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Case study: How those leading urban risk assessments can engage communities at risk

Research and technical expertise are essential in developing effective strategies for enhancing urban resilience to climate risks.

However, this is only one piece of a complex puzzle that requires acknowledgement of the perspectives and contributions from those on the ground.

Community engagement increases the visibility and understanding of issues that can play a powerful part in influencing how risks, interventions, and strategies should be developed. Experts have an obligation to ensure their work takes these voices into account, enabling not only a richer evidence base but also community buy-in.

Indeed, empowering communities to have a say over decisions that affect their lives, their towns, cities, and neighbourhoods increases the likelihood that interventions are adopted and impactful.

But community engagement isn’t a given. Experts must work to build trust and ensure an active exchange of knowledge and skills that levels the playing field for all parties. Establishing a collaborative environment is also needed to support co-creation and long-term impact.  

ARA initiatives working in Taiwan, the Philippines and Kenya offer examples for how experts can integrate communities into urban resilience projects and offer lessons for others seeking to do the same.

Build trust and break down walls

Bridging the gaps between researcher experts and end user communities is central to the Taiwan Climate Change Projection Information and Adaptation Knowledge Platform (TCCIP). Launched in 2009, it has compiled an impressive dataset of historical weather and climate records and outputs from climate models.

The data has been used for various climate change impact assessments, including flood inundation, drought, landslide, and coastal disasters with the aim of developing relevant climate projection data to the end users of various disciplines.

In 2022, a new phase of the TCCIP project launched focusing on risk identification and assessment for different sectors, including national fisheries and forestries. The aim was to produce hazard and impact maps and to develop a strategic plan for future adaptation in high-risk areas.

Potential adaptation options were also examined during the process thanks to in-person interviews with local fishermen. These engagements revealed high-risk/high-value marine species for study, but also shed light on actions local fishermen have already taken in response to extreme weather events.

Those engagements resulted in valuable learnings; however, they required the experts to first build trust and break down walls as initially there was a sense of mistrust among the fisherman toward public institutes.

By garnering the support of local leaders, researchers were able to first interview fishermen one by one to demonstrate that the interviews would follow with no complications or trouble. It was then possible to scale up interviews to small groups, and then seminar-sized discussions.

Many undocumented strategies undertaken by the fisherman and farmers were discovered through these engagements. Stakeholders were also revealed to be much more proactive in dealing with extreme weather events than expected, as they had successfully engaged the private sector to assist them with technological equipment.

As a result, researchers were able to identify five of the most high-value and climate impacted species to study and established friendly relationships with multiple fish farms, which may influence the effectiveness of research outcomes and proposed interventions.

Knowledge and skills transfer

Engaging communities is essential to ensure a cohesive understanding of localised climate risks and reasonable responses, and to establish ownership of interventions. This is underscored by work by the Philippine Action for Community-led Shelter Initiatives, Inc (PACSII).

PACSII aims to identify challenges to creating resilient and sustainable settlements for urban poor communities. For example, the project explores physical and structural changes resulting from implementation of local adaptation measures like slum upgrading and social changes such as greater community cohesion.

The project also examines knowledge and skills transfer among community actors and its impact on ability to engage with local authorities to garner support for disaster risk reduction interventions.

Like the TCCIP project, PACSII linked technical professionals with local communities. Specifically, it brought architects, engineers, and city planners together with residents and government representatives for planning discussions, community-led profiling, and data collection.

The result was not only an improved mapping effort that included stronger density figures and proximity to danger zones, but it also led to their integration into city-level development and disaster risk management plans.

Importantly, the work shed light on the often ‘invisible’ communities within informal areas by empowering the residents and capacitating community leaders to have a voice in research and planning.

The success of this approach is recognised not only in Muntinlupa and Iloilo City, where the project was piloted, but also in its application by the World Bank and its endorsement by the Global Land Tool Network (GLTN).

Sharing, learning and co-creation

Working with communities enables experts to co-create context-specific interventions that have community buy-in. This is demonstrated by Africa Research and Impact Network’s (ARIN) initiative to co-assess climate risk in urban informal settlements.

Centred in the Kenyan settlement of Mukuru, the work aimed to identify the strengths and limitations of existing climate risk assessment tools being applied by the community though multi-level community adaptation labs (CALs).

CALs enable various groups to co-create evidence of climate risk manifestations and possible evolutions within the informal settlement context – and to inform the development of slum upgrading initiations within the lens of climate change adaptation and urban resilience.

In this case, the CALs involved Mukuru community residents, community-based organisations, NGOs working in the area, and local and national government stakeholders.

These participants engaged in four labs focused on identifying hazards and impacts to socio-economic and environment, validation of hazards and impacts for policy and practice, the role of community dynamics on risks and interventions, and validation of policy and capacity shortfall.

Working in this way enabled residents and their leaders space and time to collectively share insights and to co-develop adaptation strategies. There was also recognition from all stakeholders of gaps in evidence and understanding across the local and national level that impacted climate policy discussions and implementation.

Ultimately, this collaborative approach led to commitments from all parties to co-create adaptation research and action needs that could be integrated into long-term slum upgrading initiatives.

This outcome, and the journey taken to arrive there, is an important example of how experts and communities can value their respective voices and integrate different levels of learning for the identification of risks, solutions, and implementation strategies.

Lessons learned

Taking lessons from this ARIN project, and from PACSII and TCCIP, it is clear that experts can engage with communities through a process of building trust, sharing skills that level the playing field of engagement, and supporting a platform for co-creation.

In this way, a collaborative approach can be taken where experts and communities work together for a shared future of urban resilience.

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