The role of community resilience at a collective scale in managing flooding and coastal erosion risk.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Geography


Governments everywhere are seeking to minimise risk to communities as climate related catastrophes increase in the future. But physical infrastructure does not reduce all risk and eliminate vulnerability. Community resilience plays a significant role (Berkes and Ross, 2013). Resilience is critically important to the sustainability of communities (Magis, 2010). Community resilience at its core is the ability of a community to bounce back, although not necessarily to pre-disaster state. This idea of communities working together is not new, but it has not yet been recognised fully as a critical component within resilience research or hazard management (Aldrich and Meyer, 2015). Measuring resilience is important to inform and improve policy (Magis, 2010). However, there isn't an agreed way of measuring community resilience and more research is needed into the potential indicators, which the proposed research will help address. In my present role in the Environment Agency, I recognise the tendency of policy makers to focus on what individuals can do rather than the community and research also has tended to be focused at the individual-level. For novelty, my research will be conducted at the collective-level.

Impacts from flooding and coastal change are principal risks for the UK and both will increase in the future. Without measures to adapt, the economic cost and the number of people affected will significantly increase (Kovats et al, 2014). Flooding and coastal change often need to be managed independently (Dawson et al, 2009) and the proposed research will consider both. Coastal erosion can result in permanent loss and sacrifice whereas flooding is more likely to be a temporary loss that requires learning to live with risk. The research will focus on community members because flood and coastal policy relying solely on expert knowledge is often limited and is more effective when involving local people.


1 To bring new insights to community resilience from the fields of human geography and social psychology and apply them to dealing with long term risks in the environment.

2 To analyse how specific resilience concepts at a community level contribute to overall resilience.

3 To analyse how specific variables, such as type of risk and demographic factors (e.g. age), within a community affect the ability of communities to act together in the face of flood and coastal erosion risk.

4 To apply observational methods and research techniques to flood and coastal erosion risk in different community contexts.

Proposed design
The proposed mixed methods research will explore whether concepts of community resilience previously are more or less prevalent at the collective-level depending on the type of risk and social-demographics communities. First, I will survey a representative sample of community members by targeting at risk properties (using Environment Agency, 2020) to provide a social demographic profile and qualitative data about community resilience attitudes. I will use an existing ESRC dataset to inform the survey questions: the Social Networks survey (UK n=1595). I will initially test my hypotheses using the Winter Floods 2013/14, an ESRC-funded dataset which explored community resilience.

I will then conduct interviews with community members using Q method which requires respondents to rank statements to determine their perspectives on a topic. A second phase will use photo-method data during which participants will take photos to illustrate what community resilience means and how this relates to flooding or coastal erosion. Participants will discuss their photos during an in-depth interview which will be transcribed and analysed thematically for comparison. The data collected will be compared with policy approaches taken by the Environment Agency, Government and others to determine whether there is gap between strategic direction and local perspective.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2399579 Studentship ES/P000630/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2024 Hannah Hayes