The 5 research questions of the RePolis program will be explored for the public authorities that are responsible for a large part of Dutch water management, the regional water boards. We will examine how they relate to the proactive involvement of citizens, entrepreneurs and land owners in the implementation of water management tasks. The institutional context of water management in the Netherlands is more complicated than in other policy domains because the water boards are an additional administrative layer (next to national, provincial and local government). This means that self-organizing or civic initiatives in the urban environment will have to deal with a different ‘receiving’ public authority – the municipality – than initiatives in more rural areas, with the water boards as first administrative body. In addition, in rural areas the provincial government will play a more prominent role in water management tasks than in urban areas.
Water management is a policy issue that calls for collective action in the Netherlands for centuries. As a consequence the water board is the oldest Dutch administrative entity and closely situated to the local community. Water managing organization show an increased interest for new ways for organizing and implementing their tasks, in co-production with citizens, entrepreneurs and land owners. This interest in the managing and implementation capacity of the local community is vested in the expectation that the resources will increase in the coming period, whereas the tasks will become more comprehensive. The execution of EU-policy (Water Framework Directive), of the national water safety program (Deltaprogram) and changing societal preferences with regard to landscape management and (water related) recreation, will expectedly put more strain on the water boards. Next to this, the societal trend that people want to take more responsibility for their own living environment, becomes more prominent. Citizens and entrepreneurs are literally more willing to take up the shovel and improve their own environment. Lastly, with the new spatial planning act (the Environment Act / Omgevingswet), public authorities are stimulated to organize the spatial visioning and implementation more in a more integrated and participatory fashion.
Many water managing organizations already have gained much knowledge and experience with environment management, through interactive planning processes for integrated water resources management form the mid-90s onwards. In these processes, the interaction with citizens, entrepreneurs and landowners was initiated, facilitated and terminated (when their objectives were met) by the water managing organizations themselves. The current challenge is how water management may deal with actions and efforts that are initiated and organized by citizens, entrepreneurs and/or landowners, aimed at the implementation of water managing tasks. In other words, how may water boards participate in processes that are initiated and organized by other organizations in a productive way?