Comparing the (almost) incomparable. Where are we now?

The six countries investigated in STAR-FLOOD differ in many respects. Differences in terms of flood risks and management strategies are of particular interest of the project. At the same time there is one big resemblance: all the countries cope with flood risks and try to minimize the losses. In the project we try not only to understand the peculiar art of flood risk management in the countries, but we also search for insights from comparing countries and cases. This means looking for patterns to comprehend possible commonalities and looking for transferable good practices.

The initial interest was to take a look at scope of a shift from the established flood risk management based on defence and structural protection towards an approach relying on adaptation and acceptance of flood.

A comparison concerning flood risk management is a demanding task. Differences in geographical conditions (such as the size of a country, climate change impacts, etc.) between countries can demand for specific approaches. Cultural, institutional and contingent factors can also have an impact on the characteristics of flood risk management.

Several papers are under preparation focusing on what strategies (defence, prevention, mitigation, emergency and recovery) look like and how they operate – in comparative perspective. Also other topics are analysed comparatively: the Flood Directive implementation, public participation in flood risk governance, multilevel coordination and others. These papers will be part of the special issue “Towards more resilient flood risk management” in Ecology and Society. As this is an open special issue, we are happy to invite you to submit your own relevant papers until 31 January 2016!

Besides the topics driven comparative analyses of flood risk management, a more direct comparative approach is also applied. A special matrix was developed in order to systematize and to simplify the complex data collected within the countries. The matrix is based on the analytical dimensions in the project and specifies around variables describing each country. The matrix is collated with the data and it helps to look at the countries from a multi-dimensional perspective. Flood risk management strategies are compared via three dimensions: dominance, diversification, linked (vs separation). Flood risk governance arrangements are compared by the following dimensions: compactness/scattered; diversification/monolithic; balanced/unbalanced; consolidation/separated.

Preliminary findings suggest that diversification and dominance of strategies have different shapes in the countries. England is a country where all strategies are present and balanced, while in other countries one or two strategies have a leading role. It is the defence, which is the most important in France, the Netherlands and Poland. The analysis shows, that the initial assumption of the positive role of strategies’ diversification on resilience should not be understood straightforwardly. We observe some increase of diversification in the countries, but its function depends significantly on local contexts. Coordination between strategies, in terms of formal and informal linking instruments such as projects, legal acts, policy concept, schemes etc. is not directly related to diversification of strategies. In fact, the Dutch flood risk management, which is one of the most unbalanced flood risk management among six analysed exhibits the highest number of links between strategies while England with most diversified flood risk management developed less links.

By: Piotr Matczak, IAFE