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Reflection: Looking beyond reinforcement

Posted at 13/10/2021 by Prof. Sander Meijerink

Implementing large-scale infrastructure projects for flood risk management requires good collaboration between water authorities, municipalities, landowners and societal organisations.

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Prof. Sander Meijerink

Radboud University

One of the objectives of the Dutch Flood protection programme is to link other interests and tasks with flood risk management tasking if possible. For this reason, many collaborative processes have been initiated in which parties jointly explore options and develop a preferred alternative. What can we learn from these collaborative projects? What are important conditions for the collaboration to arrive at an effective and broadly supported preferred alternative? And what are the legal possibilities and obstacles (e.g. related to Natura 2000) to realising such a preferred alternative? In this All-Risk webinar, we discussed these and other governance issues. Would you like to see the presentations of the researchers?

Photo from the session on area development on the Grebbedijk of Dijkwerkers on Tour (Source: HWBP).

This reflection emerged from the discussion between the webinar team and the about 19 participants to the All-Risk webinar organised in October 13, 2021.

Would you like to view the presentations of the webinar team? You can view them in the above video.


Despite the legal challenges for pursuing integrated flood risk management initiatives and the collaborative governance that is needed, during the webinar, it became clear that many successful projects have managed to organise successful collaboration between the involved parties. Still, there are concerns about the efficiency and effectiveness of the intensive collaborative processes organised during the exploration phase of Dutch Flood Protection Programme projects.

Participants responses to the question beyond strengthening, what are important topics?

For increasing both efficiency and effectiveness of the efforts, it is important to consider whether the jointly developed preferred alternative creates benefits for collaborating parties, contains a roadmap for achieving jointly agreed project goals and warrant equitable distribution of the costs and benefits of its implementation among the beneficiaries (the public). The likelihood of achieving these performance levels is high when the projects have managers with a connective management style and sufficient (financial) resources are made available by the parties involved. Other success factors are productive engagement, shared motivation and the generation or sharing of relevant knowledge and expertise.

Participants responses to the question what factors do you think are important for the success of integral HWBP projects (other than in Emma's presentation)?

During the discussion participants added relevant success factors for achieving integrative projects, such as clarity about objectives and financing, a long-term vision, sense of urgency, shared responsibilities, and relatively small project scale. It is important to realise that not all these success factors must be present to achieve successful integrative projects. The absence of some factors may be compensated by the presence of others. Therefore, project owners should not be discouraged if they do not have most of these success factors. Instead, they should focus on conditions they have and promote and further stabilise them. As mentioned by one of the webinar participants: “We often focus on what we could have or could achieve rather than on what we have and have achieved”.

How can then parties be stimulated to link their sectoral goals to Flood Protection Programme projects?

Most of the participants mentioned engaging other policy sectors early in the process so that they have sufficient time to develop ideas around linking opportunities is crucial. Others also mentioned creative thinking, a design approach, and taking a specific area with concrete problems as a starting point. Whereas policy objectives tend to be abstract or vague, problems and interests in specific cases are not.

Within the Flood Protection Programme, there are also a number of projects that did not manage to organise productive collaborative processes, either because no collaborative process was initiated or because nothing came out of it. During the webinar, there was a lively discussion on the bottlenecks that stand in the way of integrated Flood Protection Programme projects. Some participants mentioned that there is neither capacity nor time for developing integrated solutions. Others mentioned a tight planning schedule and time pressure would hinder the development of integrative projects. Other participants pointed the slow lead (processing) time or even fear in the management of Flood Protection Programme for delays that stand in the way of successful collaboration and integrated solutions. Participants also questioned whether the ambition to realise integrative projects may come at the cost of the speed at which a project is realised. Although a majority prioritised integrative solutions above speed, some warned that the Flood Protection Programme should be careful with that. Whereas some flexibility may be acceptable, it should be realised that a delay in project implementation comes at the cost of water safety. Finally, some participants argued that stakeholder participation, too big ambitions of some sectors or limited budgets of municipalities have hindered productive collaboration.

Overall, the success factors and bottlenecks mentioned in the discussion confirm the research results carried out on Flood Protection Programme projects. One of the interesting research results is that despite the criticism on the Flood Protection Programme for its ‘sober and efficient approach’, the programme still managed to realise a large number of successful, integrative projects. Overall the strategy of ‘meekoppelen’ (linking) has been successful.

All-Risk recommendations:

  • First of all, we recommend using the mentioned success factors together as an evaluation framework for assessing collaborative efforts within the Flood Protection Programme projects. Focusing on these factors will make it possible to assess whether they relate to each other or can be compensated if missed.
  • The skillset of project managers deserves attention. Next to conventional requirements such as meeting deadlines, they need extensive experience designing and implementing large, integrated multidisciplinary and complex infrastructure projects. They also need competencies to identify and connect stakeholders.
  • Engage with area partners as early as possible (from the launching, beginning of the exploration phase, or during the pre-exploration phase). This way, partners may be more willing to invest their resources (people, finances, logistics etc.) to develop the most optimal solution together and have enough time to work out procedures within their organisations.

Last modified: 23/12/2021