Unpacking notions of residents' responsibility in flood risk governance

Karin A.W. Snel*, Dries Hegger, Heleen Mees, Robin Craig, Mark Kammerbauer, Neelke Doorn, Emmy Bergsma, Christine Wamsler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
52 Downloads (Pure)


Environmental disasters, and especially floods, are among today's biggest sustainability challenges. The number and intensity of floods are increasing, challenging current governance approaches. Governments worldwide are looking to diversify their flood risk management and adaptation strategies, among others, by increasing resident involvement in flood risk governance. Such involvement of individuals shifts responsibilities from public to private actors. A clear understanding of the extent and implications of this shift is difficult to reach as theoretical perspectives on the concept of responsibility vary. Similarly, grounds for attributing responsibility for flood preparedness and response differ across countries. This lack of analytical and empirical clarity complicates academic and policy discourses on what it actually means to ‘be responsible’. The current article systematises these different approaches to responsibility in flood risk governance. To improve current knowledge on residents' responsibilities in flood risk governance, we present a conceptual framework that distinguishes among four theoretical notions of responsibility: legal responsibility, accountability, perceived responsibility, and moral responsibility. These notions are elucidated with the help of examples of flood risk governance practices in the United States, Germany and the Netherlands. We find that the four notions are closely intertwined. In addition, this article documents divergences between what individuals perceive as their own responsibility in flood risk management and the responsibilities that governments assume. We conclude with a discussion on the tensions between perceived responsibilities and the other three notions. Explicit, transparent and open discussion on these tensions is needed to allow attribution of responsibility in flood risk governance and to reconsider residents' roles in particular.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)217-231
Number of pages14
JournalEnvironmental policy and governance
Issue number3
Early online date21 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2022
Externally publishedYes


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