Although the nonlinear power form model structure is widely accepted by practitioners in the flood regionalization modelling, there is a lack of studies on whether there is a room for further improvement, and if the answer is yes, what should be done to explore alternative model structures. A framework is proposed in this study towards investigating this issue by the following steps: (i) a universal data-driven model is utilized to see if there is a room for improvement compared with the conventional model, and (ii) if improvement is achieved, this means that there should exist more effective model structures than the current form. However, because the universal data-driven models are usually opaque, more explicit model structures should be explored, which are convenient for practical usage. In this study, the proposed framework is applied in a case study using the catchment characteristics from the Flood Estimation Handbook in conjunction with the gamma test, support vector machine (SVM) and genetic programming (GP). First, the gamma test is used for the purpose of input variables selection where no model structure needs to be defined as a priori, and therefore, the result can be applied to any model structures for model building. Second, an SVM, which is a powerful data-driven nonlinear model capable of modelling a variety of nonlinear systems, is applied to the index flood model for the first time. Once the best model is determined using those two data-driven tools, GP is employed to find an alternative model structure. As the SVM is not formulated for producing explicit model functional form, the GP offers an advantage at this point where it can infer an explicit mathematical model functional form. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.