Water beheren en communiceren : een studie naar het publieke draagvlak voor het waterbeheer in Nederland

S. Lijklema

    Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


    Nowadays, information and communication with the public are self-evident for water authorities. Its aim is often formulated as 'creating or strengthening public support' for water management or for the water authorities. A lot of time and money is being spent on this, while the necessity of having public support is not always made clear. The problem this thesis adresses is: "Why is public support necessary, how does public support develop, and what factors influence public support?".

    Central question in the first part of this study is: "Why is public support necessary?" . To answer this question, the historical development of the water authorities in the Netherlands is described and the concept 'public support' is elaborated theoretically.

    In part two the question of: "What determines public support for water management?" is discussed. The factors that influence acceptance of policy according to the literature are discussed and a theoretical model is developed for the public support for water management. On the one side, the model contains the factors that, according to the Elaboration Likelihood Model, determine whether the judgement will be heuristic or reasoned: involvement with the subject, need for cognition, knowledge, number of sources of information, number of arguments in the information, circumstances in which information is received, and clearness of the information. On the other side, the model contains factors influencing heuristic judgement: the perception of water and of risks, and factors influencing the reasoned judgement of pros and cons: awareness of the seriousness of the problem, the perceived effectiveness of the measure, the willingness to pay, the perceived fairness of the sacrifice required, the expectations of future restrictions, the extent to which the target group is confronted with other restrictions and/or with simultaneous liberalisation, and the perceived efficiency of the measure.

    In empirical research the influence of most of these factors on the judgement of water management is analysed. By means of a quantitative survey among a representative sample of the Dutch population, it is examined whether these factors influence the judgement of the performance of water management and the attitude towards having to pay for water management. In addition to this, a qualitative research has been conducted in which respondents were asked to describe the reasons underlying their judgement of the performance of water management.

    On the average, Dutch citizens judge the performance of water management positively and they have a positive attitude towards having to pay for water management. This means that it can be stated that there is public support for water management in the Netherlands. The qualitative research shows that the judgement is formed heuristically as well as by elaboration. Of the investigated factors influencing the way judgment comes into being (heuristic vs. reasoned), involvement, need for cognition, and knowledge are shown to be of importance. These factors generally have a positive influence on the judgement of the performance of water management and on the attitude towards having to pay. This indicates that elaboration is likely to be important for public support. Of the factors influencing the reasoned evaluation of pros and cons of policy measures, the following are shown to affect the judgement of water management: awareness of the seriousness of the problem, perceived effectiveness, perceived fairness of the sacrifice required (i.e. sense of responsibility, perceived contribution of other groups and perceiveived possibilities for evasion), and expectations of future restrictions.

    The qualitative research shows that the judgement of the performance of water management is based largely on the perception of water quality, which in turn is based on the perception of water nature and water environment. Also important is the belief that sufficient attention is being given to, or enough work is being done for surface water (management). The quantitative survey shows that risk perception in times of high water levels does not significantly affect the judgement of water management. In the qualitative research, aspects related to safety and dikes are seldom mentioned.

    In part 3 the central question is: " Do the water authorities have a good insight in the public perception of water management? " Policymakers can have wrong assumptions about the environment in which the organization functions. An organization and its environment having different perceptions and interpretations of reality can seriously hamper communication. To investigate the insight of water authorities in the public perception and public support of water management, a so-called 'mirror survey' has been conducted among employees of water authorities and members of water boards. They received questions similar to the public survey, and were asked how they think 'the average citizen' would have answered these questions. It is shown that on the average water authorities have a reasonable insight in the public perception and judgment of water management, allthough not in all areas. For example, the public is less positive about water quality than the water authorities think, and the influence of risk perception on the judgement of water management is overestimated by the water authorities.

    In part 4 the central question is: " What are the consequences for the water authorities? ". One of the conclusions is that for the stability of public support, it is important to stimulate elaboration. If water authorities maintain good contacts with their environment, this can contribute to a stable public support, at the same time checking self-referentiality. Some ways to approach the people who feel little ivolvement with water management are discussed. Finally, some points giving cause for discussion are elaborated upon, and recommendations for further research are formulated.

    Original languageDutch
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Wageningen University
    • van Woerkum, C.M.J., Promotor
    • Koelen, Maria, Promotor
    Award date9 Oct 2001
    Place of PublicationS.l.
    Print ISBNs9789058084842
    Publication statusPublished - 2001


    • water management
    • communication
    • information
    • public authorities
    • public opinion
    • netherlands
    • polder boards

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