In the Netherlands, dealing with the risk of flooding in the face of the current climate change requires a governance approach that is less based upon the long-standing tradition of prevention and protection, and more oriented toward ideas of resilience and adaptivity. Such an approach is assumed to be more resilient compared to static approaches and better equipped to deal with the indeterminate character of a problem like flood risk. This article presents the Dutch attempt to introduce a more polycentric and adaptive governance approach in flood management, called multilayered safety (MLS). We studied this approach via interviews and an extensive document study, and analyzed the institutions governing the issue using the Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) framework of Elinor Ostrom. For years, the issue was in the hands of a small network of actors, mainly occupied by water experts and governed by a strong lead organization and permanent bodies. While introducing a new, more adaptive policy concept the government encountered both resistance and inability within the existing policy regime. This article shows that the issue of flood safety was successfully ‘tamed’ for decades. Adopting a more adaptive and polycentric approach necessitates ‘untaming’ the issue of flood safety.
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