Friday, July 24, 2015

Governing the future of the delta? An article and a PhD position.

The climate change issue has put a long term decision-making horizon high on the agenda of water governance in delta areas. Long term planning seems more needed than ever, but the future presents itself as broad range of possible scenarios - climate scenarios, socio-economic scenarios, political scenarios, ... - surrounded by irreducible uncertainties. Does this mean we can do nothing more than wait and see, try to adapt to whatever happens, and hope for the best? Not necessarily. Bringing long term considerations into short term decision-making might be both feasible and fruitful.

A paper on this topic, which I co-authored with Katrien Termeer, just appeared on-line in the Journal of Water and Climate Change ( The paper is about the potential of adaptive delta management to contribute to governance capabilities for dealing with the wicked problem of climate change adaptation. This is the abstract:
Due to the long term character of the policy issue, the associated uncertainties and the large variety of affected stakeholders, adapting densely populated delta areas to the impacts of climate change is an important governance challenge and a wicked problem. In this paper, we analyse adaptive delta management (ADM), a policy development approach that relies on adaptation tipping points and adaptation pathways, used by the Dutch Delta Programme to climate proof the Dutch delta. ADM operationalizes adaptive management ideas for the long term governance of river deltas. Taking a governance perspective, we assess the potential of ADM to contribute to each of the five governance capabilities required to deal with wicked problems: reflexivity, responsiveness, resilience, revitalization and rescaling. We conclude that ADM can contribute substantially to the governance capabilities of resilience (through robustness and flexibility) and rescaling (through addressing the time scale mismatch). ADM has the potential to contribute to the governance capabilities of reflexivity and responsiveness, but also has some characteristics that could result in non-reflexivity and non-responsiveness. Enabling ADM as a policy development approach for long term issues requires a long term commitment to iterative policy revision, flexibility and learning in the broader governance system.
The paper can be downloaded here

Work on this topic will continue. Last month, the Ducht Research Council (NWO) awarded a grant for a 4-year project "Deciding about the New Delta: Towards governance arrangements that enable forward-looking decisions on critical water infrastructure". Water management infrastructure has a critical role in enabling and protecting the myriad of activities and resources in deltas all over the world. However, decision-making about constructing, replacing and maintaining structures with lifetimes of 50-100 years has to account for highly uncertain long-term developments, including socio-economic and biophysical developments. Moreover, most existing governance arrangements are ill-equipped to enable forward-looking decisions due to short electoral cycles, vested interests in the status quo, inability to deal with uncertainties, and the tendency to discount the future. The overall question addressed by the PhD position in this project is: how can governance arrangements enable the incorporation of long-term developments in short-term decisions on water management infrastructure? The focus of this project will be on two types of physical assets in the Dutch delta where forward-looking decisions are urgent and consequential: hydraulic structures and wastewater systems. Partners in this project are Rijkswaterstaat, RIONED, Tauw, Hanzehogeschool Grongingen, and waterboard Zuiderzeeland.

This means we are currently looking for a candidate for this PhD position at the Public Administration and Policy group at Wageningen University. We are looking for a social scientist with a completed Master's degree in public administration or related discipline, excellent research skills and a keen interest in water governance and long-term policy issues.

Applications are welcome until 6 September 2015 through this link: