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From Flood Protection to Flood Risk Management: Insights from the Rhine River in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

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This article introduces an analytical framework to identify and structure paradigm shifts from flood protection towards flood risk management. The framework is divided into three levels of analysis: (i) the governance level, (ii) the institutional level, and (iii) the operational level. Each of these levels plays an important role during the development and operationalization of a paradigm shift. The framework allows scholars and practitioners to organize a large amount of data and information relating to such a shift in a given river basin. To illustrate the potential of the framework, it is applied to the case of the Lower Rhine in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. The results demonstrate how the different levels interact with each other and which elements constitute a barrier or driver influencing a paradigm shift. While institutions developed at higher management levels support a paradigm shift, the overall dominance of technical flood protection measures at the operational level constitutes a barrier to integrated flood risk management. Furthermore, a lack of joint action and multi-level cooperation constitutes a barrier at the governance level.

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  1. 1.

    In this context the term paradigm describes a set of fundamental assumptions of and views on the nature of a specific phenomenon. A flood management paradigm therefore is the view a society has on floods in general and on how to deal with them in particular.

  2. 2.

    For a detailed description of the MTF including its theoretical and conceptual foundations, we refer to Knieper et al. (2010), Pahl-Wostl et al. (2010), Knüppe and Pahl-Wostl (2011).


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The authors want to thank Claudia Pahl-Wostl for giving meaningful advice during the research period and the German Research Foundation for project funding.

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Correspondence to Fabian Thomas.

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The study was part of the research project WaterNeeds (http://www.waterneeds.uni-osnabrueck.de/) funded by the German Research Foundation.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Thomas, F., Knüppe, K. From Flood Protection to Flood Risk Management: Insights from the Rhine River in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Water Resour Manage 30, 2785–2800 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11269-016-1323-9

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  • Flood risk management
  • Governance and management regime
  • Paradigm shift
  • Rhine