Water policy development from an uncertainty perspective


R.M. Bijlsma

M. Krol

A. Y. Hoekstra

M.W. Blind (RIZA)

H.A. Wolters (RIZA)


University of Twente



RIZA/ EU-project funding


2005 – 2010

Research description

The study analyzes different dimensions of uncertainty handling in policy development. The aim is to connect different supplementary strands of literature and introduce a broader picture of uncertainty management. Uncertainty in policy development reflects the absence of complete and shared knowledge of the system to be managed. It blocks the progress of policy development and introduces a risk for the actors. A common approach to uncertainty in water management is scientific analysis, focused on handling substantive uncertainty. Next to substantive uncertainty, policy development faces process uncertainty, handled by process management. We analyze the interaction between process and substantive uncertainty handling strategies. Two other dimensions of uncertainty handling relate to the system design: system control and system resilience. The former rationale focuses on control of uncertain variables to create a predictable system (e.g. dam construction to control water levels); the downside is the system’s vulnerability for surprises. The resilience rationale decreases the risk of system collapse by developing back-up mechanisms (e.g. introducing redundancy and quick adaptation), but reduces system efficiency. We compare the possibilities and trade-offs of different strategies.