The theory behind our method

”Information obtained from textbooks and lectures is of a different quality from information acquired from experience. Experientially derived knowledge is often more compelling and more likely to influence behaviour than is abstract knowledge.” — (Epstein 1994, pg 711)

Much of the thinking in this section is drawn from our academic publications, including Kamoora et al. (in review), Cook and Overpeck (2019), Cook et al. (2022) and (Cook, et al., In Press). This thinking is continuously evolving

Relationship building

Our understanding of relationship building was developed as part of an analysis of the controversy over climate change and the frustrations that climate scientists felt as a result of widespread inaction. In that piece, ‘relationships’ were defined as:

"as a long-term consensual interaction between individuals, conducted respectfully and transparently (i.e., no manipulation or predetermined ends)"
(Cook and Overpeck 2019:10)

Importantly, this definition enabled the research to commit to ‘'principles’ that can guide the types of engagement that we undertake, in our case drawing on Hicks' (2011) “dignity-based” interactions as a way of understanding how violations of dignity affect the types of interactions that individuals can have. “

Drawing on her research of post conflict reconciliation efforts, we amend Hicks' (2011) "10 essential elements” for climate experts as they consider their own interactions with publics. The recommendations include:

  1. treat all individuals as neither inferior or superior to yourself;
  2. commit to all individuals being welcome in the space of interaction;
  3. that all individuals be physically and psychologically safe and free from humiliation;
  4. “Give people your full attention by listening, hearing, validating, and responding to their concerns, feelings, and experiences” (Hicks, 2011, p. 25);
  5. that each individual is recognized for their individual talents and potential contributions;
  6. that fairness and equality guide all interactions;
  7. that all people be assumed to have good intentions until proven otherwise;
  8. the need to “Believe that what others think matters. Give them the chance to explain and express their points of view. Actively listen in order to understand them” (Hicks, 2011, p. 26);
  9. that all individuals are free to act on their own behalf so that they are in control of themselves and their lives; and
  10. that all individuals take responsibility for past actions that might have violated others' dignity.” (Cook and Overpeck 2019:10).

We believe that we learn the knowledge and skills critical to resilience from the people who we know and that it is more important that people feel comfortable in their views rather than try to 'get the question right'. To build a relationship, though, takes time, energy, and a commitment to listening – especially when engaging with people who might hold fundamentally different values. As such, when participants are willing, we seek to engage repeatedly in order to learn from community members and to provide time for the research team and participants to reflect on the situation and what was learned.

Coproduction of knowledge

Community engagements for disaster risk reduction (DRR) tend to reproduce top-down approaches to educating the public (Nakano et al., 2021), assuming that providing communities with information will lead to effective behavioural changes (Wynne, 2006) and increased community resilience (Fitzpatrick, 2016). However, research has shown that such ‘deficit models’ of engagement tend to ignore local knowledge (Blaikie et al., 1997) and alienate the public’s trust in scientific and expert opinions (Wynne, 2006; Callon, 1999), further reducing opportunities to build community resilience (Imperiale & Vanclay, 2021). In contrast, participatory research promises to genuinely empower communities in the co-production – rather than transfer – of knowledge, by actively including and valuing local knowledge and actors in the research process (Chilvers & Kearnes, 2020; Finn, 1994).

While ‘participation’ can range from community consultation to citizen control (Arnstein, 1969), research that builds relationships between publics and experts can achieve democratic goals (Chilvers & Kearnes, 2020) and successfully affect robust attitudinal and behavioural changes in communities that are resistant to longitudinal decay (Broockman & Kalla, 2016). Engaging communities in DRR research therefore offers a constructive way forward for service providers, researchers, and publics to learn together (McCall & Peters-Guarin, 2012), building trust and resilience based on mutually beneficial relationships (Cornes et al., 2019; Cook & Overpeck, 2019).

In our research, it is essential that the public be valued and free to contribute their views, ideally explaining how they would improve their community’s resilience, but also free to comment on any related issue that they feel is important. Participants’ perceptions are collected, questions are answered, and suggestions inform continuous refinement of the survey and its delivery via a bespoke web-application. Importantly, the follow-up engagements expand analyses of ‘impact’ to include whether respondents’ awareness has changed, whether their intentions to act have changed, whether they have undertaken actions, and whether they have discussed the interaction with friends, family, or neighbours. These follow-ups are not framed as shameful or as harassment (which would be counter-productive to relationship-building) but are always framed as ‘seeking a better understanding of the community’s values and actions’.

The project activities, milestones, and planned outputs arise from engagements on the topic of flood risk reduction, with attention, also, on the benefits that accrue to community wellbeing and resilience. This framing is key to a rigorous understanding of the value of meaningful participation (i.e., the value of direct actions taken to reduce flood risk plus the value of connection and wellbeing resulting from involvement), which is a primary outcome of this project.

Spillover effects

Our methodology recognises that resilience is a social resource which flows through communities via communicative networks and relationships of care (Pfefferbaum et al., 2017; Nash et al., 2017). In this way, the effects of relationships building often ‘spillover’ (Galizzi & Whitmarsh, 2020) to affect others through interpersonal communication, collaborative action, and changes to behavioural and cultural practice. While our research aims primarily to measure the impacts of relationship building on participants in terms of their risk perceptions, intentions, and behaviours; our analysis simultaneously aims to measure how these impacts ‘spillover’ to affect non-participants and the wider community. 

‘Spillover’ describes the impacts that relationship building can have on participants’ wellbeing and their wider communities. Our research asks participants if they are ‘willing to contribute to community resilience’ by coproducing mutually-beneficial data around community perceptions and experiences of risk. Recognising the social and collective nature of risk reduction, we provide pathways for participants to obtain access to resources and engage others in risk conversations and mitigation actions. In our follow ups, we ask questions that measure how these community engagements affect participants and impact on their disaster risk preparedness and action.

However, our primary engagements also ask questions about participants’ neighbourly and community connectedness, helping to establish data around social networks and community coherence. Our follow-ups similarly enquire whether participants talked to, or took action with their networks following these initial engagements. Measuring these spillover effects helps us better understand how information and resilience flows through communities and when individual behaviours spillover into wider culture change.

Broadly, with an interdisciplinary understanding of behaviour, the project will conclusively compare deficit/prevailing publics engagements with relationship-building (i.e., reach engagements with effectiveness engagements). It will do so using a broadened understanding of impacts that include awareness, intentions, actions, and diffusions.

Our people