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Dr Karen Potter

Profile summary

  • Research Staff
  • Research Fellow (Collaborative Governance)
  • The Faculty of Business and Law
  • The Open University Business School
  • Department for Public Leadership and Social Enterprise
  • karen.potter

Professional biography

Karen joined the OU in March 2016 as a Research Fellow in Collaborative Governance in the Department of Public Leadership and Social Enterprise (PuLSE). She has been involved with one of the University's priority research areas aimed at addressing 21st century global challenges, Citizenship and Governance, rethinking the changing relationships between states, markets and citizens in the 21st century and the challenges of governance and leadership - including climate change.  She has also recently commenced teaching Environmental Studies; U116 Environment: journeys through a changing world.

With a background in environmental management and planning, Karen initially worked in practice at the Forestry Commission and as Local Authority Planner, involved in the development of regeneration partnerships and task groups across departments, government agencies and stakeholders (flood risk, water quality, access, natural environment). It was due to the institutional challenges experienced as a practitioner, endeavoring to implement novel policy in natural flood risk management, that she returned to academia and was drawn to interpretative policy analysis methods to challenge environmental policy transition and transformation.  Previously lecturing in the Department of Geography and Planning (University of Liverpool), Karen has extended her interdisciplinary research to collaborative governance theory, to gain further insight into the challenges faced by practitioners and policy makers involved in water management, wider environmental partnerships and climate change adaptation.

Education and qualifications:

  • Certificate in Professional Studies in Learning and Teaching (Distinction), University of Liverpool (2012-2015)
  • PhD, Department of Geography & Planning, University of Liverpool (2008-2012) - 'Battle for the Floodplains: An Institutional Analysis of Water Management & Planning in England'
  • MCD (Distinction), Town and Country Planning, University of Liverpool (2004-2006)
  • MSc Environmental Management, University of Sunderland (1991-1992)
  • BSc (Hons) Neurobiology, University of Sussex (1986-1989)


Research interests

Karen's research explores environmental change through theoretically informed, interpretative and comparative policy analysis. She sees herself as a ‘pracademic’, connecting theory to effect practice; to understand policy implementation deficits and the feasibility of environmental change within the limits of dominant neo-liberal and techno-centric discourses. Her aim is to question current governance models and institutionalised thinking and (within the limits of current governance models) to clarify practitioners’ ‘obstacles’ in order to facilitate policy transition and transformation. 

Her particular area of expertise is the integration of spatial planning and flood risk management, particularly natural flood management, understanding the socio-political forces that increase flood risk, how spatial planning policy can contribute to risk governance in hazard-prone areas, how planners can integrate with neighbouring sectors and stakeholders to bring about land use change and resilience to climate change. As her own academic background spans the natural and social sciences, in addition to being applied and practitioner facing, she is drawn to transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches, working with engineers, physical geographers, ecologists, environmental scientists and other disciplines within and external to the OU.

Achieving Urban Flood Resilience in an Uncertain Future (EPSRC funded research):

Karen is currently working with OU colleague Dr. Tudor Vilcan and a multi-disciplinary research consortium on the EPSRC-funded research project - 'Achieving Flood Resilience in an Uncertain Future', led by Professor Colin Thorne, University of Nottingham.  The multi-disciplinary project aims to enable the coordinated planning, design and operation of closely coupled urban water systems necessary to achieve transformative change in urban flood risk and water management. Karen and Tudor's aim in WP5 is to establish how resilient urban flood risk management service can be put at the heart of urban planning and how barriers to innovation can be overcome despite uncertainties in future urban climates, land-use, development and political leadership.

Open University PI (Lead - University of Nottingham), £270k, EPSRC (2016-2019)

Previous research projects and activity include:

  • Open University Strategic Research Area, Collaborative Governance Theory in ‘Catchment Partnerships’, PI £5k, OU Internal Funding (2016)
  • University of Liverpool Faculty Teaching Pilot (Environmental Sustainability); Co-I, After the earthquake – adapting to large changes in student cohorts (2015)
  • WaterCore Action Group on Regional Governance of Water Scarcity and Drought Issues; Co-I, EC European Innovation Partnership
  • Knowledge Transfer Partnership; Breakdown of Institutional Barriers to Natural Approaches to Flood Risk Management, PI £138k, NERC/Welsh Government/Technology Strategy Board (2012-2016)
  • Celtic Seas Partnership (CSP); Co-I, LIFE+ EC (2013-2016)
  • Pioneers in Urban-Rural Entrepeneurship Hub; Co-I, Interreg EC (2012-2014)

Editorial Reviewer:

Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis; Journal of Flood Risk Management; International Journal of Water Governance; Town Planning Review; Journal of Environmental Assessment Policy & Management


Teaching interests

PhD Supervision:

Lindsey Elliott "Transdisciplinary collaboration in conservation" (Siv Vangen - Primary Supervisor)

Associate Lecturer (Wales):

U116 Environment: journeys through a changing world


Lecturer, School of Environmental Sciences, University of Liverpool (2011-2016)

Karen previously contributed to the continued development of a varied portfolio of UG, PGT and PGR modules and programmes in Planning, Geography and Environmental Management. Module co-ordinator for Masters Dissertations (50-100 students), 2nd yr UG Environmental Sustainability (100-180 students), contribution to Spatial Planning in Action, Cities and Regions,Human Impacts on the Environment, Green Infrastructure, Making Plans and Planning Practice Placement.  She was Director of Postgraduate Research for Planning, with overarching responsibility for 34 PhD students, moderator for Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University (XJTLU) China modules and former discipline Assessment Officer, delivering on and advising on the University's design, implementation and review of assessment, e.g. academic integrity policy, progression requirements, Module Review Boards and the External Examination process.

Karen's pedagogical research explored interdisciplinary perspectives in ‘Education for Sustainable Development’ and the lecturer’s challenge of implementing the University strategy of internationalisation of the curriculum at the ‘chalk face’.  She was Co-I in the University of Liverpool Faculty Teaching Pilot (Environmental Sustainability), 'After the earthquake adapting to large changes in student cohorts' (2015).

Qualifications and Awards:

  • Certificate in Professional Studies in Learning & Teaching in Higher Education [CPS] with Distinction
  • HEA Fellowship (2016-ongoing)
  • Green Gown Award Finalist 2016, Environmental Association for Universities & Colleges (EAUC)
  • Faculty Learning and Teaching Award winner (2015) Spatial Planning in Action


Impact and engagement

Karen is a member of the Welsh Government's Flood and Coastal Erosion Committee, with the committee's role of advising Welsh Ministers on all flood and coastal erosion risk management matters in Wales, including raising awareness, preparation and community resilience to flooding.   

She is also a member of the Defra/EA/WG/NRW Thematic Advisory Group (TAG) for Flood Risk Management Policy, Strategy and Investment (2014-present).  Theme Advisory Groups (TAGs) support Defra/EA/WG/NRW Joint Programme of flood and coastal erosion risk management research and development in a horizon scanning capacity and in the development of research proposals.

Karen is working with the Ribble Rivers Trust and Ribble Life as part of DEFRA's more holistic catchment-based approach to better engage with people and organisations in river basin management.

Karen is also a long standing member of the River Restoration Centre (2005 – present), British Hydrological Society (2007 – present) and was previously Chair and Deputy Chair of the RTPI Cymru/Wales Policy and Research Forum (2010 – 2017).



Natural Flood Management: Beyond the evidence debate (2019)
Wingfield, Thea; Macdonald, Neil; Peters, Kim; Spees, Jack and Potter, Karen
Area ((Early Access))
Exploring the potential for collaborative leadership through a policy lens: a comparative analysis of children's services and flood risk management (2019)
Jacklin-Jarvis, Carol and Potter, Karen
International Journal of Public Administration ((In Press))
Introducing Adaptive Flood Risk Management in England, New Zealand, and the Netherlands: The Impact of Administrative Traditions (2018-11-28)
van Buuren, Arwin; Lawrence, Judy; Potter, Karen and Warner, Jeroen F.
Review of Policy Research, 35(6) (pp. 907-929)
A tale of two states? A comparative study of cross-sector collaboration in children’s services and flood risk management (2018-03-31)
Jacklin-Jarvis, Carol and Potter, Karen
Voluntary Sector Review, 9(1) (pp. 89-97)
Responding to a ‘flood of criticism’: analysing the ebbs and flows of planning and floodplain development in England (1926–2015) (2016-03-30)
Potter, Karen; Ludwig, Carol and Beattie, Charlotte
Town Planning Review, 87(2) (pp. 125-138)
"What’s Love Got to Do With It?” Some reflections on the Internationalisation of planning education (2015-07)
Sykes, Olivier; Jha-Thakur, Urmila and Potter, Karen
Planning Education, 3 (pp. 82-91)
Making space for institutional change? A comparative case study on regime stability & change in river flood management in the Netherlands & England (2015)
Van Buuren, Arwin; Potter, Karen; Warner, Jeroen and Fischer, Thomas
International Journal of Water Governance, 3(3) (pp. 81-100)
Municipal waste management strategies: strategic environmental assessment and the consideration of climate change in England (2011-12)
Fischer, Thomas B.; Potter, Karen; Donaldson, Stuart and Scott, Tony
Journal of Environmental Assessment Policy and Management, 13(4) (pp. 541-565)
Engineers and planners: sustainable water management alliances (2011-12)
Potter, Karen; Ward, Sarah; Shaw, David; Macdonald, Neil; White, Iain; Fischer, Thomas; Butler, David and Kellagher, Richard
Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers - Engineering Sustainability, 164(ES4) (pp. 239-247)
Finding "Space for Water": crossing concrete policy thresholds in England (2012-11-01)
Potter, Karen
In: Warner, Jeroen Frank; Van Buuren, Arwin and Edelenbos, Jurian eds. Making Space for the River: Governance Experiences with Multifunctional River Flood Management in the US and Europe (pp. 89-101)
ISBN : 9781780401126 | Publisher : IWA Publishing | Published : London
How to Evaluate Catchment Based Partnerships & Avoid a Watered Down Approach? (2019)
Potter, Karen and Jacklin-Jarvis, Carol
In : 2019 Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference: A civil society for the future: setting the agenda for the voluntary sector and volunteering research in the 2020s (10-11 Sep 2019, Aston University, Birmingham, UK)
Brokering relationships with the state: what new understandings can ‘environmental catchment VOs’ filter from the social welfare domain? (2018)
Potter, Karen and Jacklin-Jarvis, Carol
In : The Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference 2018 (6-7 Sep 2018, London, UK)
Collaboration and the governance of public services delivery (2017-11-08)
Vangen, Siv; Potter, Karen and Jacklin-Jarvis, Carol
In : Symposium on the policy and reform trajectory of public services in the UK and Japan (8-9 Nov 2017, Japan)
Collaborative public leadership: does problem context matter? (2017-03-27)
Jacklin-Jarvis, Carol and Potter, Karen
In : 2nd International Public & Political Leadership (PUPOL) Conference - Leadership for Public and Social Value (06-07 Apr 2017, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK)
How does problem context matter for cross-sector collaboration? A comparative study of voluntary sector engagement in children’s services and flood management (2017)
Jacklin-Jarvis, Carol and Potter, Karen
In : The Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference 2017 (Sep 2017, Nottingham, UK)
Hydrology and Spatial Planning (2010)
Macdonald, Neil; Potter, Karen and Ward, Sarah
In : British Hydrological Society: Proceedings of the Third International Symposium (2010) (pp. 659-662)
Spatial Planning and Floodplain Restoration - in the ‘Pitts’? (2009-04-01)
Potter, Karen
In : 10th River Restoration Conference (1-2 Apr 2009, University of Nottingham, UK)
Turquoise is the New Green – Planning Space for Water (2008)
Potter, Karen
In : UK-Ireland Planning Research Conference 2008 (Sustainability, Space and Social Justice) (18-20 Mar 2008, Queen's University, Belfast, UK)