The Netherlands is an extreme example of a country highly susceptible to both sea-level rise and river flooding. After the disastrous flooding of 1953, the Dutch established a legal framework for flood protection and realized a series of impressive delta works. A powerful institutional regime of autonomous regional water boards, a well-developed expert community, and the Rijkswaterstaat (the executive agency of the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment) maintained this framework making the Netherlands one of the best protected delta areas of the world, and an international hallmark for delta management. More recently, the Dutch reformulated their ‘delta approach’ in order to adapt to the possible but uncertain impacts of climate change. This chapter unravels the factors that could explain the long-standing policy success and the reinvention of this policy. Reinventing successful policies is not self-evident, because path dependency often prevents learning and change, and core competencies easily become core rigidities. In hindsight, the Dutch Delta Programme—an external vehicle to come to a revision of the Dutch delta approach—can be seen as a device to successfully combine exploitation (sustaining the successful elements of the former flood management regime) and exploration (developing new strategies and avenues to deal with new challenges related to climate change).

Netherlands, water management, Dutch delta, policy maintenance, flooding, climate change,
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Department of Public Administration and Sociology (DPAS)

van Buuren, M.W. (2019). The Dutch Delta Approach. In Great Policy Successes. doi:10.1093/oso/9780198843719.003.0011