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Uncovering the origin of ambiguity in nature-inclusive flood infrastructure projects

Ronald E. van den Hoek, University of Twente
Marcela Brugnach, University of Twente
Jan P. M. Mulder, University of Twente; Deltares
Arjen Y. Hoekstra, University of Twente


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We aimed to uncover the origin of ambiguity in flood infrastructure projects using Building with Nature (BwN) design principles. BwN is a new approach in flood management that simultaneously integrates societal goals, such as flood safety and recreation development, with nature development goals by actively using natural dynamics and materials in the project’s design. Because BwN projects affect multiple stakeholders and several societal functions, participatory project development is of key importance to successfully implement these projects. In such a multiactor decision-making process, a diversity of actors are involved, all of whom have their own view of the project based on their interests, values, beliefs, backgrounds, and past experiences. As a consequence, BwN projects are susceptible to being hampered by the presence of ambiguity, a kind of uncertainty that results from the simultaneous presence of multiple frames. For two BwN case study projects, we identified where the ambiguities potentially affecting project development resided, derived the different actor frames, and addressed the attributes underlying these frames. Our main finding was that ambiguity in BwN projects seems to originate from a contradiction between the beliefs held by different actors. Furthermore, our results suggest that in the current practice of BwN projects the scientific knowledge of experts is perceived as more legitimate than the local knowledge and experiences of lay actors, which implies that experts have a more powerful position in multiactor decision making. Thus, our research underlines the difficulty of bringing local knowledge and past experiences of lay actors into collective decision making.

Key words

ambiguity; Building with Nature; flood management; framing; participatory processes; water policy

Copyright © 2014 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087