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Commentary

#UKADR2024 Day 2 Part 1

The second day of the #UKADR2024 Conference began with a brilliant keynote presentation by Adnan Khan, Chief Economist FCDO, LSE. The morning continued with inspiring guest speaker talks by Anna Beswick, Alexandra Freeman and Nancy Hey, who showcased and reflected on their experiences leading and working on innovation and collaboration projects. This was followed by further thematic breakout room sessions with oral presentations chaired by Rory Walsh on Climate change and adaptation, Victoria Maynard on Inclusion and politics and Sarah Dryhurst on Warning, resilience and finance.


 

Keynote Presentation

 

Prof Adnan Khan, a chief economist at the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and a professor at the LSE School of Public Policy, highlighted the vital role of collaborative problem-solving and knowledge co-generation. Emphasising the importance of these processes, Prof Khan explained that they can lead to tangible and intangible outcomes that make a significant difference. He also stressed that the traditional methods for addressing policy issues are no longer sufficient in the current context of complex systems and dependencies. Instead, Prof Khan advocated for deep learning, cross-functional collaboration, and agile approaches to drive long-term improvements. Effective partnerships and sustainable collaborations can be established by employing methods such as root cause analysis, deep dives, counterfactual thinking, co-generation, and adaptive iteration, producing multiple benefits for processes and organisational outcomes.



In his reflection, Professor Khan considered various projects from his career. He observed that projects involving iteration and feedback loops allowed for a thorough analysis of root causes, leading to a better understanding of problems and developing suitable solutions. This approach required openness, curiosity, continuous learning, and improvement. Professor Khan emphasised the need to recognise that solutions can fail and have unintended consequences. Thus, the goal should be to learn and continuously adapt to improve the system over time.

Professor Khan mentioned that for many projects, the research outcomes did not result in academic deliverables through publications and reports with recommendations to governments. Instead, the focus was on action and process-oriented results through process change. However, Professor Khan acknowledged that it can be challenging to convince partners and funders to invest in multi-year problem research, requiring a clear emphasis on the value of deep analytics to serve as an incentive.


Professor Khan also shared his experience from the tax auditing digitisation program, highlighting the various intangible benefits it has delivered and the compounding effect of these benefits on other systems, processes, and procedures. Another example was the digitisation and central procurement portal, where deep root cause analysis revealed that the primary source of overspending in government procurement was passive waste from ineffective and inefficient processes and procedures. Deep root cause analysis, adaptive learning, and a commitment to iterative, continuous improvement over time have resulted in further benefits beyond the initial problem, delivering new efficiencies and solutions to previously realised problems.


A key example was the decentralisation of environmental regulations in India, resulting in new streamlined measures by de-ruling and de-layering unnecessary bureaucracy and removing opportunities for corruption, fraud, and inefficiency. Research and active learning practices have revealed that decentralisation and increased autonomy in front-line service delivery are the most effective and efficient mechanisms, leading to higher voluntary compliance and overall performance outcomes with higher value-for-money returns.


The keynote presentation emphasized the importance of scientific data in driving real-world change and supporting evidence-based decision-making. The collaborative generation of scientific knowledge and insights facilitates partnerships that can make a difference, setting the stage for our session on innovative projects and collaborations.


 

Invited Talks 

 

During the invited talks session, we had the opportunity to hear about innovative, collaborative projects, challenges, and unexpected outcomes from presenters including Anna Beswick, Policy Fellow at LSE Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and Environment; Alexandra Freeman, Head of the Winton Centre for Risk & Evidence Communication at the University of Cambridge; and Nancy Hey, Director of Evidence and Insight at Lloyd's Register Foundation.

Anna Beswick, presented work related to place-based climate adaptation projects in Scotland. She shared experiences, including when things went wrong and practical ways of overcoming challenges. The talk also introduced the new Zurich Flood Alliance program.


Anna's presentation was a humble and eye-opening reflection on an experience that initially did not go as planned. It highlighted deep resilience and a commitment to learning and adapting by pivoting approaches to finding new engagement and collaboration avenues. This has resulted in long-term sustained engagement and support to deliver meaningful outcomes. The presentation discussed bringing together politically opposing stakeholders to collaborate on a joint project and finding common ground and consensus. From experience, I am aware of just how enormously challenging and enriching this process can be.  Anna's successful outcomes demonstrate the true grit that is required for the patience and determination necessary to facilitate such collaborations.


Our next speaker was Alexandra Freeman who showcased experience and projects in scientific risk communication, reflecting on what works, what doesn’t, and why, with transferable lessons. The presentation was incredibly humble and critically reflected on two projects. This comparison revealed insights into ensuring that research findings and communications satisfy all stakeholders based on their positions. A clear understanding of each party's positionality, requirements, motivations for participation or engagement, intended outcomes, and user needs is essential to achieve this. Alexandra shared how the process of Venn diagram mapping can be invaluable in ensuring enough overlap between stakeholder aims and objectives when starting a project, which helps identify the efficacy and likelihood of success of certain partnerships. This emphasises that partnerships are valuable tools, but not all are equally effective for ensuring successful projects.


Alexandra emphasised that communication is essential for facilitating a critical understanding of positionality. Failure to do this from the outset can lead to failed projects and interventions based on simple misunderstandings related to intended outcomes, user needs, and motivational alignment. Understanding the constraints and limitations of partners and their drivers and motivators requires honesty, integrity, commitment to open communication, transparency, mutual respect, and trust building. Finding the overlaps between partners and leveraging them strategically to fill gaps in resourcing by matching needs with capacity, capability, and competency can be a powerful enabler in mitigating project risks.


The final speaker for this session, Nancy Hey, shared insights from projects at the 'What Works Centre for Wellbeing', emphasizing the significance of fostering collaborative communities centered on teamwork and shared interests to facilitate long-term partnerships. In addition, Nancy provided a detailed and compelling overview of the Lloyd's Register Foundation & Gallup World Risk Poll Index and its key insights. Although Nancy's delivery was rapid, making it challenging to capture comprehensive notes, her presentation demonstrated her exceptional charisma, passion, and enthusiasm. The innovative work of the 'What Works Centre for Wellbeing' during its operation was awe-inspiring.

The presentation highlighted the essential role of the community and the importance of creating a community through working together. This is accomplished by developing trust through open communication, shared interests, mutual respect, reciprocity, and inclusivity. Collaborations based on these principles, along with curiosity and curiosity, are much more effective and lead to meaningful results when participating in research to make a difference.


Nancy emphasized that this requires patience, dedication, and a methodical approach involving continuous and sustained efforts to build long-lasting collaborative partnerships. Time is seen as a critical resource, while the skills and qualities of the individuals involved are crucial to the success of these efforts.

Nancy also highlighted the imperative need for diverse perspectives and open inclusivity. It is as much about who is present as about which voices are absent. Being willing to recognise when the current setting may not be optimal ensures that partnerships are not initiated merely for collaboration. This can safeguard effectiveness and efficiency by avoiding investing resources in partnerships that do not align with strategic goals and objectives. 


 

Morning Oral Presentations and Flash Talks

 

After the break, these were followed by oral presentations and flash talks. The complete list of speakers can be found online on the conference page for Thursday Breakout Sessions: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/risk-disaster-reduction/ukadr-2024-thursday-breakout-sessions



I attended the Climate Change and Adaptation session, which Dr Rory Walshe, a Social Science Advisor at the Government Office for Science, chaired. All the presentations were flawlessly delivered and demonstrated high-quality work. Seeing the number of projects utilising mixed methods, experimental research design, and hybrid data sources as part of this overall transition towards practical, solution-focused research was fantastic. This represents a significant improvement in the quality and robustness of disaster science research and methods over the past decade. This session addressed historical and contemporary issues in scientific dichotomies. It included a passionate and thought-provoking presentation by Ilan Kelman and ECR that highlighted emerging trends to address new frontiers in disaster science and management, especially related to multi-hazards, climate change, and AI.

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