Containing Belgian coastal threats

How ‘SuperStormen’ launched a public and political debate

Context and question

The Belgian coast is facing a double threat: increasing sand erosion and rising sea levels. Mitigating these risks will require public investments. Yet the security risks looming over coastal towns have received little attention in the public debate or in the media. In 2011 THV Vlaamse Baaien, founded by Dredging International and Jan De Nul, enlisted the help of Callebaut Collective to increase public and political vigilance, and to raise more active awareness of the dangers threatening the coastal region.

Approach

Our first step was to conduct a thorough framing exercise focused on the various target audiences – from the general public on the one hand, to civil society stakeholders such as nature conservation associations and lawmakers. Through intake conversations with the various stakeholders, we built a picture of the different environments and starting points of the stakeholders, and defined a common, public focus based on this, which we gave the title ‘SuperStormen’.

The project is built on the premise that the communication begins with the potential danger of super storms and flooding, followed and complemented by solutions that can contain their future threat. This is how we made the threat tangible in a first step and built an emotional connection with the target audience. This was paired with solutions for the problem, which brought release. This approach allowed us to not only draw attention to and increase awareness of this problem; ‘SuperStormen’ also functioned as a conversation starter and facilitated the public debate around this issue.

Subsequent steps consisted of the creation of a steering committee that included relevant civil society stakeholders, the organisation of two ‘events of concern’ in 2011 and 2013, and the launch of an online platform that kept the issue alive and topical. The aim of all this was to build the needed support among the public at large and decision-makers, as well as to promote a dialogue between the public and the partners.

Reslut

4SuperStormen’ increased public awareness of the issue and built greater political and social support for the needed mitigating measures. The project also resulted in the launch of the Blauwe Cluster (‘Blue Cluster’), a partnership between several large companies that focuses on developing and promoting economic activities at sea.

People involved

Jan Callebaut (kernteam)
Jan Callebaut
Sarah Steenhaut (kernteam)
Sarah Steenhaut, Ph.D.
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