Watered-down politics? Inclusive water governance in the Netherlands

Dik Roth*, Martijn Vink, Jeroen Warner, Madelinde Winnubst

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


In the past decades Dutch flood defence infrastructure has met with a growing societal awareness of landscape and cultural values, of the importance of local livelihoods, and increasingly strong claims and demands for active citizen involvement in decision-making and planning processes that change people's life-worlds. These have wrought important political and institutional changes in the flood security domain: participatory and environmental procedures are now part and parcel of flood defence decision making. This article points at the contradictions in Dutch-style inclusive decision-making. Water problems, it is assumed, are better tackled by more inclusive decision-making processes, while more integrated regional land-use planning is explored to accommodate multiple interests. Yet, greater scope for participation seems to go with a strong tendency towards depoliticization. In the process the stakes may become so fuzzy that participants risk losing interest in participating and may ‘exit’ or ‘voice’ in different fora. In some cases, participatory processes were still in train when a decision had already been taken. Echoing the concerns of Chantal Mouffe and others, we will argue that ‘the political’ may also be obscured at the peril of turning out self-defeating. This calls into question whether in the case of the Netherlands ‘inclusive governance’ is always progress. We focus on how these processes have been and are governed, what this means in terms of ‘stakeholder involvement’, and whether ‘inclusiveness’ is always the solution. We review a number of experiences in Dutch coastal, lake and river landscapes — the River Meuse, the Overdiepse polder, and the IJsselmeer — with a special focus on the ‘governance’ aspects in relation to the issue of inclusiveness in the decision-making processes involved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-61
JournalOcean & Coastal Management
Early online date9 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017


  • Flood risk management
  • Inclusion
  • Participation
  • The Netherlands
  • Water governance

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