The Dutch have great confidence in water managers, but it is not self-evident

Published on
October 27, 2021

Trust among the Dutch population in Rijkswaterstaat (national water management authority) and the waterboards is high, researchers of Wageningen University & Research show in a recent study. This trust seems to be largely based upon the reputation of water managers in keeping the Netherlands safe from flooding. Trust in managing drought, water quality and nature is, however, lower. This shows that trust in water managers cannot be taken for granted and faces several challenges.

High scores

Both Rijkswaterstaat and the waterboards receive high trust scores from the Dutch public (7.8 and 7.6 respectively). These scores are largely influenced by the trust citizens have in the capacities of these organisations to protect citizens against flooding and high tides. These numbers are relatively high compared to general trust in government. However, the study also shows that decreased trust in government institutions and their representatives affects trust in water managers negatively.

Focusing on the key-tasks of water managers such as drought management, surface water quality and nature conservation the study shows that these tasks receive a lower trust mark (on average 7.4 for Rijkswaterstaat and 7.3 for the waterboards). This shows that especially trust in these specific tasks requires attention. This can be explained by the fact that the public holds diverging opinions on how to deal with these issues responsibly.  

More knowledge does not mean more trust

Moreover, the study also shows that feeling more informed about water management does not necessarily lead to more trust. This can be explained by the fact that more insights in water management leads to more insights in the associated risks, which ultimately leads to the situation that people have higher expectations of water managers.

Related to this, the study also indicates that direct interaction and participation with stakeholders directly involved does not automatically lead to more trust. Results show that it is especially worthwhile to inform those who feel moderately informed about water management in order to increase trust.