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Commentary

#UKADR2024 Day 2 Part 3

This section will cover the feedback from all learning lab sessions and final reflections and insights from the event as a whole in terms of what we learned.

 

Feedback from All Learning Labs

 

What lessons can be learned from recent disaster recovery efforts for designing future urgent research and deployment (efficacy, consideration of ethical research and changing deployment risks)? Myles Harris (UCL IRDR)


The discussion in the room was rich with a wide array of skills and experiences, involving both generalists and specialists from various fields related to hazards and disaster risk. However, despite the diversity, no consensus was reached on a particular answer to a question, prompting the group to dissect each component carefully. One of the key topics explored was the debate between "build back better" and "build better" agendas, with the group striving to find a middle ground that acknowledges the need for both initiatives to ensure that all development aligns with disaster risk reduction, sustainable development goals, and climate change adaptation.


Additionally, the concept of recovery was thoroughly discussed, with the group recognising it as a term loaded with different connotations at different temporal, spatial, and thematic scales. The dichotomy between research interests and community needs in response and recovery was also highlighted, emphasising the need for increased awareness of the fundamental need for research to follow ethical frameworks and the principle of 'no harm'.


Lessons learned from the past decade served as a poignant reminder of the enormous waste of resources, inefficiencies, and the undermining of local capacity resulting from top-down interventions and inappropriate aid. There was a shared concern about the ethics of disaster aid, response, relief, and recovery from Western nations in the immediate aftermath of crises, with an acknowledgement that aid can often be inappropriate and undermine local structures.


The group recognised the need to challenge the status quo, shifting the narrative from one of the beneficiaries to one of empowering trusted partners and capacity building for sustainable outcomes. They emphasised the importance of including communities in establishing monitoring and evaluation frameworks for greater transparency and accountability. Furthermore, there was a desire to increase awareness of good practice guidance, accessible methodologies, and peer-to-peer learning dissemination through networks.


In reflecting on the conference theme and the characteristics and skills required for successful collaborations, the group emphasised understanding positionality and building trusted, open, honest, inclusive, and equal partnerships. They advocated for community empowerment and capacity building, leveraging tools like the theory of change and logic impact model when designing projects and undertaking monitoring and evaluation to capture learning.


 

How can researchers and practitioners engage critically and effectively with a new government at the local and national levels? Chaired by Dan Haynes (UCL IRDR)


The discussion centred around positionality, bringing together a diverse mix of geotechnical and social scientists with varied national and international experiences and involvement in government activities at different levels. The conversation delved into themes of humanity and positionality, highlighting fundamental questions such as the reasons for engaging with the government, the intended outcomes, and the identities represented in these engagements. The participants examined the challenges associated with engaging with the UK government from the perspective of UK researchers and UK researchers engaging with foreign governments. This raised critical issues concerning decolonisation, trust-building, power dynamics, cultural understanding, disaster ethics, and shared outcomes with community ownership.


The group discussed engaging with the UK government from a UK researcher perspective and UK researchers engaging with foreign governments, addressing challenges related to decolonisation, establishing trust, power dynamics and relationships, cultural understanding and respect, disaster ethics, facilitating participation, and shared outcomes with community ownership. They also brought attention to the UK Government's international development aid and its current association with reinforcing colonial structures, emphasising the need to focus on community-determined needs, capacity building, and sustainable outcomes.


Recognising both opportunity and risk associated with changes in governments, they highlighted that new mandates, agendas, and personnel present opportunities to establish new collaborations that can last through the political term. Additionally, they considered the potential role of UKADR as a linking, facilitating, and convening body in this new government, specifically about national and international disaster research.


Lastly, the group acknowledged the importance of using social capital network mapping skills to identify links, bonds, bridges, and pathways to impact individuals and institutions in the central and bilateral networks.


Recognising that disaster research outputs are often valuable to the government; researchers lack formal training in effectively communicating scientific research and tailoring it to different audiences. This results in a clear skills gap for Early Career Researchers (ECRs). Without addressing this gap, there is a risk most research will not be suitable for government consumption and fail to achieve the intended impact.


The group highlighted the risk when trusted relationships and working arrangements collapse due to a change in government mandate or critical personnel, leading to a lack of continuity and sustained engagement. Key individuals with crucial knowledge and experience essential to project delivery might move on, making it challenging to maintain the core knowledge and skills of projects and initiatives. This raises the consideration of building long-term organisational knowledge and culture within the government's supporting departments overall rather than focusing on the individual level.


Despite these risks, groups and organisations should still attempt to work with governments and government departments. Building a clear business case with demonstrable value for money and being prepared to fail, pivot, and adapt can help build a strong argument for government participation.


Reflecting on the conference theme, to achieve successful collaborations and make a real difference, it's essential to reflect on the required characteristics and skills, take a long-term agenda, consider bite-sized projects and milestones, tailor and adapt plans to intended audiences, and exercise patience, open-mindedness, determination, and critical thinking skills. These actions can help sustain projects and maintain action beyond the disruption of political cycles.


 

What are the priorities for a new resilience policy in the UK if the policy were to consider future risks and minimise national and global disaster impacts? Andrew Collins (University of Northumbria)


During the discussion, it was noted that the room had a diverse mix of national and international perspectives, primarily represented by academia and research. However, there was a lack of direct participation from individuals experienced in policy and practice. This highlighted the importance of increasing such groups' involvement in future events when addressing similar questions.


The diverse mix of participants from national and international backgrounds provided an excellent opportunity to compare different resilience agendas at the national level. This allowed for an exploration of what has and hasn't worked and examined the varying levels of maturity in disaster risk management and resilience. There was considerable discussion about transferring responsibility to the public without providing the necessary empowerment, upskilling, and resources to support the agenda.


The role of UKADR was discussed in relation to identifying and addressing the implementation gap by examining the current UKGRF. A new policy should encompass vulnerability assessment, decentralisation, and inclusive perspectives from cross-sectoral, cross-disciplinary representation. There is a need for clear roles and responsibilities for resilience and strategic governance, as currently, there is no oversight, coordination, or accountability, suggesting the requirement for a new national body. Additionally, regulation should support the interconnectedness of disaster risk reduction (DRR), sustainable development goals (SDG), and climate change adaptation (CCA) through measures such as the polluter-pay principle, local preparedness capabilities, and development requirements.


Enhanced knowledge exchange between different sectors is necessary to break down barriers and create solutions. Disaster science must have a more significant role in government policy and decision-making, allowing for evidence-based approaches in the UK. There is a need for long-term resilience beyond the typical 4-year government term, which raises the issue of protecting governance and funding for continuity. We need solutions that are appropriate to the specific context and driven by the community instead of following centralised agendas and one-size-fits-all frameworks. It's essential to evaluate the strategic capabilities and risks of technology.


When considering the importance of collaborations that make a difference, it's clear that working together as a collective is more effective than competing when it comes to solving problems in our field. It's important to promote a comprehensive approach to disaster risk management and building resilience that involves all levels of society and all stages of the process. Long-term inclusive communication and trust-building among partners are crucial, and we should prioritize collaboration over competition in problem-solving. Sharing resources and working together to integrate resilience into future infrastructure is also essential to ensure the continuity of critical infrastructure systems in the near to mid-term. Finally, we need to recognize the interconnectedness of major challenges and find a balanced approach that includes practicality along with synergy, trade-offs, and policy coherence, which will have a meaningful impact.

 

 

How can we ensure continued and increased engagement from the physical and engineering sciences in UKADR to ensure a thriving and inclusive community of researchers? Session Chaired by Susanne Sargeant (British Geological Survey, UKADR Steering Committee Co-Chair)

 

The discussion initially focused on identifying the collective skills and expertise present and considering who else should be included in the conversation. It was acknowledged that there is a wealth of expertise in physical science and diverse experience in applied science. The need to improve action-oriented research and solutions for implementation was also highlighted, emphasising the importance of increasing diversity and representation within UKADR. It was recognised that while striving for greater inclusion and active engagement, it is crucial to uphold the organisational mandate and maintain clear boundaries to preserve a distinct identity and purpose.


Practical measures were discussed, such as raising awareness at major networking events like the European Geophysical Union and the American Geophysical Union. Additionally, the importance of strengthening connections with strategic partners like the Institute of Civil Engineers and the National Infrastructure Commission was emphasised.


To raise the profile and awareness of UKADR, the group suggested inviting more high-profile guest speakers to discuss specific themes such as earthquake engineering. Additionally, I suggest that representatives of UKADR attend career fairs and events for physical and engineering sciences to highlight disaster-related careers. They discussed the scope of adopting a model used by geology for global development, where representatives at each university act as connectors and information exchange facilitators.


Reflecting on the conference theme of collaboration that makes a difference, this session touches on strategic collaboration and knowledge exchange to increase collective knowledge and capacity by facilitating improved links and diversity of thought whilst maintaining organisational boundaries to ensure partnerships are pragmatic and effective to support organisation aims and objectives.


 

How can UKADR contribute to the next Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Chaired by Philip Cunliffe (UCL IRDR)


During the discussion, the focus was on taking pragmatic, action-oriented steps as recommended, emphasising that this is a continuous process rather than a destination. One key point of discussion was the involvement of the private sector in disaster research and resilience efforts. It was noted that the private sector is eager to participate and should be given a clear mandate, role, and responsibility. The facilitation of mechanisms to enable their engagement was highlighted as critical.


Additionally, there was an emphasis on the potential for disaster research to collaborate with ESG consulting services and explore capital-based approaches to resilience, such as the dividends of resilience. It was suggested that increasing involvement with economics and the private sector could improve understanding of the tangible and intangible benefits and value-for-money frameworks that support integrated disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation, and sustainable development goal outcomes.


Moreover, the group identified an opportunity to engage with education programs at both national and global levels, aiming to ensure that disaster risk reduction and sustainable development goals are integrated into all levels of curricula. Taking a long-term view, the discussion pointed towards influencing education pathways and the need for corporate micro-learning in these themes as part of continuous professional development.


The group discussed several vital points. First, they emphasised the importance of promoting and facilitating internships within degree programs focusing on private-sector engagement and research needs. They believe this will help fill current research and innovation gaps and increase employability for future graduates. They also suggested standardising internships between degree programs and ensuring funding mechanisms to support them to create greater equality among graduates and level the playing field regarding professional skills and experience.


Additionally, the group proposed organising more conferences and networking events with increased representation from the private, education, and government sectors. They believe that these events can facilitate knowledge exchange and partnership building by creating new connections that might not otherwise occur.


Furthermore, it was suggested that sustainable cities' initiatives and communities’ initiatives could be a strategic link to strengthen and reduce silos. The group also felt that sectors currently not well represented, such as local authorities, the Voluntary Community Sector, policy-based organisations, local actors, and journalists, should be included in these initiatives. They needed to identify key individuals from these sectors and invite them to future conferences.

The group highlighted the challenge of making current reporting on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) accessible to a broader audience. They believe that public transparency and accountability could be strengthened by introducing accessible scorecard methods showcasing the work and its impact. The group also mentioned that monitoring and evaluating progress based on targets is challenging to navigate and interpret.


Lastly, from a DRR perspective, there was a clear emphasis on long-term impact and sustainable change. There was a desire to have compounded multi-generational impact, from early years to careers and private sector engagement. Reflecting on the conference theme of collaboration that makes a difference, this session touches on the focus on long-term thinking, building sustainable partnerships, leveraging stakeholder networking and engagement skills, and increasing lines of communication between sectors and disciplines to encourage and facilitate active participation, future joint problem diagnosis, and active learning.

 

 

Final Reflections

 

This section summarises and synthesises my insights and reflections on the #UKADR2024 Conference. First, I want to say a huge thank you to everyone involved in organising this event. It was a brilliant platform for knowledge exchange, research dissemination, and networking.

 

The central theme of the conference was collaboration, which makes a difference. Reflecting on the presentations throughout the two days, I have to say every single one, without fail, absolutely aligned with this overarching theme. Each presentation selected was carefully crafted and contributed insights that directly helped advance the collective knowledge of those attending on what makes collaboration a success and how we can learn and adapt to facilitate more successful research collaborations that can achieve a real difference. So, reflecting on that exclusively, what can we learn from this event?

 

First, it has been an enormous challenge to synthesise the totality of what was covered over these two days, but I have attempted as follows;

 

Characteristics and traits that drive successful collaborations

Included curiosity, inquisitiveness, open-mindedness, humility, challenging thinking, critical thinking, inclusivity, strategic thinking, positionality, long-term approach, and patience.

 

Competencies and skills for successful collaboration 

critical thinking, self-reflection, analytical skills, stakeholder engagement, stakeholder management, teamwork, and problem-solving. There is an increasing need for advanced skills and experience in cross-functional collaboration, lateral thinking, project management, scientific and technical writing, communications tailoring, strategic thinking, strategic planning, people management, and participatory engagement methods. 

 

Tools for successful collaboration

Commonly mentioned tools included the theory of change framework, the logic impact model, expert elicitation, participatory research, co-production, memorandum of understanding, codes of conduct, and disaster discipline-specific ethical standards – see the disaster ethics manifesto and accord by RADIX. 

 

Commonly mentioned methods

Participatory Action Research, Participatory engagement, mixed methods, hybrid data collection and analysis; multi-criteria decision making, dynamic adaptive policy pathways, active learning networks and policy-research co-labs; evidence synthesis.

 

Novel and emerging themes included.

Multi-hazards, multi-hazard vulnerability, multi-hazard resilience, Participatory vulnerability and capacity mapping, vulnerability assessment, indicators for monitoring and evaluating performance in research and resilience outcomes, scorecards for climate change risk and resilience, synergies and trade-offs in DRR/CCA/SDG, risk creation, evidence-based decision making and how to measure and monitor the efficacy of this. There is a lot of emphasis on building a collective approach to investing in long-term strategic collaborations with mini-milestones, joint problem discovery, cross-functional solutions and active learning within the research community.


Priorities for funders, researchers, policy and practice to facilitate successful collaborations that can make a difference – A lot of what was covered over the two days emphasised and reinforced a lot of what was captured in the paper last year by Pelling et al., (2023)  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2023.103981

 

Funding: flexible funding, facilitating agile project management methods, and recognising the intrinsic value of tangible and intangible deliverables, delivering meaningful outputs beyond traditional impact measurements.

 

Research: requires clear, consistent communication, particularly in terminology and concepts; strengthen our research outputs to ensure they demonstrate appropriate alignment with UNDRR Terminology and the HIPS. https://www.preventionweb.net/drr-glossary/hips

 

Research-policy collaboration involves understanding stakeholders' perspectives and tailoring our research outputs to meet their needs. Develop and continuously invest in new research capabilities and strategic partnerships to enable thorough problem diagnosis, continuous learning, and flexible program delivery to improve systems and processes.

 

 

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