Lessons learnt CR

In FRAMES, six pilot projects (Ninove, Geraardsbergen and Denderleeuw in Belgium, Sloe area and Alblasserwaard - Vijfheerenlanden in the Netherlands and Wesermarsch in Germany) were focused on involving community groups (citizens, farmers, business, schools) in flood resilience measures. Likewise, six pilot projects (Medway, Lustrum Beck, Southwell, Butt Green Shield and Kent in United Kingdom and Ninove in Belgium) aimed to empower communities by taking the lead and implement local flood resilience measures. The following lessons are drawn from these pilots.

Involve the community and be patient. During all three pilots in Belgium, community resilience workshops were organized with local groups (citizens, schools and local authorities). Participants were able to openly discuss needs, interests and what measures they are willing to practice. Project partners experienced that the implementation of preparedness measures requires changes which depend on perceptions, socio-cultural and economic background of the communities. However, changing people’s attitudes and mind-set needs time and patience. 

Involve the local government when engaging citizens in FRM actions. In a diversified flood governance context but still defense dominant like Belgium (see Table 1), the responsibility of flood risk management relies mainly on the national government. In Belgium, the local government plays a key role in communicating with citizens and activating them to take actions themselves. Therefore, the local government has the main role in making local community groups responsible of FRM. E.g. in the Geraardsbergen pilot, meetings with the emergency planner took place to incorporate citizen engagement into the emergency planning.

Changing minds, perceptions and attitudes takes time. In Belgium, the leading authority of the pilot projects experienced that it takes a long time to change the attitudes and the perception of stakeholders regarding new approaches or strategies for flood risk management. The leading authority got confronted with misbelief when applying MLS approach procedures (e.g. community resilience workshops) in the state dominated flood governance context of Belgium. Likewise, in the United Kingdom, FRM management is still based on top-down management. Thus, communities depend mainly on the national government for flood safety. It can be extremely difficult to change the perspectives of communities about their role in flood management at the local level. E.g. the Butt Green Shield pilot (UK) embedded the narrative "we all have a role in managing water, what's yours?" into the local networks and partners. Overall, it takes time and it is challenging to switch from a top-down to bottom-up approach takes time.

Working within a catchment means crossing political and administrative boundaries. To implement NFM measures, stakeholders from every layer of governance should be involved and collaborate: from knowledge institutes, local and regional governments, and drinking water and sewage organisations, to road management organisations, nature conservation agencies, flood action groups and NGOs.

Work in partnerships to create a shared understanding of problems and solutions. Taking measures in a large catchment, such as the Medway or Lustrum Beck catchments, requires the involvement of several parties such as environmental agencies, nature organisations, local authorities and communities. Working in partnership allows to have a shared understanding of the problems and solutions, to narrow down the scope of the project while having a long term vision, and match plans and interests to reduce flood risk in the catchment. In these pilots, the partnerships for instance facilitated the decision making of the location for the implementation of the NFM interventions. It also improved the communication between authorities and local communities which in turn resulted in better collaboration among the stakeholders involved in the partnership. E.g. in the Medway pilot, all the relevant local and governmental agencies came together with representatives of flood affected communities to form the 'Medway Flood Partnership'. This has enabled improved strategic planning and coordination among project partners such as National Flood Forum, Environment Agency, Kent County Council and many others. The capacity of these organisations to plan for, to respond to, and to recover from flood events has increased.

Continuous communication is crucial during and beyond the project. Collaboration among stakeholders is key when diversifying FRM strategies. However, collaboration cannot exist without clear communication among all stakeholders in the pilot project, especially with the local community. Communication is a first step to find out the responsibilities of every actor in FRM, to get a shared understanding of the needs and solutions to avoid redundancy. In all pilots, pilot managers communicated continuously  with the stakeholders (authorities, NGOs, citizens, schools, farmers) to explain the purposes and the effects (on them, on their land) of MLS actions. The way the message is worded and sent, including the channel used to communicate with the local communities is crucial when trying to motivate and engage stakeholders. In the NFM pilots (Southwell, Lustrum Beck and Medway), the communication improved between the crisis management agencies (fire department, police, environmental agency and local authority) which have been engaged in developing the local flood action plans.

Understand and combine the political, hydrological, geological and social context of a catchment. In order to implement NFM to reduce flood consequences, it is important to understand the geology, the hydrology and the social system of the catchment where NFM will be applied. In the FRAMES pilots (Medway, Southwell and Lustrum Beck), flood risk assessments to determine flood risk areas combined modelling, visual observations, local knowledge and techniques of local communities to select sub-catchments for NFM interventions. The combination of all that is known ensures a greater impact of the selected NFM measures for residents and households.

Involve local communities and get their support. It is highly recommended to engage and get the support of communities to increase flood resilience of individual households. It is crucial to start upfront to investigate the needs of communities and start building up a relationship with them to gain their trust. In the FRAMES pilots, communities were approached using surveys, community events, door to door visits (homes, business), face to face discussions, community events, and information materials. In the United Kingdom (Medway, Southwell and Lustrum Beck pilots), an agreement was signed with the landowners to define the responsibilities of landowners or farmers in the maintenance of the NFM interventions in the long term. Additionally, in the Lustrum Beck catchment, farmers or landowners were motivated and engaged with economic incentives of improving their business following a business model outputs. In another pilot in the United Kingdom (Green Water Butt), a contract was signed with households to make them responsible of the maintenance of the water butts. In Belgium, citizens  were intensely involved into the design process for a flood proof neighborhood.

Build social capital to empower communities. Changing the traditional way of working with communities can empower these communities; teach the communities at risk and not at risk, for instance, how to create an adaptive framework thinking in terms of climate change. Communities can take the lead and build up a relationship management process between them and the relevant partners. If communities take the lead,  a second step can be to  engage with key stakeholders to take actions (e.g. create emergency plans) for reducing flood risk. This all starts with explaining to citizens what is flood risk and related impacts to raise their awareness and make them feel part of the process. Raising awareness among a wider community and providing them with information they turn into a  communication and dissemination hub themselves. As a result, communities become self-sufficient enhancing preparedness and recovery of local communities in the long term. For example, in the Soutwhell pilot, the Southwell flood forum have a team of flood wardens who can close roads during floods. This will continue into the future. Likewise, in the Medway pilot the local communities increased their capacity to identify sources of flooding in their area, and to press for actions to address their flooding issues. The community network can support recovery (taking actions) and lobby for policy changes at national level. In Kent, residents have formed flood action groups and are supported by the Kent County to take actions to mitigate flood risk.

Continue monitoring NFM measures to demonstrate (additional ecological) benefits. By monitoring the

NFM interventions beyond the lifespan of the pilot project, it will be possible to show the effectiveness of NFM. This knowledge should also be passed to other stakeholders in other catchments to increase flood resilience there as well. E.g. as a result of the Medway pilot project UK),a methodology was developed to identify priority areas, to better target measures for further work in the Medway Catchment. The evidence base will continue to improve as a result of the planned long-term monitoring of the NFM measures. 

Word of mouth is priceless when it comes to dissemination.The demonstration of NFM in FRM is an important part of the legacy of these pilot projects (Medway, Southwell and Lustrum Beck). The farmers who implemented NFM, experienced the effects of these measures on their land. Afterwards, farmers talk to each other and other farmers and share their experiences. Moreover, interested farmers could also visit the areas where NFM interventions were implemented. This is a very effective way to visualise and disseminate the results of the pilot project. In time, farmers gain knowledge about NFM and build trust with the responsible organisation.

Sign agreements to define responsibilities. In the United Kingdom, agreements were signed between the leading authority of the pilot projects (Medway, Southwell, Lustrum Beck) and the landowners or farmers. The purpose of this was to give them ownership and make them responsible for the maintenance of the NFM measures beyond the lifespan of FRAMES. Likewise, the leading authority of another pilot (Green Water Butt) signed a contact with the household to ensure that inhabitants are responsible of the water butts implemented in their gardens to reduce surface flooding. These agreements strengthen the bound between local communities and local authorities leading to build social capital.