The societal ambition to realize multifunctional flood defences that combine functions that normally stay separate (like flood protection, ecology and economic development), makes it necessary to create new arrangements for shared land use, responsibilities, financing and risk-taking. It implicates a multi-actor setting with integral and multi-disciplinary ambitions. This sets particular requirements to planning, organization and decision making. Disparate organizations with different insights, practices and experiences need to develop new ways of collaboration.
Not only multiple functions need to be combined, but also multiple parties with their specific knowledge(s), interests and institutions. Cooperation, conflicts, policies and politics shape the design and vice versa. Insights from interpretive approaches help to clarify the embeddedness of decision making within the larger context of cultural and institutional dynamics.
A multifunctional flood defence is a result of shared reasoning and collective sense making of problems, functions and solutions. On the road, sensitivities need to be managed in order to develop something new and to deal with potential difficulty . Because the cultural and institutional context can support but also block the construction of credible, salient and legitimate results , it’s interesting to find out what influences the decision making process.
I am intrigued by the question how participants succeed or fail to cooperate towards a shared reasoning and how they do or don’t harmonize their actions. So the main research question is ‘how processes of sense making and managing sensitivities relate to credible, salient and legitimate results?’.
To answer this question the research focuses on how processes of sense making and managing sensitivities influence the final design and implementation of multifunctional flood defences. Sense making emphasises on the role of (shared) reasoning and cultural discourses. It focuses on how participants experience and give meaning to their worlds . It’s about getting to know and understand participants differences in institutional backgrounds, interests, problem perceptions, goals and political forces.
How do participants address challenges and produce common knowledge?
Managing sensitivities emphasizes on the role of (harmonizing) actions and practice in the decision making process. It focuses on how participants manage boundaries between different disciplines and policy domains. It’s about getting to learn and act towards overcoming barriers in communication, collaboration and action . In developing multifunctional flood defences processes of sense making and managing sensitivities go together. The research is not about the interaction between reasoning and decision making; it’s about processes of decision making as collective reasoning or vice versa. Case studies show that the final results depend on the balancing act between working toward mutual coordination of different perspectives and goals, while maintaining credibility, salience and legitimacy among participants.
1- Difficulty is here conceptualized as a term for an intolerable amount of information, randomness and uncertainty.
2- Credibility refers to whether participants perceive the design as meeting standards of scientific plausibility and technical adequacy. Salience refers to the choices that affect participants. Legitimacy refers to the belief that the multifunctional flood defence considers appropriate values, interests and concerns from multiple perspectives (Cash 2002).
3- A discourse is a specific way of using language, it’s a form of social interaction (Wodak 1996). A discourse analysis approach helps to identify involved actors, dominant patterns and underlying epistemic cultures (Hajer 1995, 2006).
4-oundaries not always act as barriers, they can also facilitate cooperation, for example because of existing dependencies.