Bridging the gap between communities at risk of flooding and flood risk communication agencies : developing effective flood risk communication strategies
Pandit, Sanghmitra Pandurangrao
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form of governance which is built through a multi-layered web of horizontally and vertically aligned stakeholders and has been termed as Sustainable Flood Risk Management (SFRM) in Scotland. SFRM in Scotland aims to promote community empowerment to build resilience against flooding, including through flood risk communication. Flood risk communication involves raising awareness of flood risk among communities and issuing flood warnings to them when needed. Although flood risk communication between agencies of the government and communities living in the areas identified to be at risk of flooding has long been a subject of policies and legislation, literature on flood risk communication indicates that a substantial gap in perspectives on flood risk remains between these social actors. Similarly, although media hold a central position in flood risk communication as conveyers of messages, literature indicates that the role of media has not been appraised satisfactorily so that it can inform media selection for flood risk communication. This thesis presents research which was aimed at addressing both these needs. Accordingly, the aim of this thesis was to identify gaps in flood risk perspectives between ‘communicating agencies’ and ‘communities at risk of flooding’, and to evaluate the suitability of various media types for flood risk communication. Correspondingly, the objectives of the research were: i)to understand community knowledge, expectations, and media usage and preferences related to flood risk communication; ii) to review communication objectives and efforts of the responsible agencies; iii) to identify differences between community knowledge, expectations, media usage and preferences, and the communication efforts of the responsible agencies; iv) to appraise the role of Habermas’s Theory of Communicative Action and Media Synchronicity Theory in supporting the development of flood risk communication strategies; and iv) to consider the implications of the findings for developing effective flood risk communication strategies by the relevant agencies and make appropriate recommendations. The research entailed investigations into flood risk perspectives of the communities living in areas identified to be at risk of flooding (termed as ‘emic’ perspective) and that of the agencies responsible for flood risk communication (termed as ‘etic’ perspective) in order to generate shared understanding on flood risk, especially on community knowledge, expectations, media usage and preferences, and the communication efforts of the responsible agencies. Habermas’s Theory of Communicative Action and Media Synchronicity Theory proposed by Dennis et al. were selected for investigating their applicability in supporting development of flood risk communication strategies and formulating policy recommendations. The research adopted an inductive research stance, with interpretivism as the epistemological paradigmatic position and constructionism as the ontological paradigmatic position. Data relating to the perspectives, experiences and communication needs of members of the communities living in areas identified to be at risk of flooding were collected through postal surveys, one-to-one interviews and focus groups in three locations in Scotland: Edinburgh, Stirling and Callander. The research also carried out interviews with representatives of government agencies which were endowed with statutory responsibilities for flood risk communication with the communities, including the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), The City of Edinburgh Council, Stirling Council, Central Scotland Police, Lothian and Borders Police and Central Scotland Fire & Rescue Services. The research found substantial gaps in terms of knowledge, levels of preparedness, understanding of responsibilities and sources of information in the field of flood risk communication in Scotland at the levels of legislation, policy and practice; and these contrasted sharply with the societal goal of SFRM. Furthermore, the expectations of the communities on flood risk communication differed significantly from the understandings of the communicating agencies. The research also found serious gaps in terms of media use and preferences between communicating agencies and the concerned communities at risk of flooding. These gaps in communication appeared to have contributed to loss of trust and credibility of the agencies amongst the communities. The research also found that practicing ‘communicative action’ proposed by the Habermas’s Theory of Communicative Action, which entails stakeholder engagement to reach agreements on issues of concern, contributes to development of understanding and generation of strategies which are oriented towards reducing gaps between agencies and the communities at risk of flooding. However, it was found that none of the agencies practiced ‘communicative action’. It was also found that Habermas’s Theory of Communicative Action has limited applicability for addressing flood risk communication, principally pertaining to its inability to fulfil the subtask of flood warning. Other limitation of the theory relates to inability of the theory to account for the need for ‘audience segmenting’ for flood warning to ensure reach to all members of the communities who may belong to different segments, such as, based on age, language and disabilities. The principal limitation of this theory, which is related to the subtask of flood warning, was found to be similar to the limitation of the Media Synchronicity Theory. It was found that Media Synchronicity Theory, in its current form, has only partial or limited applicability in informing media selection for flood risk communication, especially flood warning. It was also found that it relies only on capability of media and fails to account for the factors influencing media preference and choice of institutions and communities. Based on the findings of the research, the thesis makes many recommendations to the agencies and Scottish Government for changes in flood risk communication policies and strategies, specifically aimed at improving flood risk communication in Scotland. Among these are an amendment to The Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act 2009 to include a requirement to hold dialogue with communities, to review and monitor communication activities of the agencies and empower agencies by capacity building. Other policy recommendations relate to development of agency-specific flood risk communication strategies, building up of trust, emphasis on raising awareness, and most importantly, tailoring of messages for media and audience and usage of the most appropriate media.