Chapter 3. Efficiency of flood governance

This chapter looks at the Principles related to efficiency of water governance. Based on a number of case study examples it highlights the importance of data and information, financing and investments, regulatory frameworks and that the governance system should allow for incentivising technological as well as social and institutional innovations. It applies the Checklist and makes observations and analysis of Principles associated with efficiency, it points to particular areas of improvement and finally it points to examples of ways forward.


The OECD Principles 5 to 8 provide a basis for analysing whether institutions and policies involved in flood governance are performing efficiently. Efficiency of water governance relates to the contribution of governance to maximise the benefits of sustainable water management and welfare at the lowest cost to society.

The four Principles emphasise the production and sharing of relevant data and information. They stress the need to ensure that governance frameworks help in mobilising and allocating financing for investment in required infrastructure, institutional development and human capacity. They recommend developing sound regulatory frameworks to set clear, transparent and proportionate enforcement rules, procedures and incentives, to facilitate compliance. The governance framework should also promote and incentivise social and technological innovations (see Figure 1.1).

In the area of flood governance, Principles 5 to 8 can help to ensure that decision making is based on a good knowledge of flood-related data and information. Sound responses to floods will require a mix of investments in infrastructure, planning and data and in building institutional capacity for flood mitigation and control. The regulation of water and land use is critical, for example, for reducing certain flood risks. Promoting innovations can lead to more efficient policies for flood governance, such as new ways of collaboration between upstream and downstream water users.

Principle 5: Data and information

Box 3.1. OECD Principle 5: Sub-principles, Indicators and Flood Checklist

Principle 5. Produce, update, and share timely, consistent, comparable and policy-relevant water and water-related data and information, and use it to guide, assess and improve water policy, through:

  1. a) Defining requirements for cost-effective and sustainable production and methods for sharing high-quality water and water-related data and information, e.g. on the status of water resources, water financing, environmental needs, socio-economic features and institutional mapping;

  2. b) Fostering effective co-ordination and experience sharing among organisations and agencies producing water-related data between data producers and users, and across levels of government;

  3. c) Promoting engagement with stakeholders in the design and implementation of water information systems, and providing guidance on how such information should be shared to foster transparency, trust and comparability (e.g. data banks, reports, maps, diagrams, observatories);

  4. d) Encouraging the design of harmonised and consistent information systems at the basin scale, including in the case of transboundary water, to foster mutual confidence, reciprocity and comparability within the framework of agreements between riparian countries; and

  5. e) Reviewing data collection, use, sharing and dissemination to identify overlaps and synergies and track unnecessary data overload.

Figure 3.1. OECD Indicators for Principle 5
Figure 3.1. OECD Indicators for Principle 5

Source: OECD (2018a), Implementing the OECD Principles on Water Governance: Indicator Framework and Evolving Practices, OECD Studies on Water, OECD Publishing, Paris,

Table 3.1. OECD Flood Checklist for Principle 5

Checklist questions

Policy framework

Which flood-risk and flood-related data and information are currently being collected for flood management in your case study?

Is the flood-risk information system harmonised, integrated, standardised and co-ordinated among relevant agencies and responsible authorities across relevant governance scales?

Are there real-time data and do they guide decision making?

How are flood-risk and flood-related data and information used to guide decision making?


In your case study, who are the main flood-risk and flood-related data and information producers?

Who are the main flood-risk and flood-related data and information users?


How are flood-risk and flood-related data and information shared?

Are there platforms for dialogue between data producers and users?

Do online platforms/tools/agreements exist for sharing experience and knowledge?

Do tools exist to produce, disclose and use flood-related data and information in innovative ways? (Examples are big/smart/mobile data, digital maps, real-time sensors and monitoring.)

How are data overload and dispersion of information regularly tracked in your case study?

Which co-ordination and experience-sharing mechanisms are in place in your case study?

Are there bottom-up mechanisms to produce and disclose flood-related data and information across levels of government, public, private and non-profit stakeholders?


What is the impact of data overload and dispersion of information on flood management?

Note: The full Checklist, including options for responses, can be found in Annex A.

Source: Authors’ own research.


Improving flood prevention requires hydrological, climate, technical, economic, financial and social data and information, so that each situation can be analysed objectively, and so that performance-oriented, cost-effective and pertinent strategies can be devised at different levels. Standard data and information collected for flood management cover a wide range of topics and include the description of past floods and their consequences, maps of river basins where floods occur, scenarios of flood probability, vulnerable infrastructure and population (e.g. the elderly and hospitals), etc. (See Figure 3.2.). Such data and information are used to develop flood-risk management plans (as illustrated by 21 of the case studies); to assess flood risks (20 cases); to develop flood risk/hazard maps (19 cases); and to inform participatory decision-making processes (15 cases).

Figure 3.2. Data and information collected for flood management
27 case study promoters responded
Figure 3.2. Data and information collected for flood management

Note: Responses correspond to the total number of case studies that ticked each possible answer in the Checklist. Respondents could tick more than one answer.

Source: Data from case studies on flood governance collected for the OECD project (October 2016).

One key elements in developing the knowledge base about water risks is flood-risk assessment, and in particular, assessment of potential losses related to flooding (OECD, 2013a). However, such assessments do not necessarily need to be lengthy or costly. The sophistication of risk assessment should match the level of water risk. In big cities, where billions of critical assets are at risk, thorough risk appraisal may be required, but where current levels of risk are low, a basic risk appraisal may be sufficient. Priority 4 of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction emphasises the importance of “people-centred, multi-hazard, multi-sectoral forecasting and early-warning systems, disaster risk and emergency communications mechanisms, social technologies and hazard-monitoring telecommunications systems […]” (UNISDR, 2015b), all of which are all key elements of flood-risk assessments.

Developing a robust information system to guide decisions related to floods must be shared between countries, levels of government and stakeholders. However, information systems on their own cannot solve the magnitude of flood challenges. Based on mutual understanding and interest, countries should consider taking additional concrete steps. The production and use of data and information on flood risks involve an array of different actors, beginning with governments (Figure 3.3). On the one hand, insights from the case studies collected indicate that public authorities at various levels (including river basin organisations) are the biggest data producers, followed by forecast agencies and statistical offices. The case studies also show that independent consultancies and NGOs produce data. On the other hand, governments are also the first users of flood-related data and information, with experts and scientists. To a lesser degree, citizens, private companies and water operators also use such data. Science and knowledge institutes play an important role in informing decision makers about past, present and future flooding. This can inform future scenarios and can be developed with the stakeholders who affect and are affected by floods. It can also help assess different societal preferences concerning flood risks (e.g. through joint fact-finding and interactive planning).

Examples of good practices that consolidate data from various sources and actors can be found in online atlases, such as the transboundary Rhine Atlas, developed in 2015.1 In addition, the obligation under the EU Floods Directive (EU, 2007) to issue flood hazard and flood-risk maps seems to have served as a positive driver in this respect. In 2013, the Netherlands launched the Digital Delta initiative in partnership with IBM, to integrate and analyse big data on water (OECD, 2014b). These instruments can serve to help co-ordinate knowledge between institutes, governments, water managers, citizens and companies. Furthermore, the case of India highlights the importance of information sharing at the transboundary level for encouraging governments to collaborate on better decision making. India used to have difficulties accessing information from upstream countries like China, but in 2015, a memorandum of understanding required China to provide Brahmaputra data flows during the flood season. However, co-ordination across places and policies is still in the early phases and not without setbacks, particularly because there is not an integrated framework for managing flood risk for all riparian states in the area, which can exacerbate political instability.

Figure 3.3. Flood-related data producers and users
Data producers: 27 case study promoters responded; data users: 26 case study promoters responded
Figure 3.3. Flood-related data producers and users

Note: The blue bars represent data producers and grey bars represent data users. Responses correspond to the total number of case studies that ticked each possible answer in the Checklist. Respondents could tick more than one answer.

Source: Data from case studies on flood governance collected for the OECD project (October 2016).

Co-ordination is a fundamental building block for improving data and information. This can be done through mechanisms for sharing experience, as exemplified in the case studies: 23 report relying on meetings among organisations and agencies producing flood-related data, while 16 reported visits of flood-risk professionals to other areas affected by floods to meet with their peers, and 15 to conferences between data producers and users. A broader set of approaches is also used to share flood-risk and flood-related data, starting with closed-door meetings (i.e. within river basin organisations, flood-related associations, etc.) and web-based technologies such as interactive web-based flood-risk information systems, maps and data banks, online forums, newsletters, as well as social media, which have proved useful for co-ordinating action. Public meetings organised by public authorities or flood observatories help diffuse information to civil society, with the help of traditional media (e.g. press releases, radio broadcast, report and videos). The Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) is one good example of collaborative data sharing among scientists and space agencies in the European Union, the United States and Japan.2 GEOSS has assumed an important role in using satellite data for disaster-risk reduction and water resource management.

Areas to improve

Asymmetries in the quality, quantity and type of flood-related information available to different stakeholders involved in water policy remains a major concern in managing flood governance. Inadequate generation of information and sharing among the relevant actors, as well as fragmentation of the primary data generated, tends to produce bottlenecks. This includes information on how climate change could impact future flood risk, e.g. coastal storm surges and changes in precipitation). Overall, policy makers make little use of the research results; and the science-policy interface has not contributed as much as it might have to guiding decision making and implementation. This has also been complicated by the fact that the players do not always use the same definitions and common terminology. These obstacles are generally exacerbated by a lack of capacity. In Ethiopia, for example, the lack of technical capacity makes it difficult to collect, process and analyse flood-related data and information, and in Bangladesh, updating flood information systems and databases is expensive and time-consuming. The lack of capacity can also affect users, and limit co-ordination between data producers and users. In West Sussex, for example, information was not always sufficiently scaled down for the stakeholders working on flood resilience at the community level.

Dispersed, mismatched and incomplete data impair the efficiency of flood governance, whether for data about the terrain, the watercourses or hydro-meteorological phenomena. Unnecessary data overload and dispersion can make it difficult for decision makers to choose what to use in developing policies. This can result in inconsistencies and uncertainties in models and scenarios, generate delays, or create redundancies in producing data. Moreover, since information is not uniformly available across institutions, inequitable situations may arise. In Belgium’s fragmented political context, for instance, it was found that Flanders and Wallonia could better share the expertise developed in flood governance, for example on spatial planning instruments and river contracts (Hegger et al., 2013; Mees et al., 2016).

Ways forward

Tracking data and information overload and asymmetries should thus be emphasised to a greater extent in FRGAs, through specific reviews, meetings between data producers and users, or the reprioritisation of objectives for data collection and data requirements. In this respect, it is vital to continue developing practices and projects to consolidate an information base that can drive informed policy discussions, as well as guided budgeting debates. Ultimately, evaluating the use of the data and information produced is also a vital part of making sure it is relevant and effective.

Focusing on generating and sharing information, particularly on the economic and institutional implications of flood management, can provide a robust foundation for evidence-based approaches to flood governance. The production and adequate use of data and information is a typical illustration of a shared responsibility, and of the need for interaction and measures taken in concert with civil society and other flood-relevant stakeholders. Although many approaches are producer and user-friendly, some use new technologies that exclude vulnerable communities living in rural and informal areas. Bridging the digital divide can help engage the broad range of stakeholders and improve preparedness and response to floods. Making sure that the scientific findings are translated into flood governance practices is fundamental for making better joint decisions and prioritising action.

Principle 6: Financing

Box 3.2. OECD Principle 6: Sub-principles, Indicators and Flood Checklist

Principle 6. Ensure that governance arrangements help mobilise water finance and allocate financial resources in an efficient, transparent and timely manner, through:

  1. a) Promoting governance arrangements that help water institutions across levels of government raise the necessary revenues to meet their mandate, building for example principles such as the polluter-pays and user-pays principles, as well as payment for environmental services;

  2. b) Carrying out sector reviews and strategic financial planning to assess short, medium and long term investment and operational needs and take measures to help to ensure availability and sustainability of such finance;

  3. c) Adopting sound and transparent practices for budgeting and accounting that provide a clear picture of water activities and any associated contingent liabilities, including infrastructure investment, and aligning multi-annual strategic plans to annual budgets and medium-term priorities of governments;

  4. d) Adopting mechanisms that foster the efficient and transparent allocation of water-related public funds (e.g. through social contracts, scorecards and audits); and

  5. e) Minimising unnecessary administrative burdens related to public expenditure while preserving fiduciary and fiscal safeguards.

Figure 3.4. OECD Indicators for Principle 6
Figure 3.4. OECD Indicators for Principle 6

Source: OECD (2018a), Implementing the OECD Principles on Water Governance: Indicator Framework and Evolving Practices, OECD Studies on Water, OECD Publishing, Paris,

Table 3.2. OECD Flood Checklist for Principle 6

Checklist questions

Policy framework

What is the nature of the major costs related to flood governance in your case study?

Are there enough financial revenues to cover operational costs and long-term assets renewal to mitigate floods?

Are there investment plans and programmes, and do they guide decision making?

Are clear budget transparency principles and rules applied at all levels of government?

Do flexible and solidarity mechanisms exist in case of water-related disasters?

In your case study, what measures have been taken to help ensure availability and sustainability of investments?


What are the most relevant sources of finance for flood governance in your case study?

To which strategies are these sources of finance allocated?


In your case study, how are administrative burdens related to public expenditure regularly being tracked?

Are there measures to minimise unnecessary administrative burdens when collecting and disbursing water-related revenues?

Which mechanisms are used to ensure that practices for budgeting and accounting are sound and transparent and that they provide a clear picture of flood-risk activities and any associated contingent liabilities?

Which mechanisms are used to align multi-annual flood-risk management strategies to annual budgets and medium-term government priorities?

Which mechanisms are in place in your case study to encourage the efficient and transparent allocation of flood risk-related public funds?

In your case study, which mechanisms are in place to assess short-, medium- and long-term investment and operational needs?


What are the main impacts of obscure, ineffective financial governance in your case study?

Note: The full Checklist, including options for responses, can be found in Annex A.

Source: Authors’ own research.


Financial resources matter to sustain effective flood management measures, both in terms of institutions and infrastructure. Furthermore, resources are sometimes needed to recover costs. Quite apart from the direct and indirect costs that flood disasters generally entail, flood governance may also raise a number of costs, whether economic (e.g. building protective infrastructure or producing and collecting data), institutional (e.g. co-ordination with stakeholders), social (e.g. social conflicts, population displacement) or environmental (e.g. impact on ecosystems, land management, etc.) See Figure 3.5.

Countries differ in the ways that they cover the costs of flood management, using different mechanisms. Nonetheless, the financial aspect of flood governance tends to include varying degrees of sophistication.

Flood management differs from other water functions, such as water supply, in that cost recovery is not necessarily called for. A few examples of cost recovery for flood management can be noted, for example payments for insurance premiums, payments by beneficiaries directly (e.g. where local drainage boards or local water authorities charge landowners or inhabitants for their expenses to reduce flood risks) or indirectly making use of a solidarity fund (WGF, 2012).

Figure 3.5. Major costs related to flood governance
20 case study promoters responded
Figure 3.5. Major costs related to flood governance

Note: The figure considers the types of costs rated on a scale from 1, major, to 4, minor. Responses correspond to the number of case studies.

Source: Data from case studies on flood governance collected for the OECD project (October 2016).

Another question is the sources of finance for flood governance. Three main sources of finance can be noted:

  • Contributions from the government: the main source of finance is contributions from the general budget of public authorities, either at the national or regional levels. These contributions can come from taxation of actions that exacerbate flood problems, for example new construction in flood-risk areas that increase the impermeability of the soil, the occupation of natural flood areas, or failure to comply with various regulations.

    • The case studies indicated that public spending is by far the greatest source of funding for flood governance (although in some cases contributions came from private sources). This runs the risk that the availability of resources for flood management may become sensitive to political processes. However, tax money from authorities such as governments or the EU is by far the biggest source of funding, in particular that related to flood defence. OECD countries vary widely in the funding base they have available. Poland, for instance, has been shown to be highly dependent on European funds, such as the EU Solidarity Fund and the European Cohesion Fund, while the Netherlands has a national mechanism (the Delta Fund) to which EUR 1 billion will be contributed each year in the coming years and 23 regional water authorities (functional democracies) with tax raising power.

  • Insurance schemes: the second source of finance for flood management is insurance schemes, typically operating at the individual or private level. Insurance schemes can be effective in preventing people from building new construction in risk areas and in providing incentives to encourage property owners to take account of the flood risk to which they are exposed (WGF, 2012). Some insurance schemes, such as the National Flood Insurance Program in the United States, operate in flat contradiction of this principle. In practice, in many cases, insurance schemes pay to rebuild properties in the same location after repeated floods and continue business as usual with no regard for future risk. These schemes tend to be very expensive for the public sector and can create disincentives for mitigation and adaptation to risk. These programmes are failing to integrate a long-term vision that acknowledges and reacts on the basis that certain homes will be repeatedly flooded as climate change puts them at greater risk.

  • Transfers: the third source of finance is transfers from European funds or international funds, such as the European Fund for Regional Development, the European Cohesion Fund, the European Social Fund and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.

Payments for ecosystem services are also increasingly considered a source of finance for flood management. The development of green infrastructure, for example, can both aid flood regulation and provide alternative services such as recreation or climate regulation. In the United Kingdom, a Country Park pilot project was set up in Yorkshire to address surface-water flood risks, through swales, bunds, ponds, replacement of permeable road and car park surfaces and conversion of amenity grassland to semi-natural grasslands and more varied woodlands. This green infrastructure would also deliver water quality, recreation opportunities (with “floodable” sports pitches, a pavilion, fishing ponds, and circular walking and cycling paths), landscape and amenity and climate regulation (taking account of the urban heat island effect and carbon sequestration). Several buyers were solicited for the project, including the local water company, the local community (through volunteer works and payment for the use of sport facilities), and other national and European organisations (DEFRA, 2013).

The “polluter pays” and “user pays” principles can help determine who pays for flood management and can offer a solution for managing trade-offs across places. In the case of flood management, “polluters” are the stakeholders who increase the level of flood risk, for example, by creating impermeable areas. The “polluter pays” principle can also be applied to flood mitigation measures that reduce flood storage areas, for example through wetland destruction or isolating floodplains. In such cases, funding collected from polluters could be used to offset impacts through wetland restoration, improved floodplain connectivity or construction of artificial wetlands. To some extent, the “polluter pays” and “user pays” principles tend to go in opposite directions: the former charges for runoffs, while the latter charges those benefiting from a reduced probability of flooding, or reduced consequences from flooding. In Germany, the “polluter pays” principle has been widely adopted at the urban level to charge for surface water runoff on the basis of impermeable area, while in the Netherlands the “beneficiary pays” principle applies for primary defences, given the significant externalities associated with their benefits for the national interest (OECD, 2014b). However, in other countries like Ethiopia, legislation is needed to allow these principles to help bridge the funding gap.

More and more, co-finance schemes that bring together several partners are being employed as a mechanism to co-ordinate flood policy. In England and Wales, pooling resources at the relevant scale has been a useful way to co-operate and optimise resources. In this case, funding came from private, public sector organisations and the local community. Consequently, partners not only aligned funding programmes but also aligned policy on the ground. Another key aspect of the collaboration was the transparency of outcomes and benefits amongst partners to ensure the sustainability of the Herne Hill and Dulwich schemes. In France, the successful Plan Rhône was able to mobilise state and regional funding, with funding coming from local interest groups for flood-risk prevention (OECD, 2017), engaging different stakeholders at that stage of the flood management cycle.

Differing normative principles underpin these various funding options. In France, solidarity is seen as a key value, and the national solidarity financing system is based on the compulsory Cat-Nat (for natural catastrophes) insurance system, involving a public-private partnership between government and insurance companies. In a context of financial constraints, public-private partnerships are seen as one of many financial solutions for sustaining flood management. In the United Kingdom, the private interest principle is seen as more important, resulting in public-private partnership funding mechanisms based on cost- benefit analyses. These choices also touch on the issue of legitimacy: do governments want to provide an acceptable level of basic safety to all citizens, or are they content with “the best affordable safety” based on cost and benefits?

Areas to improve

Funding gaps hamper the implementation and sustainability of water-related disaster policies and the ability of the authorities responsible to carry out their functions. Such challenges generally stem from a mismatch between administrative responsibilities and resources and unsustainable and/or insufficient revenues. In Bangladesh, the obstacles involve insufficient capacity to apply financial schemes like water taxes or charges, resorting to the Green Climate Fund or enhancing the creditworthiness of water-related investments. Overcoming financial obstacles is thus very important in managing flooding across levels of government and for building capacity at the local and national scale. Financing is a particularly challenging issue in transboundary river basins, where the impact of floods is not limited to a single country, and regional or international action is called for.

Another challenge in financing is the delicate balance between recovery and prevention. Strong recovery mechanisms, like the French CAT-NAT system,3 may reduce the incentive for pro-active spatial planning that can reduce the consequences of flooding. Risk exposure plans (plans d’exposition aux risques or PER), the predecessors of risk prevention plans (plans de prévention des risques or PPR), were a counterpart for the implementation of the national Cat-Nat solidarity system and included prescriptions on existing assets in flood-prone areas. However, they could not fully counterbalance the effects of a strong recovery system.

Ways forward

To reverse the current situation, disaster risk reduction should be made a priority for the international community. At present, 90% of international assistance is spent on emergency response and only 10% for disaster-risk reduction and preparedness. Between 1991 and 2010, of USD 106.7 billion (from total international aid) allocated to disasters, only 12.7% of funding was for risk-reduction measures preparing for natural disasters (Kellet and Caravani, 2013). The High Level Experts and Leaders Panel on Water and Disasters (HELP) has developed draft principles on Investment and Financing for Water-related Disaster Risk Reduction (2018). The aim is to double the investment and finance for water-related disaster-risk reduction, and to shift international assistance from disaster response to disaster preparedness. A background study in Japan noted the effect of preventive measures: if the Levee Reinforcement prevention project had been implemented before the 2000 Tokai storm flood, JPY 500 billion (the equivalent of USD 5 billion) would have been saved. Pre-disaster prevention measures include securing investment for the maintenance and management of infrastructure to cope with ageing infrastructure. The increasing amount of ageing infrastructure in Japan (including ageing gates and coastal levees) has increased disaster risk.

There is a need to diversify and combine different sources of finance through several specific solutions, including payments for ecosystem services; generating funding through international collaboration; and co-finance schemes. Unblocking climate finance from international sources such as the Global Climate Fund (GCF), as well as from mitigation and adaptation funds, can help to leverage larger amounts of money at the international level to allow flood projects to be carried out. This requires building capacity among key stakeholders, so they can make sufficient funding available. For this purpose, there is a need to mainstream climate change resilience to make flood projects eligible for more sources of funding, as there are few international funds dedicated exclusively to flood protection. This could amplify the range of opportunities for promoting flood projects. In addition, matching climate finance with traditional official development assistance for water and/or climate change, as well as private sector contributions, could be a good strategy for achieving a safe mix of financial resources in a context of fragmented finance.

Bridging this gap implies ensuring sound governance frameworks for sustainable financing as well as funding to carry out flood-related responsibilities cost-effectively. This means that governments should improve their fiscal systems and secure a sufficient budget in order to continue reducing the number of flood-related fatalities. Even though recovery and prevention activities are primary for flood management, policy and financing continuity in between two or more floods is also key to efficient flood governance. Sufficient and sustainable sources of finance require adequate regulation, offering incentives to different actors to engage in flood governance. This will require roles and responsibilities, as well as the necessary funds to put them into practice, be clearly spelled out, which is not usually the case for transboundary river basins. However, the global financial markets can play a key role here, and, as the HELP panel has suggested, making disaster-risk reduction mainstream in financial strategies is an important way forward. Governance arrangements should also bolster and help to ensure shared financing schemes between a broad range of actors, which can create stronger stakeholder engagement and ownership and create trust. Adopting mechanisms or incentives that encourage the efficient and transparent allocation of funds could increase the appeal of co-funding and other financial schemes. Finally, science and technology should support decision making on better investment.

Principle 7: Regulatory frameworks

Box 3.3. OECD Principle 7: Sub-principles, Indicators and Flood Checklist

Principle 7. Ensure that sound water management regulatory frameworks are effectively implemented and enforced in pursuit of the public interest, through:

  1. a) Ensuring a comprehensive, coherent and predictable legal and institutional framework that set rules, standards and guidelines for achieving water policy outcomes, and encourage integrated long-term planning;

  2. b) Ensuring that key regulatory functions are discharged across public agencies, dedicated institutions and levels of government and that regulatory authorities are endowed with necessary resources;

  3. c) Ensuring that rules, institutions and processes are well-co-ordinated, transparent, non-discriminatory, participative and easy to understand and enforce;

  4. d) Encouraging the use of regulatory tools (evaluation and consultation mechanisms) to foster the quality of regulatory processes and make the results accessible to the public, where appropriate;

  5. e) Setting clear, transparent and proportionate enforcement rules, procedures, incentives and tools (including rewards and penalties) to promote compliance and achieve regulatory objectives in a cost-effective way; and

  6. f) Ensuring that effective remedies can be claimed through non-discriminatory access to justice, considering the range of options, as appropriate.

Figure 3.6. OECD Indicators for Principle 7
Figure 3.6. OECD Indicators for Principle 7

Source: OECD (2018a), Implementing the OECD Principles on Water Governance: Indicator Framework and Evolving Practices, OECD Studies on Water, OECD Publishing, Paris,

Table 3.3. OECD Flood Checklist for Principle 7

Checklist questions

Policy framework

In your case study, what is regulated in flood management?

In your case study, which enforcement rules, procedures, incentives and tools are used to promote compliance and achieve regulatory objectives?


Which institutions bear these key regulatory functions?

To which strategies are these sources of finance allocated?

Are regulatory authorities endowed with the necessary resources?

Are there reviews of the governance and performance of regulatory authorities?


In your case study, which regulatory tools are in place to encourage the quality of regulatory processes and make the results accessible to the public, where appropriate?

Which remedies can be claimed through access to justice?

Are evaluation mechanisms in place to systematically and regularly assess performance/effectiveness, gaps and overlaps in the regulatory framework (e.g. areas with regulatory gaps, incoherent and/or contradictory objectives, deficient implementation and/or limited enforcement, overlaps/duplication of responsibilities, etc.)?

Where self-regulation mechanisms exist, are they subject to regular performance assessment?

Are there co-ordination instruments between flood relevant ministries and bodies to improve regulatory processes?


In your case study, what are the impacts of uncoordinated, irrelevant and ineffective regulatory frameworks?

Are flood-related legislations subject to regulatory impact assessment?

Note: The full Checklist, including options for responses, can be found in Annex A.

Source: Authors’ own research.


Regulation concerning flood management concerns not only infrastructure but also other functions, such as the establishment of efficiency incentives, collection of information and monitoring of performance, and the organisation of citizens’ engagement in decisions about water security. The institutional framework is not only defined by laws or the national level, but by many other sub-national actors setting the rules (in many cases by informal water institutions such as customary water rights). Unclear or non-existent regulatory frameworks can widen the accountability gap.

The case study promoters report that their FRGAs primarily regulate the operation of flood protection measures; public information and consultation measures/actions; flood management measures and their prioritisation; technical characteristics of flood management; and stakeholders’ roles and missions (Figure 3.7)Thus, flood management schemes may be multi-functional, so that synergies with other societal goals can be determined. A distinction should be made between substantive and procedural regulatory frameworks. In the Netherlands, substantive regulatory frameworks involve legally embedded safety norms. For example, procedural regulatory frameworks require that flood risks be reflected upon in spatial planning procedures. The relevance of these options depends on the physical and institutional context.

Figure 3.7. What is regulated in flood management?
25 case study promoters responded
Figure 3.7. What is regulated in flood management?

Note: Responses correspond to the number of case studies that ticked each possible answer in the Checklist. Respondents could tick more than one answer.

Source: Data from case studies on flood governance collected for the OECD project (October 2016).

Regulatory frameworks may concern various levels of regulation, from the local to the international levels. At the international level, the European Floods Directive is one such example. Insights from the case studies show that, most often, local institutions (e.g. municipalities, local drainage boards, local water authorities, etc.) assume regulatory functions for flood management (as observed in 22 case studies), followed by national authorities (e.g. ministries, agencies, inter-ministerial committees, etc.), in 17 case studies. To a lesser degree, some case studies report that river basin committees perform regulatory functions. In many cases, regulatory prerogatives are not concentrated at one level alone, but are shared between national and local authorities (11 case studies), between basin and local authorities (in 6 case studies), or occasionally between supranational and national levels (3 cases). To promote compliance and achieve regulatory objectives for flood management, these authorities rely on different procedures and incentives: in most case studies (19), specific multilateral discussions and meetings are used, together with common agreements. Others use penalties, sanctions, reparations, incentives or rewards.

The case studies note various challenges raised by uncoordinated regulatory frameworks, such as conflicts about roles and responsibilities (12 case studies); policy complexity and confusion in the implementation of regulation (10 case studies); and rising costs of implementing regulatory frameworks (9 case studies).

In France, the Joint Flood Commission (Commission Mixte Inondation) brings together the Steering Council for major natural risks prevention (comité d’orientation pour la prevention des risques naturels majeurs) and the National Water Committee (Comité National de l’Eau), allowing co-ordination not only between the water and flood actors but also with civil protection, environmental protection, and urban planning and land-use stakeholders. Flood Risk Management Plans (FRMPs) are strategic tools decreed by the river basin District Co-ordinator Prefect (the state representative at the district level). They are opposable to all administrative decisions in the field of water policy, including flood-risk prevention plans (PPRI) and local urban masters plan in the river basin district. These are implemented through local strategies at the scale of Areas of Potentially Significant Flood Risk.

An array of tools can help improve the quality of flood management regulation. Some tools relate to monitoring and evaluation, for example: regulatory impact assessments, particularly when carried out at the early stages of the policy process; reviews of existing regulations, including costs and benefits; and mechanisms or institutions that oversee procedures and goals to support regulatory policies. Others relate to transparency and participation, ensuring regulations are comprehensible and clear to the public, so that the different parties can easily understand their rights and obligations, and to provide meaningful opportunities (including online) for the public to help prepare regulatory proposals. The EU Floods Directive requires EU Member States to involve the public in planning procedures and drafting FRMPs. For example, in Bavaria, Germany, flooding planning has been passed on to Regional Water Forums, an important participatory mechanism under the Water Framework Directive. These tools are often complemented by remedies that can be claimed through access to justice; 12 case studies report using compensations for damages, while 8 include social interest litigation and 7 have ombudsmen. Six case studies out of 27 reported that no remedies had been claimed.

Areas to improve

Unclear regulatory frameworks tend to be associated with poor allocation of regulatory functions and, thus, in a lack of knowledge and awareness of rights and responsibilities. This can be linked to a mismatch between government-induced water policies and deeply embedded informal institutions (Menard et al., 2018). Conversely, flood-related regulatory frameworks can prove counterproductive; in Granada, Spain, over-regulation has generated additional administrative burdens for flood-risk management. Even if these frameworks have been set up, they can be ineffective, irrelevant or undermined by the lack of collaboration between different levels of government and ministries. For example, in Bangladesh, differentiated approaches between the Ministry of Water Resources, the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief resulted in inconsistencies that undermined the enforcement of existing legislation. Furthermore, co-ordination with entities with related responsibilities is often pursued on an extemporaneous basis rather than through systematic and institutionalised mechanisms. More can be done to ensure that flood regulation is consistent with regulations in other fields.

Ways forward

Flood management requires establishing an effective regulatory framework that supports sound regulatory practices and protects people against floods as efficiently as possible and with the greatest possible benefits for the actors involved. Regulatory measures for the enforcement of legislation related to flooding, and for more coherence with regulations in other fields, such as land use, law on local governance or local regulations are therefore necessary. Bridging the divide between land and water is a central element of regulations governing flood management and a way of helping to co-ordinate policy geographically. Apart from increasing flood management efficiency, a sound institutional framework needs to address the potential clashes that can arise between flood regulations and land use, as property owners become increasingly exposed to risk. Flood management regulation on public participation and clear, transparent regulatory functions can help co-ordinate various actors and interests. In sum, regulation, coupled with flood policy and long-term strategies, can offer a more holistic approach.

Principle 8: Innovative governance

Box 3.4. OECD Principle 8: Sub-principles, Indicators and Flood Checklist

Principle 8. Promote the adoption and implementation of innovative water governance practices across responsible authorities, levels of government and relevant stakeholders, through:

  1. a) Encouraging experimentation and pilot-testing on water governance, drawing lessons from success and failures, and scaling up replicable practices;

  2. b) Promoting social learning to facilitate dialogue and consensus-building, for example through networking platforms, social media, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and user-friendly interface (e.g. digital maps, big data, smart data and open data) and other means;

  3. c) Promoting innovative ways to co-operate, to pool resources and capacity, to build synergies across sectors and search for efficiency gains, notably through metropolitan governance, inter-municipal collaboration, urban-rural partnerships, and performance-based contracts; and

  4. d) Promoting a strong science-policy interface to contribute to better water governance and bridge the divide between scientific findings and water governance practices.

Figure 3.8. OECD Indicators for Principle 8
Figure 3.8. OECD Indicators for Principle 8

Source: OECD (2018a), Implementing the OECD Principles on Water Governance: Indicator Framework and Evolving Practices, OECD Studies on Water, OECD Publishing, Paris,

Table 3.4. OECD Flood Checklist for Principle 8

Checklist questions

Policy framework

Which innovative flood governance practices are implemented in your case study?

Which policy frameworks and/or incentives are in place to encourage innovation in flood management practices and processes?

Are there reviews to evaluate the state of play of and potential for technical and non-technical innovation, costs/benefits of innovation, as well as regulations and standards hindering innovation?


Are there institutions encouraging bottom-up initiatives, dialogue and social learning as well as experimentation in flood management at different levels?


In your case study, which mechanisms to promote social learning are in place to facilitate dialogue and consensus building?

Which innovative ways to co-operate are in place in your case study, to pool resources and capacity, to build synergies across sectors and to search for efficiency gains?

Which science-policy interface is in place in your case study to contribute to better flood governance and bridge the divide between scientific findings and flood governance practices?

Are information and communication technologies used to guide better public action in flood management, and how?


In your case study, what are the main barriers to innovative governance?

Note: The full Checklist, including options for responses, can be found in Annex A.


The rising risk of water-related disasters requires new solutions. The challenges generated by climate and societal changes call for innovative approaches to flood governance. Innovations in flood governance include new or more effective rules, practices and processes through which decisions for flood management are taken and implemented, stakeholders can articulate their interests and decision-makers are held accountable (adapted from OECD, 2015a). Innovations can relate to any of the other 11 water governance principles, such as data and information (e.g. involving citizens in the collection of flood-related data) or financing (e.g. new insurance schemes). Innovation may become necessary, for instance in the case of unusual major floods like those that struck the Seine and Loire valleys in France in 1910 and 1907. In such cases, governance frameworks tend to innovate in response to a rare disaster. However, flood governance should not only innovate after a disaster, but also be preventive and take lessons from other regions and countries where disasters are more frequent.

However, the capacity of decision makers to innovate in flood governance practices is fraught with a number of challenges. The case studies point to responsibility fragmentation of institutions as main barrier to innovative governance (as indicated by 16 case studies). Populations’ lack of awareness and preparedness for dealing with flood risks were also identified as an obstacle to innovation in 14 case studies, while 10 reported dealing with insufficient knowledge on the economic value of flood risks. These obstacles can hinder solutions that allow to “do better with less money” and more people on board helping to accelerate innovation.

Efficient flood management involves both innovative flood management and innovative flood governance. Innovations in flood management include green infrastructure, such as green roofs and sustainable urban drainage systems (e.g. rain gardens, bio-retention ponds), or technological developments, such as mobile apps that can record live flooding and early-warning systems. Innovations in flood governance include citizen involvement, financial incentives towards green infrastructures and innovative policies and ordinances. The objective of innovative flood governance is to ensure that a broad range of management options, including alternatives to traditional flood management are considered before any decisions are taken. Practices in innovative flood governance include academic research, such as developing models to estimate the effectiveness of evacuation decisions, or evaluating risk exposure by considering the evolving risk patterns (as observed in 15 case studies); experimentation and pilot-testing (14 case studies); innovative education and awareness-raising activities (e.g. introducing flood-control curriculum in schools or flood-control games for children); and innovative partnerships, between governments, knowledge institutes and the business sector, for instance (12 cases). (Figure 3.9).

Figure 3.9. Innovative flood governance practices implemented in the case studies
22 case study promoters responded
Figure 3.9. Innovative flood governance practices implemented in the case studies

Note: Responses correspond to the number of case studies that ticked each possible answer in the Checklist. Respondents could tick more than one answer

Source: Data from case studies on flood governance collected for the OECD project (October 2016).

National and local authorities can collaborate to encourage experimentation and pilot-testing on prevention and mitigation, by scaling up (or down) replicable practices. This is the case for 14 out of 27 case studies that indicate relying on inter-municipal collaborations, which is an innovative way to improve co-operation among places, but also to pool resources and capacity, to build synergies across sectors and to look for gains in efficiency. A majority of case studies reported using such tools as digital maps and social media to promote social learning and facilitate dialogue and consensus building. Various innovative flood governance practices could be a source of inspiration for other countries and actors involved in flood management: for example, the Thames estuary 2100 in the United Kingdom, the Sigma plan in Belgium and Room for the River in the Netherlands. Other programmes set up by local stakeholders, whether local governments or private actors, have been noted in France, Ireland and the Netherlands. They constitute interesting examples of innovative practices at a more local level. The co-ordination of retention measures along the Rhine and the Danube transboundary basins can also be inspiring, in terms of innovative practice that cuts across countries.

The science-policy interface is also a critical element of flood governance and management measures. Effective co-ordination of interdisciplinary water research programmes including social sciences, and involvement of water end users, can be useful for reaching a critical mass in the uptake of the results. However, replication of good practices and pilot tests is not straightforward. Innovation uptake and implementation rely on high-level support. They require not only changes in actions and behaviour, but also changes in the assumptions guiding these actions and even more deeply of the structural context and factors that determine these assumptions. These elements are commonly referred to as triple-loop learning (Hargrove, 2002; Pahl-Wostl, 2009). Change also requires adaptive capacity, underlining the importance of strong knowledge infrastructure, knowledge institutes and large research programmes. This, however, is not easy to implement on the ground. To establish innovative flood governance practices, concerted effort is needed.

Innovation can mean going back to basics. Outreach campaigns can successfully influence attitudes towards what today can be considered innovative solutions (e.g. temporary flood storage) but which have in fact been around for thousands of years, for example, nature-based solutions (NBS). Colombia was able to introduce local behavioural change through social marketing campaigns in Valle de Cauca that helped increase the number of upstream landowners and downstream water users practicing conservation measures, as well as promoting inter-sectoral collaboration by setting up watershed management committees (OECD, 2018a). The co-benefits of NBS in reducing flood risks, such as nature conservation and natural resources management, were made tangible and ended up generating strong stakeholder engagement in Pilsen, Czech Republic (OECD, 2018a). Developing innovative practices today can be especially linked to the combination of NBS with grey infrastructure, such as the “sponge cities” programme in China aiming to help 30 cities reuse rainwater to deal with floods. It is important to note that, although green infrastructure solutions can achieve significant savings, making the financial case for them is often hard, as it is not easy to carry out valid comparisons between them and grey infrastructure expenses and benefits. This is why the EU has oriented its policy in that direction (e.g. 2013 European Commission Strategy on Green Infrastructure). Many EU countries have individually prepared national guidance documents and/or strategies to encourage investments in green infrastructure as a building block of sustainable spatial planning (EEA, 2015).

Areas to improve

Different places face different challenges and have different financial resources and capacities with which they can respond. Many OECD and non-OECD case study promoters report shortcomings associated with a lack of capacity to embark in innovation. When innovative practices are in place, fragmented institutional structures, actors and responsibilities have a negative impact on the possibilities of sharing and up-scaling innovation. Scattered innovative policies and tools across many scales and countries increase the risk of actors reinventing the wheel each time and incurring unnecessary costs and time-consuming tasks. Another important challenge refers not only to sharing mechanisms and responses with other regions and countries, but also learning how to capitalise on the acquisition of knowledge internally. Managing to use the lessons learnt to move forward and using them in other settings has proved difficult in many cases.

Ways forward

Innovation, apart from being central for the achievement of the 2030 Development Agenda (SDG 9 concerns innovation, infrastructure and industry), can help to bridge any of the seven multi-level governance gaps, as well as enhance solutions that connect policies, people and places. Future flood management should strive to find a balance between different innovative approaches in search of more resilient social-ecological relations. Innovation should combine technical and non-technical solutions, as well as integrate the potential power of nature to spark the transition to sustainability. In this sense, the science and research community will play a major role in finding pathways to use innovation to find solutions that mutually support nature, society and local economies and contribute to better governance. Bridging the divide between scientific findings and flood governance practices can allow for forward-looking knowledge sharing, communication and co-ordination between stakeholders for responsive policy formulation.

In innovative governance, the time scale is also important. In addressing increased flood risks due to climate change, there is a need for long-term planning horizons. These may allow anticipating future problems, split incentives between those who generate the risks and those who bear the related liabilities, as well as land use decisions that generate long- term commitments and liabilities.


DEFRA (2013), “Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) pilot on flood regulation in Hull, United Kingdom”,

European Environment Agency (2015), “Exploring nature-based solutions: The role of green infrastructure in mitigating the impacts of weather- and climate change-related natural hazards”, EEA Technical Report, No 12/2015, European Environment Agency.

EU (2007), “Directive on the assessment and management of flood risks, 2007/60/EC”, European Union, Brussels.

Evans, E.P. et al. (2008), “An update of the Foresight Future Flooding 2004 qualitative risk analysis”, Cabinet Office, London, available at:

Hargrove, R. (2002), Masterful Coaching, revised edition, Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer, Wiley, Hoboken, New Jersey.

Hegger, D.L.T. et al. (2013), “Flood risk management in Europe: Similarities and differences between the STAR-FLOOD consortium countries”, STAR-FLOOD Consortium, Utrecht, the Netherlands.

Kellet, J. and J. Caravani (2013), “Financing disaster risk reduction: A 20 year story of international aid”, ODI and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery at the World Bank, London/Washington.

Mees, H. et al. (2016), “Analysing and evaluating flood risk governance in Belgium. Dealing with flood risks in an urbanised and institutionally complex country”, University of Antwerp, KU Leuven, Belgium.

Menard, C., A. Jimenez and H. Tropp (2018), “Addressing the policy implementation gaps in water services: The key role of meso-institutions”,

OECD (2018a), Implementing the OECD Principles on Water Governance: Indicator Framework and Evolving Practices, OECD Studies on Water, OECD Publishing, Paris,

OECD (2017), Boosting Disaster Prevention through Innovative Risk Governance: Insights from Austria, France and Switzerland, OECD Reviews of Risk Management Policies, OECD Publishing, Paris,

OECD (2015a), OECD Principles on Water Governance, OECD Publishing, Paris, available at:

OECD (2015b), Stakeholder Engagement for Inclusive Water Governance, OECD Studies on Water, OECD Publishing, Paris,

OECD (2014b), Water Governance in the Netherlands: Fit for the Future?, OECD Studies on Water, OECD Publishing, Paris,

OECD (2013a), Water Security for Better Lives, OECD Studies on Water, OECD Publishing, Paris,

Pahl-Wostl, C. (2009), “A conceptual framework for analysing adaptive capacity and multi-level learning processes in resource governance regimes”, Global Environmental Change, Vol. 19/3, pp. 354-365.

UNISDR (2015b), Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Risk, available at:

WGF (CIS) (2012) resource document, “Flood risk management, economics and decision making support”, Working Group Floods, European Commission, Brussels.


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← 3. The CAT-NAT system is a French natural catastrophe insurance and reinsurance regime. It requires property damage insurance policies to include a provision for natural catastrophe coverage. When the state of natural disaster is declared by inter-ministerial decree, the provision extends the cover of the insurance to all “uninsurable damage” caused by natural phenomena (OECD, 2014a).

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