Managing Retreat in Canada: Framework for the Evaluation of Property Buyout Programs
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With the incidence of severe flooding on the rise, Canada’s traditional approach of defending against and rebuilding after floods has become unsustainable. Managed retreat presents a practical policy option to reduce long-term flood risk by relocating people, buildings, and infrastructure from high-risk areas. It is commonly accomplished through a property buyout, where the government pays to acquire the properties of private homeowners and restore the land to an undeveloped state. Yet, despite the risk reduction benefits, this intervention is socially and politically contentious. The literature offers recommendations for the design and implementation of property buyout programs to improve the experience for homeowners but has yet to reach a consensus on what defines an effective program. This thesis aims to situate the role of evaluation in property buyout programs and identify criteria appropriate for characterizing their success. Semi-structured interviews (n=20) were conducted with academic subject matter experts, government officials, and practitioners with experience in managed retreat. Through a thematic analysis of the data, the theoretical criteria for policy evaluation (i.e., goal attainment, efficiency, political viability, robustness, flexibility, legitimacy, and equity) were compared with the actual experiences of individuals in delivering buyout programs in a Canadian context. The criteria deemed appropriate for evaluating property buyout programs were assembled into a framework, and indicators to assess the various dimensions of effectiveness were proposed. This research reveals that property buyouts are often conceived as one-off programs, undervaluing the role of evaluation. Evaluation, if completed at all, is typically informal without much deliberation given to the criteria that inform the process. The framework presented here supports a systematic assessment process to ensure that the social impacts of buyouts are considered alongside government-driven metrics such as goal attainment and cost efficiency. The evaluation findings should be shared among jurisdictions to build the capacity of governments to deliver these programs and advance policy learning on a larger scale.
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Leah Whittaker (2021). Managing Retreat in Canada: Framework for the Evaluation of Property Buyout Programs. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/17622