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UK Alliance for Disaster Research Conference Day 2 Part 2: The final afternoon, a sector moving from strength to strength to deliver impact (4/4)

Lunchtime plenary – the shelter cluster

The lunchtime plenary session gave a high-level overview into the Humanitarian Shelter Cluster. This session emphasised the core principles of “Efficient, ethical and accountable” as a guiding framework for all activities to ensure a people centred, practice driven approach to deliver innovation, collaboration, where research is regarded as an integral component to ensure evidence-led policy and practice.

The session highlighted the three most important research areas to generate evidence to inform practice is currently: Cash and markets, wider impacts and long-term needs.

The main takeaway was that shelter is a process, not a product. With reference to S>4W+R (shelter is more than just for walls and a roof). With a greater emphasis on people-centred approaches, that includes a shift towards mindful sheltering based on the understanding that living and shelter conditions during displacement, can have as much of a detrimental impact on mental health as the disaster itself. As such there are considerable efforts underway to strengthen the links between Shelter, health and mental health under this people-based approach.

The second part to the session focused on the need to measure impact, the current challenges and opportunities for doing so, with a ten year on research project following the recovery from Typhoon Haiyan. This gave an outline of the various research methods undertaken to ensure co-production of knowledge and research alongside the key challenges and concerns around ethics and accessibility. The key takeaway of this project is the rarity of it. it is not often that recipients of humanitarian aid are often given the opportunity to feedback to the donors. In fact it’s not often the donors stop to ask has this been affective, again reminding us of the glaring controversies of the humanitarian system. A second project will be undertaken in Nepal in 2024, again with numerous case studies that will help further increase understanding.

Another key point of insight from professors at Oxford Brookes University at this session was around ‘constructive ambiguity’ the window of time and space between relief and recovery, noting that this is a golden window of opportunity for collaboration and influencing long term reconstruction and recovery plans based on local needs and requirements.


Technical Session 4: economic resilience and information management

Following this was one of two final technical sessions. This time I attended the theme of economic resilience and information management. The legendary Professor Virginia Murray kicked off this session, with a whistlestop tour of data policy for open science in times of crisis and the ground-breaking research project that’s been underway to developing a guidance, checklist and fact sheet as contributions to the UNESCO open science toolkit. This session explored the background to the project, the rationale and objectives of the working group working on ensuring efficient, equitable, translatable, collaborative and inclusive science – considering how to connect to societal needs and ensuring accessibility for all to bridge the science tech and innovation gaps. This work intends to build long term stability and continuity, ensuring data is open to all factors so that DRR can be effectively mainstreamed, monitored and evaluated. We now have a factsheet and are exploring what do we need from researchers to bring this data together, with a call for interested parties to engage with the implementation team and the research data alliance to build systems data and tools. Virginia also emphasised that data in this context covers and considers both qualitative and quantitative as equal in scientific advancement.

This gave a great Segway into the second presentation by Jess Payne, which explores the ethics of using satellite data, based on the core notion that DRR requires dissemination and participation for effective communication. Jess presented a very high-level overview of her research looking into what might be the ethical issues of using satellite data in regions of political complexity, understanding that there is currently a lack of ethical guidance supporting researchers in this grey area. The main takeaway of this was that if we want to do no harm, we have to first understand what the possible harm is or could be. 

Jack Mayer then presented on the challenges and mitigations in disaster related statistics, this again linked nicely back to the Hazard Information Profiles review work and the need for disaster data in the pursuit of hazard and risk management and high-level policy goals. The most significant being the need for standardised and comparable data between countries and disaster contexts to facilitate monitoring and reporting. This will be feeding into the HIPs review process as to what data is being used to monitor the hazards and then inform practical guidelines for implementing the HIPs. Research on this has been stakeholder driven based on practitioner needs identified through programmes of engagement through interviews, surveys and workshops. This has identified a number of conceptual challenges in implementing the Sendai Framework and the scope and conceptual approach to data collection needs and requirements. Alongside more generic constraints like human and financial resources, logistical and coordination challenges and the under-use of existing guidelines and methodology. This was a good promotional plug-in reference to the existing guidance and reporting guidelines that set out the terms, methods and current indicators.

The key point was an awareness that HIPS can help advance numerous areas of disaster risk reduction and support in solving a number of challenges but it can’t solve everything. It needs to be generic and high level enough to align with existing systems, offer flexible and partial adoption driven by contextual need, there needs to be greater dissemination and outreach to increase knowledge sharing and training with guidance on how to integrate this harmoniously into existing data collection frameworks for synergies. Priorities for action were implementation of a strategic multi-sector approach to increasing capacity, targeted engagement and communications, method guidelines for integration to increase national reporting.

Following this, Professor Andrew Collins presented on data for disaster risk reduction and response in marginalised localities, asking the question, what data, and data processes drive impacts and action? This session explored the Interrelated challenges of producing active data unpicked key concepts like Data collection, utility, cost benefit, saturation, uncertainty, diminishing returns, highlighting a key point that data can be 100%, but data consciousness becomes a challenge- the power politics barriers. The session sought to raise awareness of compound hazards, vulnerabilities and how the lack of data here is a priority and without this it is increasing uncertainty. This presentation additionally highlighted the work of GADRI  The Global Alliance of Disaster Research Institutes and its ongoing to enhance data sharing and scientific information and research exchange globally to enhance DRR.

This then moved us from data towards the sessions on economic resilience. The first session by Kinkini Hemachandra explored themes of passive and active resilience in the assessment of economic resilience of female entrepreneurs. From which, resilience enabling factors are then identified as; personal characteristics, family support, interest alignment to innovation, networking skills. The presentation highlighted the invaluable role that women have in contributing to economic success but despite this there is little literature and research on female entrepreneurs to ensure that successful practices can be identified and shared to inform future enabling practices.

The final presentation was by Thanya Weerasinghe, this brought us back to the theme of data and tying it to the notion of economic resilience, outlining the research project on appraising investments in disaster risk reduction – a systematic literature review. This session highlighted a number of key challenges around increasing DRR investments with discussion focused on investment incentivisation based on the UNDRR premise of for every $1 in investment saves $4 in reconstruction. This outlined the pros and cons of this type of metric and the typical methods being used in investment appraisal for DRR, from the traditional cost benefit method to the more novel DYNAMMICs Framework (Dynamic model of multihazard mitigation benefits). This then gave a very brief and high-level overview of the benefits and weaknesses of each approach and recommendations for future appraisal approaches. Recommendations include; alignment to the triple dividends of ESG, evaluating multi-hazard risks (synergies and asynergies of risk interventions) policy coherence and synergistic in delivery that enables a quantification of multiple dividends.


Technical Session 5: Disaster Risk Reduction: Education and Information Systems

The final technical session of the day I attended was on DRR education and information systems. This began with a brilliant presentation from Kanza Ahmed on developing standards for official statistics on climate health interactions. This is an absolutely fascinating project and one that I believe will have a vast number of transferable learning and lesson around how indicators are developed and taken into real world applications.

The next presentation was delivered in two parts by inclusive disaster education - the key to building stronger more resilient communities through online learning. This was then followed by the second part on the development of a digital competency framework for educators in DRR. This gave an outline of the international project:  INCLUsive that explores online DRR courses and pedagogy. The outputs of which are again transferable in a global context.

The final presentation of the technical session was by David Peebles on effective risk communication focusing on insights from cognitive science. The key quote I took away from this was the assumption that information processing underlies intelligent behaviour. This for me linked well to one of my favourite pieces of guidance – crisis comms a behavioural approach by the Government Communication Service. I found this presentation really highlighted a lot of the key points from this around communication methods surrounding scientific information and interpretation of it, when speaking on topics like probability, with case studies that demonstrated the efficacy and results of messaging when done correct vs incorrectly using examples of Fukushima and Covid-19. Linking back to the underlying point of greatest significance it is the message being communicated and its interpretation that will determine the response. One of the key questions from the audience was around whether there is a need to release non-technical briefings alongside scientific reports to ensure that its support in their interpretation to remove the likelihood and dangers of misinterpretation. Another key point was around the framing of the issue as a significant factor that determines a response.


Final Conclusions

Reflecting back on the title of the event: 2030 and beyond: risk informed decision making, investment and behaviour, I consider - to what extent do I believe this event has delivered on its title. On the whole I certainly do think this has, I think the event has demonstrated an enormous volume of research that is currently taking place to advance all of the areas selected as key themes in the title. I believe all of the research I have seen presented has direct potential for creating real world applications that advance decision making, investment and behaviours. The key thing I have taken away is the increase importance of research. It reminds me of one of my favourite quotes from Henry Ford – if you always do what you have always done, you will always get, what you have always got – and well as we know, what we have got simply isn’t good enough and it certainly isn’t good enough for those who are at risk from disasters, and its especially not good enough for those who are disproportionately impacted by disasters and climate change. Therefore, research is essential to ensuring we can deliver real tangible impact that serves lives, livelihoods, place and spaces in a whole cycle, whole system, whole of society approach. I see a lot of the themes and research between now and 2030 having a direct impact on the post Sendai agenda and the unequivocal importance of accelerating research partnerships now to ensure we can continue to learn and build on all that has come before.

Overall, this has been a brilliant conference and absolutely crammed full of incredible research that is going on all over the world with UK academic participation. This event on the whole gave an incredibly unique opportunity for early career researchers to present on an equal footing and to disseminate their research activities and findings. I believe this has been one of the most relaxed yet high intensity conferences I have been to yet this year. Overall, as a conference it did what it said on the tin highly effectively by creating this platform to promote knowledge sharing, enhance research awareness and highlight opportunities for collaboration. I know I have walked away with numerous leads and connections to follow up on for synergies in my own work and research. I look forward to what the next UKADR Conference in 2024 will bring!


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