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#UKADR2024 Day 1 part 1

I had a fantastic and incredibly informative first day at the UKADR conference. This is the second UKADR conference I've attended, and it has been an excellent networking and knowledge-sharing platform. The UCL IRDR team did a fantastic job organising the event, and the UKADR organisation continues to go from strength to strength under the co-chairmanship of Prof. Amy Donovan and Susanne Sargeant, along with the new organisational strategy. The theme of this conference was "Collaboration that makes a difference."


Successful Collaborations – Past, Present and Future


The day opened with talks by Frank Savage and Helene Galy, who shared their collective experience from practice and industry.


Frank Savage is the Chairman of the Commonwealth Disaster Agency. He is also a former Governor of Montserrat and has had a 40-year career as a Foreign Diplomat. In his talk, Frank shared a wealth of experience with great humility by drawing on lessons learned from the Monserrat Volcanic eruption. His presentation was based on his self-reflection from various experiences in international disasters throughout his career. He emphasised the need to learn from failures and to identify and amplify collective successes. Frank shared the following key insights;


1.       Accurate risk information and thorough hazard assessment, modelling, and vulnerability mapping are crucial for effectively preparing for potential disasters.


2.       When creating contingency plans, gaining support from all stakeholders, especially those directly impacted, is essential. This is particularly important in the context of evacuation planning.


3.       Regular meetings between civil service administration and technical and scientific experts are necessary to build strong, long-term relationships. Using tools such as expert elicitation can be valuable in this regard.


4.       Understand the strategic importance of communications. Recognising that effective operations and public information dissemination depend entirely on your communications infrastructure, ensure contingency plans are in place and stress-tested. 


5.       Not all aid suits every situation, and inappropriate aid provisions hinder critical and essential services, response, and recovery operations. Understanding and addressing this issue is crucial for effective disaster management.


Hélène Galy is the Research Network Director at WTW (Willis Tower Watson). Hélène shared insights on how the sector has developed over the past two decades and its direction. The talk emphasised the importance of lessons and collaboration and the need for multi-disciplinary challenge thinking. Hélène relayed how WTW is building long-term trusted collaborations between partners, discussing the need to recognise positionality, find collective agreement, and share points for collaboration and consensus. The talk discussed how leveraging project management processes can facilitate the partnership collaboration by building critical milestones for monitoring and evaluation progress. The main message was that investing in these relations can enhance future rapid response capabilities.


Hélène expressed the growing need to support early career researchers and invest in them for shared outcomes and solutions that yield significant benefits to both parties. Their experience has emphasised how investing in ECRs can open new frontiers with diversification into new disciplines. This is linked to ideas encouraging stakeholders to connect beyond their usual networks and expand into new and novel areas to facilitate greater dynamic thinking, which can lead to insights not previously realised.


During the session, Prof. Joanna Faure Walker, as the session chair, summarised the discussions by highlighting the key common characteristics that emerged from Frank and Hélène’s conversation about the factors that contributed to successful past collaborations and what would be needed in the future to support successful collaborations and make a positive impact. These characteristics included curiosity, open-mindedness, humility, critical thinking, inclusivity, strategic thinking, a long-term approach, and patience.


I am interested in examining this from professional and competency-based perspectives, particularly in basic professional skills such as critical thinking, self-reflection, analytical skills, stakeholder engagement, stakeholder management, teamwork, and problem-solving. Additionally, there is a growing need for advanced skills and experience in cross-functional collaboration, project management, scientific and technical writing, tailored communications, strategic thinking, strategic planning, and participatory engagement methods.


Furthermore, I also noted that both speakers mentioned valuable tools that can facilitate and support successful collaborations, including the theory of change framework, the logic impact model, expert elicitation, participatory research, co-production, memorandum of understanding, codes of conduct, and ethical standards related to disasters—such as the disaster ethics manifesto and accord by RADIX.


Mini master class by Tobias Sturt on visually communicating data.


I was blown away by Tobias's captivating and enthusiastic presentation on 'the art' - using story and narrative through visual communication to effectively communicate scientific information and data. It was a truly unexpected and life-changing experience that has completely transformed how I perceive and interpret art. I highly recommend experiencing a presentation by Tobias to anyone who gets the chance.


During the session, Tobias walked us through the use of various tools and mechanisms to highlight key findings visually and convey meaning. We also delved into the importance of narrative positioning to emphasise data relationships and effective communication strategies for structuring and composing information. We explored ways to put data into context through narrative structuring and used colour contrast to quickly convey different types of relationships. Additionally, we delved into the recognition that different methods can lead to varying interpretations, treating this process as a dynamic storyline.


Tobias's use of painting and storytelling effectively demonstrated these concepts in practice.



Morning Oral Presentations and Flash Talks

There were three sessions to choose from, chaired by Mhari Gordon for Inclusion and Politics, Jack Mayer for Hazards and Risk, and Rebekah Yore on Warning, resilience & finance. I attended the Hazards and Risk session. The complete list of speakers can be found online on the conference webpage for Wednesday breakout sessions 



All presentations were expertly communicated and presented effectively by ECRs. They demonstrated solution-driven research grounded in good practice recommendations from Sendai and focused on real-world practical applications. These indeed demonstrated some ground-breaking techniques and approaches. They were all equally incredible and innovative.


The talk I was most interested in was Dr Bruce Malamud's on multi-hazards. This topic is of personal interest to me as it is the principal focus of my PhD. For anyone new to ‘multi-hazards,’ personally, I have found the MYRIAD-EU Handbook of Multi-Hazard, Multi-Risk Definitions and Concepts to be the most invaluable resource for navigating the topic.


The work done by Bruce, his mentees, and the teams involved over the past decade has resulted in significant progress in managing multi-hazards. It was exciting to learn about Bruce's efforts to broaden his work by collaborating with various teams in different countries to further develop and enhance the multi-hazard interaction matrix in various environments and socio-economic settings. For those who are unfamiliar with the multi-hazard interaction matrix, I would recommend the following reading materials:


·       Gill, J. C., & Malamud, B. D. (2016). Hazard interactions and interaction networks (cascades) within multi-hazard methodologiesEarth System Dynamics7(3), 659-679.


·       Gill, J. C., & Malamud, B. D. (2017). Anthropogenic processes, natural hazards, and interactions in a multi-hazard frameworkEarth-Science Reviews166, 246-269.


·       Gill, J. C., Malamud, B. D., Barillas, E. M., & Guerra Noriega, A. (2020). Construction of regional multi-hazard interaction frameworks, with an application to GuatemalaNatural Hazards and Earth System Sciences20(1), 149-180.



Summary of the morning


The most pleasing thing to see from this session was the emphasis on pragmatic solution-focused collaboration over competition. Stressing the need to break silos and cut down barriers to facilitate more rapid and complex problem-solving through genuine knowledge exchange and resource pooling. Recognising that individual organisations can subsequently apply collective outputs, however appropriate to their context, emphasising this should be seen as an amplifier benefit of shared success, not a limitation. There is an increasing emphasis on shared capabilities. This raises a question about meaningful collaboration that facilitates rather than hinders if we increase layers of complexity between many actors. Interoperability methods can help with this.


Multi-hazards were mentioned frequently, signalling a growing awareness of this area; multi-hazard vulnerability and resilience are emerging topics. The paper by Drakes & Tate (2022) would be an excellent one to dip your toes into. One of the presentations remarked on a need to move away from focusing on multi-hazard risk assessment to multi-hazard resilience assessments that can provide a more complete and robust account of all the components of the risk equation where current methodologies are struggling to include vulnerability under multi-hazard, multi-risk assessments and are yet to incorporate the components of risk relating to coping capacity/response.


Multi-hazard vulnerability, particularly the insurance industry, appears interested in understanding how to break down barriers in anticipatory financing mechanisms to reduce loss and damages from likely increasing occurrences of multi-hazard events. This also signals a greater awareness within the insurance industry that they have an increasingly invaluable role in facilitating future disaster management through risk reduction to support measures that address risk components, such as exposure, vulnerability and coping capacity.


The guidance for early career researchers (ECRs) is to actively engage and participate in industry and practice as appropriate. It is important to immerse oneself in the context and genuinely understand and apply it to ensure that research outcomes are relevant and suitable. Failing to do so may result in research outputs being easily discredited. This underscores the significance of solution-focused, action-oriented, and implementation-centered research that considers the context to achieve suitable outcomes. Additionally, it is important to recognise that while academia values detail and validation, practice and policy emphasise conclusions, messages, learning, and recommendations, followed by validation.


When interacting with communities, it is essential for ECRs to acknowledge and respect the trauma and human impact on individuals and communities. This consideration should be an integral aspect of their approach, based on people-centred methods and ethical frameworks. It is crucial to ensure that communities have control and retain decision-making autonomy. Furthermore, it is important to challenge the notion of "beneficiaries" and instead view people and communities as trusted partners, treating them with the respect and dignity they deserve.

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