Participatory social capacity building: Conceptualisation and experiences from pilots for flood risk mitigation in the Netherlands

Douwe L. de Voogt*, Saskia Bisschops, Stefania Munaretto

*Corresponding author for this work

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Social capacity building is increasingly suggested as strategy for supporting vulnerable communities in dealing with natural hazards such as floods. However, research on the empirical implementation of social capacity building is still limited. This paper presents a conceptualisation and an empirical case study of participatory social capacity building for flood risk mitigation in the Netherlands. We designed and implemented two distinct participatory pilots, studied the processes and outcomes to assess what factors influence social capacity building, and assessed how existing capacity may be leveraged. Social capacity is herein conceptualised as consisting of five dimensions: Knowledge, Motivation, Networks, Finance, and Participation. The first pilot included a walk in flood-prone areas and a discussion session with citizens and flood risk authority representatives. The second pilot involved elementary school pupils interviewing senior citizens with flood experience. Based on qualitative observation and analysis of the processes, findings suggest there is good potential for mutual sharing of knowledge if all participating actors are equal in the participatory process, and that informal settings open up debates, but also that leveraging existing social capacities might inadvertently impede the dissemination of knowledge that is vital in coping with (future) disaster risks.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-96
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Science & Policy
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2019


  • Disaster risk management
  • EU Flood Directive
  • Governance
  • Natural hazards
  • Public participation
  • Vulnerability


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