Constructing risks – Internalisation of flood risks in the flood risk management plan

Matthijs M.D. Roos*, Thomas T. Hartmann, Tejo T.J.M. Spit, Georg G. Johann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Traditional flood protection methods have focused efforts on different measures to keep water out of floodplains. However, the European Flood Directive challenges this paradigm (Hartmann and Driessen, 2013). Accordingly, flood risk management plans should incorporate measures brought about by collaboration with local governments to develop and implement these measures (Johann and Leismann, 2014). One of the challenges of these plans is getting and keeping stakeholders involved in the processes related to flood risk management. This research shows that that this challenge revolves around how flood risks are socially constructed. Therefore it is essential to understand and explain the risk perception of stakeholders. System Theory by Luhmann provides the analytical distinction between ‘internal risk’ and ‘external danger’ as key concepts to understand whether or not stakeholders will take action (Luhmann, 1993). While perceptions of ‘external danger’ will not lead to action, perceptions of ‘internal risk’ urge stakeholders to take action. The cases of the rivers Lippe and Emscher in the dense populated region between Duisburg and Dortmund in Germany illustrate how these theoretical concepts materialise in practice. This contribution shows how flood risks are socially constructed and how this construction is influenced by the European flood risk management plan. While clearing up some of the difficulties from the Flood Directive, the research shows a gap between the Flood Directive and the current theory and planning practice, which needs to be addressed in further research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-29
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • EU Floods Directive
  • Flood risk management
  • Luhmann
  • Risk perception
  • System Theory
  • Water management

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