwestern part of the Netherlands is highly vulnerable to flooding. It is enclosed by large rivers and situated in a tidal area. If a flood occurs, it will be deep and fast. The accessibility of the island is limited: only three bridges, two tunnels and shipping connect it to mainland. Accordingly, evacuation possibilities are limited. Flood risk was to be handled by defending the whole island with primary defences, a responsibility of the national government and regional water authority.
Yet, the municipality had the idea that other multilevel safety measures – combining flood defences with water robust building and disaster management – could be more beneficial for the safety of the island. Dordrecht was to become a self-reliant island. The most vulnerable part of the island should be better protected, and other parts could be flooded in extreme situations, which requires among others good possibilities for evacuation on the island. To be able to divide the island into compartments – and protect the most vulnerable part – regional defences need to be strengthened. Yet, in order to find support for their plan, the municipality had to convince the other (responsible) authorities to change existing policy, law and funding.
The Delta Programme provided a window of opportunity to discuss and implement the new idea. Within this programme, the Island of Dordrecht became a pilot project for the multilevel safety approach. The municipality has played an important role in bringing all the actors together. It has good connections to (all) involved stakeholders and facilitates communication. The plans are based on the knowledge and experience of the local citizens as well.
At the moment of writing it appears that the desired tailor-made approach will be implemented, including the necessary changes in safety standards and funding. Factors that enabled this include a proactive and visionary policy entrepreneur supported the Municipal Council, joint fact finding with various research institutes in various projects to analyse problems and develop a strategy, joint programming and joint fact finding with other authorities and stakeholders at different levels. Such a proactive approach may also be beneficial for other municipalities striving for change (STAR-FLOOD Deliverable 3.2, see §8.2.1).