Public participation in flood control areas - approaches to ‘sustainable’ communication strategies
Global warming causes heavy rainfall and rising sea levels. These climate effects prove to be a strong motivation for looking differently at issues of water management and safety in estuaries. For decades, the only answer to hazardous situations (e.g. flooding by increased river discharges or by incoming storm water) was to strengthens dikes and dams. This led to damage in the natural water system, a declining biodiversity and destruction of the unique estuary and river landscapes. Nowadays, different approaches are more frequently implemented, with creating more space for the rivers as a guiding principle. Instead of stemming and rapid discharge, water is contained in estuary and catchment areas. The alternative approach to water management contributes to a more sustainable development of the estuary, protecting the natural and ecological values. However, estuaries are often densely populated areas, accommodating several (conflicting) spatial and economical functions, such as residential areas, ports and harbors, industrial zones, farming and recreational facilities. Creating more space for water management (i.e. retention areas, flood planes and wash lands) leaves less space available for other spatial developments. As a consequence, stakeholders will be affected in their interests; e.g. cities cannot grow unrestrained and farming will have to be downsized. Concepts as ‘multiple land use’ and ‘societal cost – benefit evaluation’ come to mind to characterize the challenge for transforming the designated areas into more sustainable, multi-functional retention basins. Governmental agencies are often acting as project executives in these transformations. They are faced with various stakeholders who are all trying to defend or strengthen their specific interests. A vital question is how to communicate with these stakeholders in the different stages of the transformation process. What communication strategy applies to what situation? And equally important, if a communication strategy is developed, how should it be instrumented? What will the message be, how are the target groups identified and addresses, which mediums should be applied? And, more important, what kind of public participation is required to enable cooperation and avoid opposition to the transformation process? In general, four basic communication strategies can be identified: co-knowing, co-thinking, co-working and co-deciding. Each of these strategies apply to different situations, following the cultural and historic context in the area, the established relationship between the ‘governor and the governed’, and of course, the preferred style of governance. In a research assignment from four governmental agencies in The Netherlands, the UK and Belgium we have evaluated the applied communication strategies in six flood control areas in the EU. For this assignment, an evaluative framework was developed. The evaluation shows the suitability of the applied communication strategy in each of the reviewed areas. Moreover, lessons are drawn on the question in what situation, which type of communication strategy is most suitable. Also, the review gives examples of good practice and inspiration for ‘sustainable’ communication efforts in future transformation processes.
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