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E2) Cross-sector collaboration

Start: 05/2017
End: 05/2021
Status: Active

Contact details

Emma Avoyan

Radboud University

Expected outcome

Insights and recommendations concerning cross-sector collaboration during exploratory phases of dike reinforcement projects.

Top: Grebbedijk's development area; Middle: 'Dijkdenkers' discussing ambitions for the dyke reinforcement; Bottom: Grebbedijk's section that allows for recreational and economical activities (Photos by Grebbedijk project and Waterschap Vallei en Veluwe).

Motivation and practical challenge

In the Netherlands but also abroad, the implementation of large-scale infrastructure projects for flood risk management often triggers complex interactions between diverse actors and organisations, working together. They bring to the process their stakes, interests and solutions to the problem. During the projects exploratory phases, these actors may collaborate intensively from three to four years. The aim is, for example, to explore and identify opportunities for linking flood safety with spatial and environmental solutions on and around dikes such the Grebbedijk in the lower Rhine. This dike, among many others, needs reinforcement and the government, together with the interested parties, map out the ambitions for developing the area. The time and resources invested in these exploratory phases imply that the chosen collaborative approach is likely to make a difference. However, in the Netherlands but also abroad, the causal relationship between the way collaboration takes place, and the quality of the final decision or preferred alternative (voorkeursalternatief) remains questioned. Yet, this knowledge would allow management organizations to prioritize cross-sector collaboration when and if needed. This is the reason why as a reasearcher and a former environmental planner, I am intrigued by the phenomenon of collaboration.

Research challenge

To understand the challenges and benefits of cross-sector collaboration, I investigate how and to what extent do these collaborations lead to integrative, innovative and legitimate solutions in the scope of flood safety, nature, recreation, spatial quality and sustainability.

Overview of the innovative components of the research.

Innovative components

My research incorporates a novel approach to study this by:

  1. Looking back to understand the present: together with co-author Sander Meijerink, we synthesized the literature on Dutch flood risk governance to look closely on cross-sector collaboration efforts since the flooding disaster of 1953 until the recent developments. We traced how factors such as policy and legal frameworks, socio-economic circumstances, political realities, power relations and conflict situations influenced the attempts at collaboration over time.
  2. Tracing the processes on how collaborative decisions are being developed: My interest lies in understanding the link between collaborative processes and the quality of the preferred alternative as an output of those processes. Therefore, I investigate, in theory, which collaboration dynamics support or hinder the collaborative decisions. In practice, I trace these links first in depth for the Grebbedijk case study and second via a national survey for the ongoing projects of the Dutch flood protection program that have finalized or still carry out the exploratory phases. For the survey study, I use the method of qualitative configurational analysis (QCA) which seems a promising approach in examining the complex pheonomena of cross-sector collaboration.

Relevant for whom and where?

Policy makers, advisory organisations and scholars interested in project performance assessments, cross-sector collaboration and collaborative governance of large-scale infrastructure projects involving multiple functions as well as private and public organisations.

On the map, Grebbedijk project in Wageningen that is one of the ongoing projects of the Flood Protection program studied within this project.

Progress and practical application

Despite the necessary time and resources, first findings from the literature analysis show that collaboration between organizations creates opportunities for developing integrative, innovative and legitimate solutions (click related outputs below). These interactions enhance the public acceptance as well as the chances of implementing the preferred alternatives. However, as power relations and political/administrative circumstances are generally decisive, the quality of these solutions varies depending on the way cross-sector collaboration evolves over the course of exploratory phases. For the design of collaborative initiatives in the future, more attention should be paid on the way face-to-face interactions and deliberations are organized. It is essential to develop good interpersonal relationship between the participants starting from the beginning of exploratory phases. And to maintain these dynamics, a stable representation should be encouraged as changes of representatives within participating organizations and management of the project itself hinder the collaboration.

Status for day-to-day practice

Cross-sector collaboration leads to productive decisions if sufficient efforts are directed towards increasing good interpersonal and behavioural interactions between the involved organizations at a given time.

Next steps

The findings could be applicable to other large scale infrastructure projects if adapted to the specific context. It would be interesting to study further how cross-sector collaborations with consequent commitments and responsibilities evolve in the planning phase as well as in the maintenance phase.

Last modified: 07/03/2021

Contributing researchers

Emma Avoyan

Radboud University

Co-authors team

Prof. Sander Meijerink

Radboud University

Prof. Peter Ache

Radboud University

Contributing partners

Project outputs

Inside the black box of collaboration: a process-tracing study of collaborative flood risk governance in the Netherlands

This study suggests that well-organised processes of principled engagement facilitated by adaptive and connective leaders may compensate for lack of shared motivation among collaborating parties and succeed in delivering desired collaborative outputs without investing much in building trust and shared motivation.


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Bevat: Publication open access journal

The architecture of collaborative governance regimes in Dutch flood risk management: The Grebbedijk case

Supported by an extensive document analysis, observations made during project meetings as well as a series of in depth interviews, we assessed the overall performance of the collaborative governance regime.

06/11/2019 by Emma Avoyan et al.

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Bevat: Conference proceedings

Cross-sector collaboration within Dutch flood risk governance: historical analysis of external triggers

Literature synthesis to track how the policy and legal frameworks, socio-economic circumstances, political realities, power relations and conflict situations influenced the attempts at collaboration since the flooding disaster of 1953.

21/05/2019 by Emma Avoyan et al.

View publication

Bevat: Publication open access journal


What is the legal transition about?

18/06/2020 by Monica Lanz

Following the blog about the risk-based approach, here we provide insights into the coming 'Omgevingswet' or Environment and Planning Act. This new framework makes...

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The day of the dike worker Emma Avoyan

31/08/2020 by Emma Avoyan

The All-Risk research is particularly useful to the Dutch Protection Program (HWBP). Such is the case of Emma Avoyan researcher at Radboud University into...

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Your opinion matters to understand the governance of flood protection projects - Ongoing survey

28/09/2020 by Emma Avoyan

Are you currently involved you in or have knowledge about one the projects of Dutch Flood Protection Program (HWBP in Dutch)? Then, you can...

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Digital magazine of the Flood Protection Program

29/09/2020 by Matthijs Kok

The Flood Protection Program (also known in Dutch as HWBP), an alliance of the 21 water regional authorities and the Dutch Ministry of Water...

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