Increasing Civil Society's capacity to deal with changing extreme weather risk: negotiating dichotomies in theory and practice

Lead Research Organisation: University of the West of England
Department Name: Faculty of Environment and Technology


Scientific consensus on climate change anticipates marked increases in extremes in Europe particularly in heatwaves, droughts and heavy precipitation events. At the same time, UK government approaches to the management of increasing extreme weather risk have shifted since the mid-1990s from a top-down centrally imposed model to devolved responsibility where Civil Society (CS) is a key player. These changes in the responsibilities of CS are also being played out in other international settings. The seminar series aims to examine critically the changing role of CS in Extreme Weather Adaptation (preparation, recovery, prevention, mitigation, evaluation).

The series comprises 9 seminars - interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary and inter-professional - with strong representation from CS and non-academic organisations, both nationally and internationally. These will navigate and negotiate challenges and opportunities for research and practice in how CS prepares for extreme weather risk, and recovers from actual events. The seminar series discussions will capitalise on dialogue between new configurations of UK and international participants (academics from different disciplines, CS representatives, businesses in the community, risk management agencies). Partners include National/Scottish Flood Forums, and Climate Outreach and Information Network. Case-study settings are UK 2007 floods, 2013/2014 floods Somerset levels; Hurricane Sandy in New York/New Jersey; Vanuatu, Maldives, and Bangladesh.

The series will be organised to three themes:

1: Civil Society: new citizenship, social networks and 'emerging publics': The role of the State in society is changing, requiring new relationships between the State and individuals (citizenship), and CS to be defined. Understanding these is critical if we are to manage risk from extreme weather and work together towards building greater resilience. The seminar series starts by examining different shifts that have taken place in role of CS in the UK and internationally (Europe, US, Australia), and development of new understandings of 'participation' and 'citizenship'.

2: Reframing social spaces in extreme weather adaptation and governance: The seminar series will offer opportunities to discuss changing associations within and with CS - from primary vertical interactions between citizens and the State, to increasingly horizontal interactions between the third sector, informal groups and networks, public sector, private sector and government agencies played out at local level. The expansion of the range of actors actively involved within Extreme Weather Adaptation has necessitated a level of convergence between institutions, groups, and networks that formerly operated separately from each other, thereby creating new social spaces. In defining such new social spaces, voices of the marginalised and disenfranchised must be heard.

3: Achieving Civil Society innovations in managing extreme weather events and risk: In many parts of the world, local CS has responded to extreme weather event impacts creatively- either through using technology in new ways or through social and artistic innovation. This part of series explores learning from collective experiences of these innovations and their implications for the functioning, capital and empowerment of CS within Extreme Weather Adaptation.

The seminars will be co-hosted with CS organisations and other players, situated in different UK locations, and be available virtually to maximise national/international engagement to draw together different perspectives and approaches that exist in research, practice and social learning for increased resilience. Diverse seminar outputs will be co-produced and tailored to different audiences, with attention to sustainability/legacy: dedicated website, set of position papers, academic-practitioner journal articles, online discussion forum, twitter feed, newspaper articles and participatory toolkit.

Planned Impact

A list of the main beneficiaries of this research, and how they will benefit is provided below. All beneficiaries will gain knowledge and skills through new research-informed collaborative investigations of the tensions and opportunities for Civil Society as a key player within the Extreme Weather Adaptation Cycle.

1. The Co-Investigators' immediate academic and professional circles carrying out research with Civil Society in different risk and adaptation contexts nationally and internationally. The seminar series will provide a forum for researchers to exchange with key groups in Civil Society and co-work to explore implementation gaps in the shift from centrally funded engineering solutions to extreme weather risk management, as a basis for further research conceptualisation, writing and bidding.

2. Civil Society organisations and Third Sector organisations that work in the Extreme Weather Adaptation Cycle nationally and internationally, and within and beyond the different geographical settings for the seminars. The seminar series will provide a forum for new engagements between Civil Society, researcher and key professional stakeholders in the Extreme Weather Adaptation Cycle, addressing knowledge and implementation gaps. Particular attention will be given to exploring and mutual understanding of the implications of dichotomies and impacts of innovations on social learning for increased community capital. A key benefit will be critically reflective shared understanding of Civil Society's responsibilities (e.g. through notions of participatory citizenship) to underpin the transition toward devolved responsibilities for extreme weather risk management.

3. Third sector - NGOs and charities- (e.g. National Flood Forum; Scottish Flood Forum; National Council for Voluntary Organisations; Climate Outreach and Information Network) will gain increased knowledge about how to work with Civil Society in the Extreme Weather Adaptation Cycle, to maximise the effectiveness of existing and new collaborations. Organisations (e.g. NCVO) who have potential for involvement but perhaps do not see themselves contributing significantly in this setting will be encouraged to engage by starting small and building involvement.

4. Government and policy makers and their advisors: will gain will gain from first hand engagement with Civil Society groups in debates about issues surrounding the present and future role of Civil Society within Extreme Weather Adaptation Cycle. This includes greater understanding how Civil Society envisions its role and how known and newly identified dichotomies and continua can be addressed, and how innovations with impact can be capitalised on. New approaches involving Civil Society and participatory citizenship continue to emerge through hazard events, and then can be increasingly being depended upon. This will generate a better central government understanding of the requirements for adaptive risk management involving Civil Society.

5. Businesses particularly SMEs will have opportunity to reflect on how they can embed within community networks and have a mutually supportive role in community resilience planning within the EWAC. UKWIR will be engaged in drought and water scarcity (linking to RCUK DRY project).

6. Local Government with its new responsibilities as Lead Local Flood Authority under the UK Flood and Water Management Act (2010) will have opportunity to reflect on its practice in co-working with Civil Society groups in ways that minimise tensions and maximise opportunities for co-working effectively for increased community empowerment and resilience in relation to extreme weather. This can inform future practice in the EWAC nationally and internationally.

The knowledge exchange needs of all these groups will be captured during the series to inform training and CPD (for CS, risk professionals and academics).


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Description ESRC Seminar Series CASCADE-NET Seminar 1 (UWE Bristol 18th Oct 2017) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The first meeting of ESRC Seminar Series CASCADE.NET entitled Civil Society's agency and extreme weather events: dichotomies in theory and practice explored the theoretical framing of this relationship and its implications for research and practice. The seminar was hosted jointly with the National Flood Forum. The seminar started with scene-setting talks on theoretical framing and then used the dichotomies diagram(within the original bid) as a starting point for collective exploration of these axes and the identification of others. It also considered the implications of the dichotomies for practice. The event sparked lively discussion, which was written up as a set of notes, and along with videos of the talks, was posted online. The subsequent seminars are building on this base and developing a CASCADE-NET community for discussion.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description ESRC Seminar Series CASCADE-NET Seminar 2 (Sheffield 1st December 2017) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact This seminar on the role of Civil Society's agency in governance and contingency planning: citizenship, participation and social learning was led by Martina McGuinness, University of Sheffield. This involved presentations sharing international and national perspectives from research and practice, and inter-professional discussion about the challenges of extreme weather and the opportunities for participation and collaborative working. Resources are being worked up for wider sharing.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017