Coping with Uncertainty in River Management: Challenges and Ways Forward

J. J. Warmink*, M. Brugnach, J. Vinke-de Kruijf, R. M.J. Schielen, D. C.M. Augustijn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)
122 Downloads (Pure)


Coping with uncertainties is inherent to river management planning and policymaking. Yet, policymakers often perceive uncertainty as a complicating factor. We examine the challenges faced by policymakers when coping with uncertainties and provide an action perspective on how to best cope with these challenges to inform the policy debate. Integrating social and natural scientist’s perspectives on uncertainties and learning theories, we present a holistic, management perspective for coping with uncertainty. Based on a literature review about uncertainty concepts, strategies and learning, we identify three challenges in current river management: balancing social and technical uncertainties, being conservative and avoiding to end up a lock-in situation. We then provide a step-wise strategy and concrete actions for policymakers, which are illustrated with several examples. We conclude that coping with uncertainty may require paradigm shifts that can only be achieved through organisational learning. This, we claim, requires reflection, learning and flexibility of policymakers and their organisation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4587-4600
Number of pages14
JournalWater resources management
Issue number14
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2017


  • Adaptive management
  • Ambiguity
  • Policymaking
  • River management
  • Uncertainty


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