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date: 22 February 2018

The Role of Intermediaries in Flood Risk Management

Summary and Keywords

Flood Risk Management (FRM) calls for stakeholders from multiple technical and social spheres to plan and implement policies and actions to manage flooding successfully. To work effectively across boundaries of knowledge, practice, priority, scale, institutions, and language created by such interdisciplinary or inter-stakeholder work, it is often necessary to employ intermediaries to create communication pathways between groups and spaces.

Intermediaries (also sometimes referred to as mediators or boundary spanners) are responsible for managing boundaries in such a way that multiple actors are able to communicate effectively with limited ambiguity or frustration. Sometimes, intermediaries enable two actors to come together who would usually not interact. For FRM, knowledge and experiences should ideally be brought together collaboratively and smoothly, whilst accounting for the diversity of perspectives and priorities between stakeholders involved.

Intermediaries may be organizations of humans, e.g., a public communications department; or objects, e.g., a computer model, website, or maps. Recognizing the utility of objects as intermediaries is important for understanding the multiplicity of mechanisms used to communicate FRM between experts and nonspecialist publics.

Charting how intermediaries bridge different boundaries, we see the diversity and utility of their work. Inspecting the construction of boundary objects as intermediaries allows the actors involved in their creation and definition to be identified and analyzed. This is important as it may contribute an understanding of how just and representative FRM decision making is.

Since the 1980s, various academic literatures from science and technology studies (STS) to organizational studies have addressed the role of intermediaries and mediators, particularly in relation to business management, computer sciences, and biomedicine. However, in FRM where risk analysis and communication is king, discussing how to manage pertinent and credible transboundary information is also important.

Keywords: flood risk management, intermediaries, knowledge sharing, boundary organization, boundary object


Flood Risk Management (FRM) aims to “reduce the likelihood and/or the impact of floods” by including the following management techniques: “prevention, protection, preparedness, emergency response, recovery and lessons learned” (European Commission, 2004, p. 4). Governments carry out FRM by reducing dependency on “hard” flood defenses such as river engineering, dykes, and dams, and transitioning to “soft” management including spatial planning, insurance, and natural flood management (Hartmann & Jüpner, 2017; Johnson & Priest, 2008).

The EU Floods Directive (2007) stipulated that all Member States should begin moving towards FRM to reduce the “potential adverse consequences of flooding for human health, the environment, cultural heritage and economic activity” (EU 2007/60/EC: L288/31). The EU Floods Directive also emphasizes the importance of building public participation and information sharing mechanisms into FRM (European Commission, 2016).

To implement FRM, a convergence of different stakeholders with supplementary knowledges is necessary. Oftentimes, with stakeholders working at misaligned spatial or political scales, or with different professional and practical competencies, questions arise as to how cooperation may be most effective to allow optimal FRM (Johannessen, 2015). Examining the process of information-sharing within heterogeneous knowledge domains allows us to ask how gaps in knowledge, practice, and priority are bridged to allow effective exchange to occur. Literature has discussed the importance of “boundary spanners,” “knowledge brokers,” “boundary objects,” “boundary organizations,” and “mediators” in achieving this (Clark et al., 2016; Latour, 1994; Wenger, 1998). This chapter considers all these boundary-workers to be intermediaries who may contribute to effective FRM.

Various academic literature since the 1980s has examined the movement and translation of information and action between different groups or spaces across boundaries. While extensive work on intermediaries in healthcare, biotechnical and medical sciences, and business management has been undertaken, assessment of intermediaries’ practical function and structure in FRM has been largely neglected (Sheate & Partidario, 2010). Academic literature has assessed well how flood policy has been affected by events and different governmental actors by using policy analysis frameworks such as Kingdon’s (1995) “Multiple Streams,” and Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith’s (1993) “Advocacy Coalition Framework” (e.g., Johnson et al., 2005; Penning-Rowsell et al., 2006). However, there has been little examination or review of the mechanisms that different stakeholders use to interact and discuss, negotiate, or implement policy or planning (Whatmore & Landström, 2011; Lane et al., 2011; Whatmore, 2009).

In Boundary and Intermediary Literature, this chapter will use interdisciplinary theoretical literature to build a picture of the necessities for and practices of intermediaries, while why we need them for FRM and which boundaries they span. In How are Boundaries Spanned and By Whom?, the chapter introduces boundary object and boundary organization literature to develop a processual understanding of intermediary work. Lastly, in Case Studies of Boundary Organizations and Objects, theoretical literature from the first two sections is applied to assess how examples of boundary organizations and boundary objects work as intermediaries for FRM in Yorkshire, England.

Boundary and Intermediary Literature

Before identifying what intermediaries are and how they span boundaries, it is important to outline what sort of boundaries exist in FRM. Several intermediary-requiring boundaries can be identified (e.g., Table 1). This chapter does not seek to deliver a full typology of boundaries present in the FRM landscape, as it does not aid the purpose of this work in describing how boundaries are overcome by intermediaries and why this is important. Furthermore, multiple boundary spanning techniques and necessities are often found in different facets and stages of FRM, and therefore each boundary type mentioned in Table 1 will not be approached in isolation. Thus, the list in Table 1 by no means claims to be exhaustive, but provides examples of different boundary types, who or what that boundary might engage, and examples of where they have been spanned.

The Development of “Boundaries” Debates

It is important to note here that within the scope of FRM very limited work has been carried out explicitly on intermediation, nor has any review of it been attempted in this field. By running an online literature search, what is retrieved largely refers to physical or modeling boundaries (e.g., Brown & Damery, 2002). Some limited literature acknowledges the issue of institutional, knowledge, and cultural differences as boundaries in implementing effective FRM frameworks (e.g., Jameson & Baud, 2016; Lane et al., 2011; Tunstall et al., 2004).

Although boundaries not only lie between scientists (e.g., in the form of academics, private, or governmental practitioners) and citizens, the starkest academic discussion of boundaries are those which have lain between “expert” and “vernacular” knowledge. This debate was evident before active public and citizen engagement in science and decision-making became politically imperative in the 1990s (e.g., Gieryn, 1983; Aarhus Convention, 1998). Evidence of this can be found in analysis of crises of civil mistrust in the expert—through from the 1990s to the 2010s (Gawande, 2016; Wynne, 2006). This form of boundary is also probably most recognizable to those in civil society attempting to engage with formal FRM processes run by consultants or government.

Table 1. Typology and Description of Boundaries in FRM. N.B.: Lettering Is Normative to Aid Reference Through this Chapter

Type of Boundary

What/Who is This Boundary Made of?

Example of Boundary Work in FRM Context


Knowledge (hydrological experiences, informational access)

Academics, practitioners, policymakers, politicians, civilians.

U.K.: Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust (see Boundary Organizations).

U.K: Pickering hydrological modeling (see Lane et al., 2011).


Practice (method, praxis)

Point and style of engagement with others, history of work within institutions, governmental regime.

U.K.: Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust (see Boundary Organizations).


Priority (ideology, focus of work)

Hydrological paradigm (e.g., Integrated Water Resources Management vs. hydrological mission, see Allan, 2003); Institutional, financial and political capacities for work.

U.K.: Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust (see Boundary Organizations).

NL: See Brugge et al. (2005) and van Leussen (2010) for example of remediating planning/management goals between land use and water resources management practitioners for flood (damage) prevention.


Scale (spatial and institutional)

International; national; local; catchment; inter- and intrainstitutional; upstream and downstream.

U.K.: Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust (see Boundary Organizations).

Nile Basin: See Wheeler et al. (2016) for transboundary flow management.


Institutional histories

Governance regimes; technical histories and practical methods; experience in boundary work.

U.K.: Community Modelling, Otley (see Boundary Objects).



Specialist jargon; technical capacities; spoken and syntactic languages.

U.K.: Community Modelling, Otley (see Boundary Objects); see also, Lane et al. (2011) for coproduction of hydrological model for boundary spanning in Pickering.

By understanding that boundaries are not purely physical (e.g., lines on a map), but are also encountered in multiple linguistic, cultural, practical, and political forms, one can begin to narrow the context of discussion for intermediaries in FRM. Ask an engineer, ecologist, scholar, politician, or citizen what their idea of FRM comprises and you will likely get answers which use various vocabulary and place pertinence on different FRM aspects. Working between these different modes of practice can be challenging and can require direct action to be overcome.

The integrated nature of FRM in the 21st century creates pressures for various stakeholders with different expertise, backgrounds, and priorities to be included in decision making. Pressures for joined-up working between different channels of expertise and experience has presented challenges throughout the strata of society, the mechanics of government, and private organizations (Cash, 2001). This pressure came from the awareness that closeted or ineffective knowledge-sharing programs can hamper the knowledge/practice nexus from functioning optimally or in a socially and epistemologically inclusive manner. Furthermore, circumscribed working within and between institutions with overlapping aims and objects was (and still can be) fiscally inefficient and led to replicated working and missed opportunities of best-practice implementation.

In an environmental context, coworking between spaces and groups also increases the social and environmental sustainability of FRM plans. Integrated management and cross-party contribution to planning will improve communities’ and institutions’ resilience to flooding as exacerbated by global climate change. See Nye et al. (2011) for further, in-depth analysis of the some of the pressures for integration of institutional and civic flood management in the U.K., and Orr et al. (2007) on some of the practicalities of involving multiple stakeholders in river basin management. While these statements are general reflections upon the need for intermediation in an ends-driven society, the simple appreciation that FRM encompasses more than a singular form or vessel of expertise validates intermediaries as an avenue for exploration.

By asking what boundaries exist in FRM and how intermediaries can span them, doors for handling jargon, priority, power, identity, and scale in flood management begin to open. Wider, non-FRM specific literature from the early to mid-2000s sets out numerous reasons why boundaries should be spanned rather than maintained, which could apply to any of the boundary types listed in Table 1 (Becker et al., 2015; Faulkner et al., 2007; Newig et al., 2016). Boundary spanning reasons include:

  • - improving knowledge sharing and stimulating new knowledge creation,

  • - enhancing policy-making processes,

  • - engendering trust and legitimacy between stakeholders,

  • - maintaining organizational credibility,

  • - spanning spatial and institutional scales.

Examining theoretical and practically grounded literature on intermediation will flesh out the diversity of roles that boundary spanners have. I will now explore further boundary-spanning motivations.

Enhancing Knowledge-Sharing and Creation (With Application to Improved Policy-Making and Planning)

Given the movement away from technical, engineered FRM towards a combination of social and technological management, it is no longer appropriate to maintain divisions between specialists in planning and implementing FRM. The integration of the “social” into the flood management dynamic requires knowledge to be shared, translated and/or transmitted to multiple different actors with various knowledge specializations. It is not possible to address issues of sustainable management in a socially disintegrated manner. Obvious examples of this shift to knowledge-sharing in the U.K. are early warning systems with nonspecialists (i.e., residents, property owners, industry) as the audience, raising risk awareness through accessible hazard-mapping and pressures on property owners to access insurance policies (Nye et al., 2011). The process of boundary-spanning further allows organizational and management responsibilities to become blurred, which may improve the transparency and accountability of working and eliminate sticky cross-niche working challenges (Guston, 2001; Reyers et al., 2015).

Furthermore, integrated policymaking from multiple viewpoints incorporates a greater diversity of understanding of an issue and helps FRM proposals to be more appropriate and better informed. Jameson and Baud (2016) stress the importance of spanning knowledge boundaries to account for disparate socio-technical experiences (e.g., between geomorphologists, environmental economists, and flood-affected citizens), particularly where knowledge prejudices might adversely affect participation or representation in decision-/policymaking. Where this is done, flood management may be carried out in a manner that reflects learning from past flood events (Nye et al., 2011). Therefore, Kooiman (2003) would add that working between different organizational spaces and scales affects the socio-justice of management decisions. However, government institutions often lack the experience, capacity, or motivation to intermediate between multiple parties, and particularly to involve affected community groups in a manner that goes beyond the superficial. In this case, boundary organizations may prove important motivators and facilitators for cross-boundary collaboration (e.g., see Rivers Trusts as Boundary Organizations).

Adger et al. (2005, p. 77) explain the importance of working between physical and institutional spatial scales in the context of reducing vulnerability to flood risk as exacerbated by global climate change. Such working practices improve the “effectiveness, efficiency, equity and legitimacy” of resiliency measures. Cash (2001) suggests that boundary work should be used as a method to coordinate between different spatial and organizational scales. Using the example of agricultural information flows for water management in the U.S. High Plains, Cash explains how boundary work prevents interorganizational information loss and facilitates interhierarchical communication. Wheeler et al. (2016) assert the hydro-politically critical nature of transboundary information-sharing between Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan for water-release and flood mitigation planning in the context of the Grand Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia.

At an interinstitutional scale, Pelling et al. (2008) report how institutional adaptive capacity to outside and internal shocks is enhanced by promoting social learning and enhancing cross-party accountability. This is particularly important in FRM to ensure that management policies do not become purely reactive, for example exploiting windows of opportunity to change management plans for a certain flood affected region (Kingdon, 1995), but remain guided by broadly informed evidence. Additionally, during and after a flood event, clear and coordinated reaction by government, emergency services, utilities, and the public can greatly reduce losses and lessen the damage and trauma caused by the flood.

At an intrainstitutional level, Wenger (2000), building on work by Brown and Duguid (1991), considers boundaries of identity, history and culture, linguistics, and expertise to exist between knowledge groups. To enable an institution to survive, develop, and succeed, cross-boundary communication and learning between different knowledge communities must occur. Acknowledging that epistemologies can span boundaries but also create them, Wenger asserts that boundaries should not be eliminated entirely but capitalized upon for their learning and development opportunities. An example of this is given in Flood Simulation Models as Boundary Objects.

Ensuring, Trust, Legitimacy, and Credibility—Compromising on Priority

Realizing that various parties in a decision-making, management, or policymaking process may have different priorities or ideas, Jasanoff (1996) suggests that boundary work is a mechanism for the coproduction of collaborative products which may represent different stakeholders involved in their creation. This is also a form of knowledge coproduction. Therefore, boundary work has the potential to develop mutually agreed and legitimate outputs with which multiple parties can relate and work. This ties in closely with the sentiment behind Cash et al. (2003, p. 8088) and his observations relating to interorganizational boundary work which can mobilize “knowledge that is seen as salient, credible and legitimate in the world of action.” This is important for building interdisciplinary trust (Reyers et al., 2015) and for having effective conflict resolution and interstakeholder bargaining (Berkes, 2009).

Lane et al. (2011) highlight the issues that a breakdown in trust in an intermediary organization can bring. They discuss the FRM impasse between local people, the Environment Agency, and scientists in Pickering, Yorkshire, U.K. in 2007 after years of mediation about how to manage flooding in the town proved fruitless. As such, disagreement between local people and the Environment Agency prevented FRM measures from being implemented, and thus the town’s flood risk remained unmitigated. Outside intervention was necessary to create new intermediary pathways through objects and spaces to generate new knowledge and reconfigure FRM discussions in the town.

The scope of trust therefore also falls beyond professional bodies, and incorporates a socioscientific and political need for dialogue and transparent working. Jasanoff (2004) provides a thorough discussion regarding the involvement of science in politics and the politicization of science, and covers considerable ground for explanations of public mistrust in this dynamic. Wynne (1992, 2006) and Callon (1999) also use policy and politics’ reliance on “science” as a point of departure to critique expertise and scientific control. This dynamic, which has become increasingly uncomfortable when it manifests itself in projects dependent on narrowly defined ideas of “expertise,” has begun to make space for the layperson to inject their own knowledges and opinions into decision-making and scientific enquiry. The method of processual, practical, and empirical inclusion helps prevent insular working and encourages the erosion of mistrust in science. It is noted, however, that “inclusion” and “participation” of citizens and nonexperts into science is not an automatic pass to best-practice working, and its attempts may just represent a continuation of the status quo (Rowe & Frewer, 2000, 2005).

How Are Boundaries Spanned and by Whom?

Let us consider that boundaries are bridged by both humans and objects. Human creativity or cooperation may be behind the creation of an object, or an object may be behind the motivation for humans to mediate and interact. It is helpful at this stage to follow Latour’s (1992) assertion that there is no clear natural/human binary within and between objects and organizations, but that both objects and organizations may be created by a blurred mixture of human and natural influences. This will be explained more thoroughly in Boundary Objects.

The following discussion of what intermediaries are and how they work in FRM is structured as boundary organizations and boundary objects. This binary creates a helpful typology through which individuals and groups can think about how the intermediate, how their involvement in different organizational spaces and use of different tools affects the knowledge that might be transferred. The sections discuss what these categories of intermediaries comprise and the key academic narratives within them, thus providing a platform to understand the analysis of two example intermediaries presented in Case Studies of Boundary Organizations and Objects.

Boundary Organizations

Guston (2001) and Cash and Moser (2000) describe boundary organizations as intermediary institutions, spaces, or platforms through which different actors can communicate and work. Their functionality within and contribution towards the intermediary framework must therefore be considered. Cash and Moser (2000, pp. 115–116) argue that boundary organizations’ responsibilities in environmental management include the translation of “scientific information across scales,” communicating “salient research needs to scientists,” insulating themselves from “pressures emanating across the boundary” (i.e., not being influenced unduly by an actor), creating “neutral fora for discussion,” and facilitating “long-term trust building.” These responsibilities are applicable to scientifically, politically, and publically aligned boundary organizations.

There is a clear requirement to satisfy information requirements at multiple boundaries, and therefore to be effective, boundary organizations should not be seen to favor one knowledge or action group over another (Rowe & Frewer, 2000). It is therefore also imperative that boundary organizations retain their integrity by ensuring that those it is mediating between are not granted excessive influence within the intermediary organization. It should be noted that many boundary organizations do not function as intermediaries for the sole purpose of being intermediaries, but that their integrated way of working has been designed (based on experience, policy pressures, knowledge requirements, or organization priorities) to involve numerous individuals and parties.

Boundary Organizations’ Spaces

Boundary organizations may be comprised of human intermediaries that use or create tools (boundary objects, such as the Internet, data, or maps) to facilitate multistakeholder cooperation and communication. The spaces in which a boundary organization may work as an intermediary are multiple. Although example organizations have been given for each working space to guide further reading, most boundary organizations would use more than just one intermediary space:

  • o A boundary organization may be responsible for presenting an authoritative face to multiple parties, whilst mediating between different parties’ priorities and ideas. It could therefore work via physical, face-to-face mediation, as the Environment Agency in the U.K. does when interacting with stakeholders such as citizens, landowners, and industry to ensure flood risk compliance and to mediate FRM decision-making.

  • o International and national institutions are keen to share and learn from management experiences in other flood risk areas to strengthen their own practices. It may also be necessary to coordinate different international and national groups to manage flooding. They may therefore use intermediary spaces that provide online platforms to organize physical or virtual actor-to-actor communication. The “Flood Community of Practice” for example, is an Australian-Dutch collaboration which matches up flood management practitioners from both countries via workshops, conferences, training days, and lectures. The boundary organization’s functional base is online, and is supported by various industry leaders from Australia and the Netherlands (see references for web link).

  • o Boundary organizations may compile reliable and credible data and information from institutions which other users can trust and utilize. This collation is particularly important for implementing FRM in catchments crossing multiple administrative boundaries. Thus, another space used by boundary organizations are online platforms that do not necessitate direct actor-to-actor communication for information sharing. For example, the European Environment Agency (EEA) provides water quantity data in its “Waterbase” database.

Boundary Objects

Interesting and stimulating materialist literature surrounds the role of objects as intermediaries. Boundary objects are versatile in their application and appear in multiple forms and contexts. Objects that work as intermediaries do so as points of reference between actors or as things to move ideas through. Boundary objects’ application as intermediaries is best understood within the context of examples (see Flood Simulation Models as Boundary Objects).

This section does less to demonstrate how objects intermediate in a processual manner but rather, how unraveling their use allows us to understand their contribution to the intermediary network and demonstrates the variety and level of engagement of different actors in flood risk management.

What Are Boundary Objects?

Boundary objects “inhabit intersecting social worlds and satisfy the information requirements of each of them” (Star & Griesemer, 1989, p. 393). These objects may be technologies, rules, projects, documents, language, spaces, places, or events (Carlile, 2002; Kimble et al., 2010). Therefore, the “object” need not be a physical thing but may also be a space, idea, word, or time.

Guston (2001), Jasanoff (1996), and Cash and Moser (2000) explain how boundary organizations create and utilize boundary objects to facilitate trans-boundary working. Clark et al. (2016) support the idea that successful boundary work may sometimes only be carried out with the engagement of boundary objects as intermediaries. The emphasis within the academic literature is that where boundary work between different stakeholders and communities occurs, boundary objects can be found as shared things (Brown & Duguid, 2001). Boundary objects are often engaged by actors to help them meet their end goals within a network (Callon, 1986). It is therefore crucial to acknowledge boundary objects in the FRM setting, as they can be used to trace flows of authority, priority, and meaning within the physical and institutional landscape.

By Star and Griesemer’s analysis, boundary objects reflect their users’ or creators’ identities, experiences, and priorities. Therefore, actors may refer to an object to support an argument or idea, or they may create or amend one which carries the essence of their argument or philosophy which others may then refer to. See the Ebro River in Spain, which still echoes elements of Franco’s hydraulic mission and has been used as an object of reference to communicate 21st-century ideologies of Catalan independence (Lopez-Gunn, 2009).

The Scales of Boundary Object Intermediation

It is useful to consider boundary objects (e.g., a river, hydraulic computer model, flood risk map, flood defences, technical jargon) as intermediaries working at two scales with two functionalities. Firstly, they work within the FRM network between actors, and secondly, they mediate action at the local level within themselves.

At the first scale (between actors), when the management of a riparian system for FRM uses rivers, maps, computer models, or flood defenses, an object spans boundaries between different actors concerned about a flood in the landscape or society. A river, for example, and its constituent material parts (e.g., water, sediment, floodplain, debris, ecology) become points of reference containing varying loci of salience which different actors can refer to and express knowledge and experience about. Boundary objects may therefore be engaged in a process that allows different actors to make references, demonstrate ideas, present arguments, or facilitate communication.

Oftentimes, assemblages of objects are required to enable coordination between multiple actors, with objects representing greater informational intricacy as the complexity of tasks increases (Carlile, 2002). By considering how an object “gathers around itself a different assembly of relevant parties,” one can discover what form of “object-orientated democracy” is at work (Latour, 2005, pp. 4–6). Investigating this object-orientated democracy gives clues as to who is involved in FRM and at which stages, by tracing the involved parties creating and using objects within the network. This is important when assessing the social justice and trust elements of boundary-spanning as mentioned in Boundary and Intermediary Literature.

Spatial planning in a flood risk zone demonstrates how different objects can be assembled in an object-orientated democracy. Flood risk scientists and planning authorities may use flood risk maps to communicate their risk priorities surrounding a river to citizens whose priority for the river might be ensuring a high real-estate value for their riverside house. Meanwhile, homeowners may use financial and legal documents to demonstrate their investment into the riparian landscape where their property sits. They might therefore encourage intervention into improving their flood risk scenarios, by managing the river, thus affecting both the risk manager’s flood map and the homeowner’s real-estate value. In this example, several different objects comprising ideas, documents, and places are assembled around the river for parties to demonstrate, communicate, and negotiate actors’ priorities and ideas.

At the second scale, a boundary object mediates between its constituent parts. This ties in with reversible black-boxing form of mediation described in Latour (1994). By considering the internal mediation of action and process within objects such as rivers, maps, and models, we can trace how an object was created or how its actions or purpose precipitated. Within a flood risk map, for example, various mediations occur. The definition and calculation of risk using recorded, observed, and modeled flood levels, and their subsequent demarcation on an image will have included multiple actors and knowledge sources to create and define (Brown & Damery, 2002). Boundary objects must therefore be realized to be the products of negotiation and therefore power. The choice of flood risk parameters, for example, is not without political or scientific deliberation, consultation, and controversy about which knowledge is included and why (Carlile, 2004). Actors who create a boundary object and then use it for mediation are likely to understand better the processes of object creation and can better justify or accept decisions derived from it (e.g., flood hazard maps). The ability for actor–object substantiation is important for engendering trust in communication, particularly when it surrounds a topic of controversy (Jasanoff, 1996).

The example of hydraulic computer modeling in Otley, Yorkshire in Case Studies of Boundary Organizations and Objects will demonstrate how a boundary object was created and used and how it engaged other objects around itself to facilitate working at multiple scales.

Case Studies of Boundary Organizations and Objects

The two case studies presented here address how some of the boundary types outlined in Table 1 have been spanned in Yorkshire in the U.K. The examples follow the structure of discussing boundary organizations and boundary objects, and seek to demonstrate a fluid dynamic between different scales of intermediation and the network of actors and objects involved in one catchment’s FRM attempts. It is important to note that although the contributions to boundary spanning have been structured according to boundary types, these are not the only boundaries that the organization or project spans, and should not be considered finite.

Rivers Trusts as Boundary Organizations

The Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust (YDRT) works in the Swale, Ure, Upper Ouse, and Nidd catchments in northeast England. The Trust works collaboratively with multiple riparian users and stakeholders to ensure safe water quality and quantity from source to mouth of its catchment rivers. The Rivers Trust organization is not a boundary organization that works for the sake of intermediation per se, but uses intermediary processes and tools to conduct its work and achieve its aims for sustainable FRM.

The YDRT’s priority for FRM in its four catchments is to identify and use opportunities to manage flooding using Natural Flood Management (NFM) approaches. NFM signals a move away from hard engineered flood solutions that typically seek to move water through the catchment as quickly as possible to reduce flood impacts in certain areas. Instead, NFM seeks to slow the flow of water and use natural storage, interception, and infiltration opportunities to reduce the rate and volume of waters flowing to flood-vulnerable areas, while reducing the financial, cultural, and ecological cost of traditionally engineered solutions.

The YDRT addresses the following boundary types:

  1. a. Knowledge (hydrological experience and informational access)

  2. b. Practice (method)

  3. c. Priority (ideology, focus of work)

  4. d. Scale (spatial and institutional)

The YDRT works using the Catchment Based Approach (CaBA) to achieve NFM. The CaBA was set up by the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) in 2011 to contribute to its legal requirement of meeting EU Water Framework Directive targets to achieve sustainable and integrated catchment management. The CaBA allows the Rivers Trust to work alongside and bring together other ENGOs, stakeholder groups (e.g., Angling Trust), and government organizations (e.g., Environment Agency, Defra) to deliver integrated water resources management in a Catchment Management Plan. These plans would consolidate other locally produced, sector-specific catchment plans and recommendations from different organizations.

Knowledge Boundaries

Charlotte Simons, Senior Catchment Partnership Project Officer, explains the importance of an integrated Catchment Management Plan to bridging knowledge boundaries:

Each person involved has knowledge about their part of the river but nobody knows all of the river—by working in partnership all these smaller parts can be brought together to give a fuller picture. Each partner will also have objectives they would like to achieve and in the partnership, these are brought together and multi-objective schemes are brought forward, so even if the primary objective could be work relating to the Water Framework Directive or flooding, there are other elements that get addressed such as education, water friendly farming etc. (written correspondence, May 23, 2017).

The YDRT uses multiple spaces and pathways to intermediate the knowledges that lie within and between different groups. Written correspondence with Charlotte Simons and Rita Mercer (both Senior Catchment Partnership Project Officers at the YDRT) explained the importance of face-to-face meetings, site visits, and their webpage. YDRT employees and volunteers use physical and online tools to consolidate their work, aid explanation, and bridge boundaries caused by disparities in technical language, priority, or knowledge. Specifically, the integrated Catchment Plan utilizes a map found on their online home page: “I find maps to be a good basis for sharing information . . . [and] this allows us to bring many sources of information together in one place and show them in a form that many people find easy to follow” (written correspondence, Charlotte Simons, YDRT, May 23, 2017). The YDRT shares data and “evidence packs” produced by the Environment Agency on its webpage, to help ground the importance of its work and demonstrate the aims of other organizations working within their catchments.

Both Rita Mercer and Charlotte Simons considered that without the YDRT, local FRM would be more likely to exclude stakeholders such as citizens and involve fewer community engagement efforts. Furthermore, they assess that local FRM projects would likely be less coordinated and integrated across the catchment were government institutions such as the Environment Agency solely responsible for their management. Charlotte Simons asserted that the positionality of the YDRT within a network of other Rivers Trusts is vitally important in eliminating the requirement to reinvent the wheel each time a FRM project is undertaken. Rather, the Rivers Trust organization as a whole facilitates inter-Trust learning, experience sharing, and training, which is important for the YDRT to approach its work in an informed and relevant manner. This improves the efficacy of management processes and objectives. The YDRT’s work as a boundary organization therefore demonstrates the intermediation literature on legitimate, more equitable (by including groups which might otherwise be excluded) and efficient boundary work discussed in Boundary and Intermediary Literature (Adger et al., 2005; Kooiman, 2003).

Practices and Priorities

These CaBA management plans also help span boundaries created by different practices (e.g., histories of interinstitutional working and points of engagement with other riparian users and with the catchment’s geography itself) and priorities. By being created by multiple users, the Rivers Trust can create a pathway between different praxes via meetings and formal documentation to enable coordinated working and understanding of people’s priorities. In carrying out this work, the YDRT also begins to bridge the task of aligning institutions’ aspirations for the catchments, in terms of hydrological utility, and develop cross-party understandings of the different financial and political resources available to pursue certain management aims. This is important for providing effective governance strategies for the catchment as mentioned by Nye et al. (2011) and Orr et al. (2007) in the literature review.


The YDRT also spans institutional spaces, therefore intermediating boundaries of scale, by coproducing boundary objects with other organizations to contribute to NFM efforts. Their collaboration with the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, North Yorkshire County Council, Environment Agency, and Natural England to produce an information pack to make NFM relevant and useful to farmers in its catchments is one such example (written correspondence, Rita Mercer, YDRT, May 23, 2017). This demonstrates how the organization worked across institutional and scalar boundaries (i.e., between farmers and the Environment Agency) to pursue the communication of an agenda to a target audience.

Furthermore, the YDRT is institutionally situated within the FRM system in such a way that it can convey information upwards (i.e., to the national level where the umbrella Rivers Trust organization can represent regional concerns and experiences) and downwards (i.e., to catchment users such as farmers, residents, and recreational representatives). Its positionality therefore allows it to intermediate FRM information between multiple scales, and adjust its working from national requirements to local priorities (Wenger, 2000). By working within a network of Rivers Trusts connected horizontally to other organizations such as Defra and the Environment Agency, the YDRT can attain access to data that might otherwise be challenging if working in a noncollaborative manner.

At the catchment level, the YDRT is responsible for hosting the Dales to Vales River Network, a “catchment partnership which brings together local people, communities, organizations, and businesses to make decisions on managing the interconnected bodies of water in the catchment area” (YDRT, 2017). This work involves supplying expertise from within the Rivers Trust when required, or engaging experts from outside organizations (e.g., modeling consultants), to supporting project partners working on FRM. The YDRT does not always take the lead on partnership projects, but can work as a facilitator between other stakeholders. “The catchment hosts [YDRT] are seen as being a trusted intermediary, between the statutory interests, water companies, local authorities, communities and other partnerships” (written correspondence, Rita Mercer, YDRT, May 5, 2017). This supports the emphasis that Jasanoff (2004) and Cash et al. (2003) place on the utility and necessity of boundary-spanning for trust-building in the context of neutral working fora.

Positioning the YDRT’s situation within the national and local FRM network is helpful in guiding our understanding of its importance as a boundary organization. Clearly, much of the benefit granted by integrated working between organizations is that the YDRT can maximize the use of specialized and contextual knowledge to facilitate FRM project work. The YDRT acts as an intermediary to convey knowledge from different scales and institutional locations. It can assimilate and repackage information in a manner that target audiences are more likely to engage with and understand, thus improving the chances of effective FRM efforts. Furthermore, it is evident that academic literature’s assertion that boundary work must be done to encourage stakeholder trust is true in this context.

Flood Simulation Models as Boundary Objects

This section untangles the role of a hydraulic flood simulation model as a boundary object and draws upon original research carried out by the author and colleagues at the University of Oxford.1 The “Community Modelling” project took place in collaboration with a flood-affected community on the River Wharfe in Otley, Yorkshire, England. I discuss why and how a model was created in the context of intermediation. Whilst I specifically draw out the model’s utility in bridging divides in institutional histories (E) and language (F), the project did significant work to bridge all boundaries listed in Table 1, particularly in terms of knowledge difference.

The Model in the FRM Context

Otley experienced severe groundwater and surface water flooding in November and December 2015, with 52 homes inundated. Community Modelling for FRM therefore sought to use a hydraulic computer model (the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ “HEC-RAS” model) to function as a boundary object between hydrologists, flood-affected residents, local decision makers and academics. The purpose of the Community Modelling methodology was for citizens to create a hydraulic computer model, and with the academics’ support, citizen project members defined what they wanted modeled and how. Meetings between concerned citizens, the YDRT, and the academics took place wherein the model was chosen, its parameters defined, its content created, and its outputs shared by participants with the wider Otley community and FRM decision makers (i.e., spatial and institutional scale bridged). The model therefore become a mechanism to create new knowledge for residents, the academics, and practitioners to better understand local flooding processes and FRM by using the model as a bridge and point of reference between different knowledge and practice groups. This demonstrates Wenger’s (2000) encouragement of intermediation for the purpose of creating new knowledge.

Often within FRM, modeling is nonparticipatory, with citizens informed only of the decisions emanating from modeling outputs (Rowe & Frewer, 2000). At best, participatory modeling has been engaging nonexperts in the modeling process by using local expertise to cross-check the accuracy and representativeness of modeling outputs (Hare, 2011). However, the creation of space within the model and FRM process for flood affected residents by incorporating them into the generation of scientifically grounded in the form of a hydraulic model countered this phenomenon and improved the infiltration of public participation and citizen perceptions into local flood management. Indeed, one of the purposes of the project was to make FRM suggestions more locally appropriate and acceptable, as was found to be possible in Pickering (Lane et al., 2011).

Institutional Histories (and Scales)

Table 2 outlines the different stakeholders involved in facilitating the project and what their institutional histories comprised. The groups involved in the project had a diverse set of experiences in (participatory) FRM.

During the stages of model creation, intermediary work was conducted by joining distinct stakeholder groups who might otherwise not have collaborated on the Otley flood risk issue. It joined academics with citizens who typically had no point for contact and facilitated communication between decision makers and those affected by decisions made. The model created a foundation for the Community Modelling group to span institutional boundaries between themselves, government authorities, and other flood affected/interested citizens. The model became a reference point for individuals with different opinions surrounding FRM to discuss, discover, and understand varying ideas. The HEC-RAS model was joined by other boundary objects to aid mediation between different institutional scales and working formats. A project report of the group’s findings and technical report of how the model was built were presented to the Environment Agency and Leeds City Council. A communications piece was published for the wider Otley community to facilitate local understanding of the flooding issue.

Producing the model was important for reversing some locals’ perceptions of institutions’ histories of omitting their local knowledge from the hydrological science-making process. As such, the model became a pathway to flatten out different institutions’ management methods and create a new, shared flood management technique as cocreated by multiple parties.

As discussed in Boundary and Intermediary Literature, intermediation and cocreation can contribute significantly towards ensuring management decisions are locally informed and appropriate. Intermediation may also improve chances for consent and public support for intervention techniques. Local knowledge in combination with expert knowledge offers the opportunity to enhance scientific understanding of a phenomenon, and this was experienced in Otley.

Table 2. Actors Involved in the Modeling Project and Their Motivations for Model Creation. This table does not draw conclusions about the political motivations of each actor, which one must acknowledge were present in some form


Role in Community Modeling Project

Institutional History in FRM

Direct Involvement in Modeling?

University Academic Team

  • Designed participatory modeling methodology

  • Facilitated model creation by recruiting participants and obtained data to use within model

  • Set up meetings between modeling participants and local authorities

  • Both social and physical scientists with experience of running similar coproduced flood risk modeling projects (Pickering—Lane et al., 2011).

  • Academic interest in involving non-expert knowledge in flood management and modeling.

  • Strong understanding of FRM government policy contexts.


Otley Town Council

  • Invited University to Otley

  • Sat on project Advisory Group board

  • Participatory modeling a new endeavor.

  • Strong local political and social imperatives for engagement.

  • Bottom-up prioritization system (i.e., local priorities key).



  • Six citizen participants

  • Contributed historical and experiential knowledge of flood events

  • Interaction with Environment Agency at public consultation events post-2015 flooding.

  • Production of documents for the EA and LCC outlining suggestions for FRM.


Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust

  • Contributed insight about Wharfe catchment management and Natural Flood Management

  • History of community engagement throughout Wharfe catchment.

  • Be involved in a community engagement project to understand key concerns of people in Otley.


Government Authority and its contractors:

  • Leeds City Council (LCC)

  • Environment Agency

  • Contributed topographic and flow data for use in the model

  • Met with citizen modeling group members to discuss findings from the project.

  • LCC and EA:

    • o History of community consultation and meetings after floods, but no direct engagement pathway into modeling.

    • o Subcontraction of local modeling responsibilities by LCC to companies with basic participatory modeling experience but understandings of HEC-RAS models.

    • o In-house modelers (EA) working with LCC.



The process of creating the model (see Boundary Objects) demonstrated the variety and complexity of knowledge involved in FRM loaded with subject-specific jargon, particularly hydrology. Creating the model required an understanding of different parameters used in model configuration (e.g., “Manning’s ‘n’” for channel roughness) and required skill on part of the academic hydraulic modeler to explain these terms in a manner which was relatable without diluting their meaning, and yet allowed citizen participants to use them in discussion. Furthermore, in reverse, the academic modeler was partially reliant on local knowledge to understand references to place names and to translate peoples’ hydraulic references (e.g., the water flowed past my front door at a walking pace speed, at a depth of about two foot) into a value of discharge that was possible to input into the model.

While it was the modeler who did the translation of jargon in a semantic sense, the hydraulic model necessitated the need for this translation in order for it to be used and create outputs. In this respect the model is therefore a boundary object. The model then produced output images which translated linguistic descriptions into an image that negated the need for the modeler to translate technical jargon further to other audiences. The translation of flood experiences had already occurred and was embedded within the image in a manner that non-technically trained individuals could then interpret. This therefore demonstrates how the hydraulic model created assemblies of objects around itself (Latour, 2005).

Critically, the integration of local flood experiences into the model ensured that community-derived knowledge was represented in a syntactic format that other hydrologists at the EA and contracted consulting firms could understand and work with. The representation of lay language within the model by an experienced academic hydrologist gave the community’s experiences greater credence in a formal setting than might otherwise have been granted if presented in a community engagement meeting.

It is clear therefore from these two explanations that a single object can assemble around it multiple individuals and stakeholder groups. The object assembled people in a manner that allowed existing knowledges to be explored and utilized in order to make new shared knowledges (Wenger, 2000). The relation of people to this object and the credence of knowledge gave its outputs added legitimacy, demonstrating the importance of cocreation across different boundaries that often emerge in FRM (Cash et al., 2003; Wynne, 2006).


This chapter’s review of intermediary literature surrounding the motivations and pathways of boundary-spanning demonstrate that intermediation is about moving and translating knowledge between people and places in a manner that engenders trust and legitimate working between different parties. The chapter demonstrates the mechanisms and necessities for multi-scalar process of intermediation—both horizontally and vertically between institutions and spaces.

These processes are particularly important in supporting a management paradigm that requires the integration and involvement of multiple stakeholders with different specialties, priorities, and institutional frameworks. The examples in this article have demonstrated the importance of organizations and objects as intermediaries in a FRM system, particularly in relation to community engagement practices. The YDRT and Community Modelling project emphasize the importance of an institutional framework that facilitates cooperative and integrated management. Their work as intermediaries for engagement is not possible without some recognition from governmental bodies that intermediaries’ contributions are valuable and tangible, and thus highlights the need to see further discussions of the use of intermediaries to ensure that FRM is environmentally and politically sustainable.


With thanks for Charlotte Simons and Rita Mercer of the Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust for their interview contributions via email to this article.

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Lane, S. N., Odoni, N., Landström, C., Whatmore, S. J., Ward, N., & Bradley, S. (2011). Doing flood risk science differently: An experiment in radical scientific method. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 36(1), 15–36.Find this resource:

Orr, P., Colvin, J., & King, D. (2007). Involving stakeholders in integrated river basin planning in England and Wales. Water Resources Management, 21, 331–349.Find this resource:

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(1.) “From Environmental Competency Groups to Community Flood Modelling: Demonstrating Impact in Otley”: ESRC IAA Impact Acceleration Award 1602-KEA-200