EU Member States invest some €2.5 billion per year in flood protection, yet flood damages continue to increase. A new approach to the planning, design and management of flood protection assets is needed to ensure risks are better managed and asset management is aligned with broader socio-economic policies and supporting governance systems. This paper sets out a policy framework to enable this transition. The framework results from a collaboration of researchers and practitioners from around the North Sea. The findings highlight common challenges and identify four priority Policy Recommendations in response to these: ‘Break free of the silo’ by aligning planning processes; ‘Mind the gap’ between strategic and operational choices; ‘Prepare for change’ by developing multi-functional and flexible plans; and ‘Make space for innovation’ by seeking to manage risk rather than avoiding it.