Table 2. Comparison of some characteristics of the current state of regulated and controlled rivers with features of a potential future state with a multifunctional dynamic landscape to illustrate the need for social learning and institutional change.




Current state with regulated and controlled rivers
Potential future state with a multifunctional dynamic landscape
Stakeholder groups and their role
  • Authorities as regulators in a highly regulated environment
  • engineers who construct and operate dams, reservoirs, and levees
  • environmental protection groups fighting for floodplain restoration
  • insurance companies selling insurances against flood damage
  • house owners living on floodplains
  • agriculture using land in the vicinity of rivers
  • shipping industry interested in well-functioning waterways
  • Authorities as facilitators of an adaptive management process with shared responsibilities
  • landscape architects
  • engineers who have skills in systems design and cooperate with ecologists
  • environmental protection groups
  • insurance companies
  • homeowners with property on a floodplain with higher risk of being flooded
  • tourism industry and tourists using the floodplains for recreation
Stakeholder participation
  • Little stakeholder participation–sometimes consultation in which different stakeholder groups and the public at large are asked to give their opinions on a management plan or scenario that was prepared by experts.
  • Stakeholders and the public are actively involved in river basin management. In this case, one may talk of a coproduction of knowledge, of codecision making. Active involvement can range from just having discussions with the authorities and experts, to actively contributing to policy development, i.e., codesigning, influencing decisions, i.e., codecision making, or even full responsibility for parts of river basin management.
Paradigm of water management
  • Management as control. Technology driven. Risk can be quantified and optimal strategies can be chosen. Zero-sum-games in closed decision space
  • Implementation of controllable and predictable technical infrastructure, e.g., reservoirs, dams based on fixed regulations for acceptable risk thresholds.
  • Adaptive and integrated water management. “Living with water”. Acceptable decisions are negotiated.
  • Implementation of a multifunctional landscape and increased adaptive capacity of the system. Designed risk dialogue and cascade of adaptation measures to live with extremes. Increased importance of real-time forecasting systems.
Institutional setting and governance
  • Institutional fragmentation
  • Flood protection, nature conservation, regional planning, and water management are often located in different authorities. Even the European Water Framework Directive does not address flood management. However, it asks to preserve and/or restore the good ecological state of freshwater ecosystems. This will include the restoration of floodplains and will, thus, directly interfere with flood protection.
  • Polycentric governance and better institutional interplay
  • Better horizontal and vertical integration of formal institutional settings to overcome fragmentation that might imply new institutions such as river basin management panels with defined responsibilities and decision-making capabilities.
  • Stronger role of informal institutions and participatory approaches

Adaptive capacity
  • ”Hard” approach to systems design that has as a goal to implement long-lasting optimal solutions. Adaptive capacity is in general quite low due to the high costs of infrastructure and often quite inflexible legal regulations, e.g., water use rights allocated for decades, technological norms that prescribe good practice and prevent innovation, and change to new management practices.
  • ”Soft” approach to systems design that allows to take new insights into account and respond to changing environmental and socioeconomic boundary conditions. This is more in line with the new paradigm of adaptive water management.