Understanding why stakeholders support Natural Water Retention Measures

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Case study

Natural water retention measures (NWRM) can help reduce flood and drought risks in Europe. In a previous study, Wetlands International analysed the potential of restoring the sponge function in wetland soils in the Rhine basin as a nature-based solution with potential impacts from local to basin scale. The execution of such projects requires cooperation from many different stakeholders. Therefore, we wanted to understand the argumentation of specific groups behind their decision to support and execute NWRM. Ms. Julia Malms, master student at Wageningen University & Research, has researched what made people take a positive stand and positive action in existing NWRM projects in the Rhine basin and identified their key arguments.

The master thesis „Identifying incentives for participation- Stakeholder participation in NWRM projects in the Rhine basin in Germany“ [1] aimed to identify the incentives of stakeholders for participating in NWRM projects by analysing three multi-stakeholder projects. Being aware of stakeholders’ incentives for participation supports the promotion of NWRM such as restoration of the sponge function in wetland soils (the ‘sponges approach’).

Decision making theory

This research used the logics of action framework for analysing the incentives of stakeholders. The logics of action are a decision making theory and describe the reasons and incentives of an actor to act in a certain way [2]. The logics of action include the logic of consequences and the logic of appropriateness. The logic of consequences describes decision making which is based on an analysis of different alternatives and outcomes, e.g. a cost-benefit analysis (Schulz, 2018). The logic of appropriateness focuses on rules an actor follows and roles an actor has which guide the decision making [3].

NWRM case studies

The three multi-stakeholder projects chosen as case studies for this research all include NWRM, are situated in the Rhine basin in Germany and are funded through the EU Life programme. The EU Life programme supports the practical implementation of environmental and climate policies in Natura2000 areas. The selected case studies were 1) the Life+ project ‘Lippe floodplain’, 2) the Life+ project ‘Möhne’, and 3) the Life project ‘sloping mires of the Hochwald in the Hunsrück National Park’. The projects ‘Lippe floodplain’ and ‘Möhne’ focused on river and floodplain restoration, whereas the project ‘sloping mires of the Hochwald in the Hunsrück National Park’ focused on restoring a network of peatlands. The project partners in the three projects included public authorities such as municipalities and district administrations and environmental NGOs. These partners have been interviewed to understand their incentives for participating in an NWRM project.

Stakeholder incentives

The results show that all stakeholders use the logic of consequences and the logic of appropriateness in their decision making but it cannot be concluded that one logic is more influential than the other in decision making. There is a difference between the incentives for participating in NWRM projects mentioned by NGOs and by public authorities. In relation to the logic of consequences, the financial conditions of a project are the most frequently named incentive. NGOs refer to the financial support that is necessary for their participation in the NWRM project. For public authorities, the lower costs through collaboration with other stakeholders and through the financial support from the EU Life programme is most important. The most frequently named incentive associated with the logic of appropriateness is the organisational task. Here, NGOs refer to their organisational focus on renaturation of rivers and restoration of peatlands. Whereas public authorities refer to their official responsibility of managing the project area.

For Wetlands International to pursue a sponge restoration project, it is valuable to understand that past positive experiences in collaboration are a motivation for stakeholders to participate in new NWRM projects. Also, the role of public and political support for a potential project has to be understood when seeking partnership. Political support from local authorities for an NWRM project can especially become important when access to privately owned land is required. While Wetlands International considers the potential impact at river basin scale (measures taken upstream have effect further downstream) to be a significant benefit of the ‘sponges approach’, Ms. Malms’ research showed that many stakeholders focus on the local benefits of a project. Emphasising these local benefits is therefore crucial when convincing potential partners to cooperate.


[1] Julia Malms (2019). Identifying incentives for participation, Stakeholder participation in NWRM projects in the Rhine basin in Germany. A Master Thesis submitted as partial fulfilment of the degree of Master of Science in Environmental Sciences, at the Water Systems and Global Change Group of Wageningen University, the Netherlands.

[2] Schulz, M. (2018). Logic of Consequences and Logic of Appropriateness. In M. Augier, & D. Teece (Eds.), The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Strategic Management.

[3] March, J., & Olsen, J. (2011). The Logic of Appropriateness. In R. Goodin (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Political Science (pp. 478- 497).