Risk Perception and coastal flooding

This year (2011), a study was conducted in order to explore how local communities and different groups of stakeholders perceive the risks related to coastal flooding and to relate this to the resilience of the community. During this study, key stakeholders involved in flood mitigation, planning and dissemination of knowledge from 4 different regions (Santander, Spain; Gironde estuary, France; Cesenatico, Italy; Hel Peninsula, Poland) were interviewed.

In all 4 study sites it appears that resolving conflicting normative claims (claims expressing what is good, tolerable, and/or acceptable) is critical to be able to create safer coasts by reducing the risks caused by flooding and erosion.


The results show that there seems to be very little space in the public’s and stakeholders´ attitudes and perceptions for science based knowledge. On one hand, the knowledge used to frame risks belongs to the world of individual and collective experience. On the other hand, values and norms occupy most of the cognitive space when framing risk. The results of this study shed a light on the path to follow in order to contribute to safer coasts. It appears that the stakeholders´ perceptions of flooding and erosion are run by considerations that have very little to do with the hazards framed by the scientific community.

Local stakeholders need to make decisions that are compatible with the core values of the affected communities. A consequence of this is that any initiative to reduce risks that is not co-constructed with the affected communities faces the risk of not being implemented for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the knowledge base involved. What is even more challenging is that in some cases this leads to a genuine mistrust of science based, or engineering based approaches.

It is concluded that the solution for local communities to flooding and erosion risk is to be found in better risk governance, rooted in an explicit taking into account of the values expressed by potential flood victims.