First insights into national flood risk governance arrangements

On 2-3rd April the STAR-FLOOD consortium met in Antwerp to exchange preliminary findings from the analysis of national flood risk governance arrangements. By combining policy and legal methodologies through the Policy Arrangements Approach (PAA), each consortium country has been able to identify and analyse current governance structures; including the arrangement(s) and sub-arrangements of governance related to different Flood Risk Management Strategies (prevention, defence, mitigation, preparation and recovery).

Beyond documenting the current arrangement of actors, rules, resources and discourses, this approach has enabled us to chart how these arrangements have shifted over time and examine the factors that have either promoted periods of stability or else triggered episodes of change. On this front, a range of factors were identified such as economic recession, significant flood events, political reform and the impact of EU legislation. A number of similarities appear to exist, though the extent to which these have been embraced in consortium countries is noticeably different. These include:

  • A tendency towards long-term policy visions that embrace sustainability and concerns for climate change;
  • A shift towards holistic flood risk management, rather than purely defence-orientated governance;
  • A tendency towards proactive rather than reactive flood risk management;
  • The broadening of knowledge and expertise consulted in decision-making (e.g. physical science and engineering, social science, environmentalists and economists etc.);
  • The involvement of market and private actors in decision making.

Simultaneously there are some interesting differences. For instance, there appears to be a spectrum upon which each country is aligned in terms of the degree of centralisation and decentralisation in decision-making. Other differences include:

  • National safety standards;
  • The impact of the EU Floods Directive;
  • General levels of awareness and risk perception amongst civil society;
  • Market penetration of flood insurance and compensation for flood losses;
  • The division of responsibility for flood risk management between competent authorities and non-state actors (including the public);
  • Funding arrangements for flood risk management

Overall, it is clear that the structure of flood risk governance is noticeably different in each country. Our task now is to evaluate these existing governance arrangements in terms of the criteria of resilience and appropriateness. Ultimately, our goal is to understand how different forms of governance (functioning in different contexts) enable or constrain efforts to enhance societal resilience to flooding in urban areas. In turn, this will help inform recommendations for strengthening and redesigning flood risk governance arrangements.

Antwerp April 2014

In order to reach this goal, we will make comparisons between consortium countries. Thinking ahead, opportunities for comparison were discussed during an Academic Master Class (3-4th April) at which all junior STAR-FLOOD researchers met. It was decided that we will develop small working-groups (cross-country and cross-discipline), to develop comparative analysis for specific themes. For example, one group might focus on the impact of privatisation, whilst another might examine the impact of the EU Floods Directive 2007.

Simultaneously, research has begun at the case study level. Three case studies will be studied in each country over the next year (i.e. 18 in total), each exposed to fluvial flooding and located in urban areas. This will provide in-depth knowledge of how flood risk governance operates in a range of physical, socio-economic and political contexts, where the significance of flooding and attempts to broaden flood risk management strategies differ. Furthermore, the case study approach will enable us to explore the extent to which national governance structures influence and support or constrain governance at the local scale. Preliminary findings from the first case study will be discussed at the next Academic Master Class, which will be held in London 3-4th July.

Author: Meghan Alexander, Middlesex University