CAUTION: innovative empirical insights on flood risk governance ahead!

After 20 months, STAR-FLOOD is now reaching the end of Work Package 3 (WP3) which forms the empirical core of the project. The researchers studied flood risk governance in their country, both at the national level and at the level of three case studies in vulnerable urban regions. Besides that, all countries have held workshops at the national and the case study level to validate and disseminate their research results. At the end of September 2015, six country analysis reports will be finalized. They will form the main input for the country comparison (WP4), the design-oriented framework (WP5) and for a special issue in Ecology and Society in which thematic comparisons between the STAR-FLOOD countries will be made.

STAR-FLOOD researchers from each country are the authors of the six country analysis reports. At the end of March and the beginning of April, Peter Driessen, Marloes Bakker, Dries Hegger (project coordinator), Ann Crabbé (WP3 coordinator) and Marleen van Rijswick (WP3 co-leader) provided feedback on all “70% versions” of the reports. Most feedback was given in face-to-face meetings in each country during the so-called “Tour d’Europe”. The next (“95%”) versions of the reports were discussed in a plenary consortium meeting in Luleå, Sweden, at the beginning of June.

Some interesting issues that could be derived from an initial comparison of the reports include:

  • Drivers for stability and change. All STAR-FLOOD countries have been making efforts to diversify, link together and align Flood Risk Management Strategies. Improving Flood Risk Governance turns out to be challenging. Some recurring drivers for stability are sunk costs and path dependencies. In many cases, change towards more diversified Flood Risk Management was found to be caused by the actions of change agents throwing their weight behind new developments or by shock events (e.g. floods). On the other hand, national flood policies and regulations in England were found to have a certain degree of in-built flexibility leading to gradual changes in flood risk governance;
  • Required room for flexibility. In most STAR-FLOOD countries, also those with a relatively high degree of centralization, like France, it was found that local governmental actors but also business, civil society actors and sometimes residents themselves take specific local actions for dealing with flood risks. Examples include Delta Dikes, flood proof building and urban green infrastructure. The question comes to the fore how such initiatives can best be facilitated. Should there be as much flexibility as possible at the local level? Or is coordination by higher governmental levels needed? The STAR-FLOOD researchers will further delve into this evaluative question in the coming months.
  • Differences in the implementation of the Floods Directive. While all STAR-FLOOD countries are EU member states in the process of implementing the EU Floods Directive (Directive 2007/60/EC), the relative influence attributed to the Floods Directive differs tremendously between the STAR-FLOOD countries. In Poland, for instance, there is some evidence that the Floods Directive implementation legitimized innovative policies and legislations. In the Netherlands, on the other hand, although some policymakers welcome the flood hazard and flood risk maps, in general the Floods Directive implementation is viewed as a bureaucratic exercise: it is more seen as a formalization of “business as usual” than as an opportunity to improve flood risk governance.

The three examples mentioned above are just an appetizer of the content of the six full country reports. The STAR-FLOOD team hopes that the reports will attract many readers. In the meantime, the STAR-FLOOD researchers themselves have learned a lot from the process of developing the reports. Discussing national flood risk governance in an international team of researchers has opened everyone’s eyes for the things they are taking for granted in their own country. Precisely the things that are found “so normal that they don’t deserve mentioning” often turn out to be the most interesting from an international perspective!