Patience, persistence and pre-signals: Policy dynamics of planned relocation in Austria
Thomas Thaler, Sebastian Seebauer, Arthur Schindelegger
Global Environmental Change Volume 63, 7/2020
Within the wide array of adaptive responses to flood hazards, planned relocation of residents at risk is usually only taken into account if other responses are ineffective or unavailable. Residents targeted by planned relocation are confronted with radical changes in their livelihood; therefore, relocation is highly contested within public risk discourse. The present paper assesses dynamic processes in the design and implementation of voluntary planned relocation in the Austrian Danube catchment over five decades. Using the Multiple Streams Approach, the emergence of policy windows is mapped to developments in the problem, political, policy and population streams. A mixed-methods design combines semi-structured interviews of 88 affected households and 21 decision-makers with archival research. Repeated flood events underscored that standard protection did not suffice for all riverside communities. In consequence, national authorities acted as policy entrepreneurs to advocate planned relocation and direct the discourse; by contrast, local stakeholders and residents played a mostly passive role. The relocation policy developed from ad-hoc informal arrangements towards a formalised procedure. Relocation governance evolved as incremental change over a long time span instead of immediate, radical disruption. Policy acceptance by residents depended crucially on social learning and on coincidence with personal circumstances and biographical stages. Policy windows opened for several years, when pre-signals from ongoing public debate accumulated and the different timescales in the decision-making of public administrators, elected representatives and residents aligned. Key factors were long-term perspective, flexibility, engagement and social capacity at a local level to deal with and manage planned relocation.
Keywords: Relocation, Resettlement, Managed retreat, Floods, Policy implementation, Resilience