Policy development under uncertainty. A framework inspired by cases of water management

Rianne Bijlsma

Research output: ThesisPhD Thesis - Research UT, graduation UT

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A thoughtful consideration of strategies for handling uncertainty in policy development offers advantages in the management of a social-ecological system. Uncertainty is inherent in policy development and introduces a risk of adverse consequences of policy and a blockage in the policy development process. Scientists and practitioners often consider the handling of uncertainty difficult. The contribution of this thesis is that it connects the understanding of uncertainty and related methods and rationales of uncertainty handling from different fields of scientific literature: (participatory) policy analysis, network and process management and adaptive and resilience management. This thesis offers a comprehensive and interdisciplinary conceptual framework for handling uncertainty in policy development. The framework is inspired by water management cases, but is expected to be more widely applicable. Uncertainty in policy development is defined as the absence of complete and shared understanding of the system subject to policy development, a definition that frames uncertainty as related to both substantive and process aspects of policy development. The primary focus of the thesis is on the substantive aspects of policy development and related substantive uncertainty, but it specifically considers the close relationship to the process of actor interaction resulting in strategic and institutional uncertainty. The core of the framework consists of two variables to classify uncertainty handling in policy development, represented by two intersecting axes. The first is the method used for handling uncertainty, for which the framework reflects a variety of methods based on scientific analysis and process management. The second variable is the rationale of uncertainty handling, for which the framework shows a range of rationales from system control to system resilience. The chapters of this thesis provide insight into the merits and trade-offs of one-sided uses of a type of method or a specific rationale, and opportunities for complementary approaches. The presented framework offers structure when choosing an uncertainty handling strategy. An appropriate uncertainty handling strategy for complex policy development processes probably combines approaches. The broader perspective on uncertainty handling presented is argued to equate uncertainty literature with the wider perspective on policy development emerging in water management and other fields.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Twente
  • Hoekstra, Arjen Y., Supervisor
  • Krol, Maarten S., Advisor
Award date9 Dec 2010
Place of PublicationEnschede, The Netherlands
Print ISBNs978-90-365-3108-5
Publication statusPublished - 9 Dec 2010


  • METIS-273821
  • IR-83302


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