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Using narratives to improve the communication and collaboration between climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction

Source(s):  Acclimatise

By Julia Bentz (Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon), Ingrid Coninx (Wageningen Environmental Research), Gabriela Michalek (Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research)

An initiative that supports coordination between climate change adaptation (CCA) and disaster risk reduction (DRR) across Europe, is using the power of narratives to help change the way people think about risk preparedness. The PLACARD project, part of the EU’s ‘Horizon 2020’ research and innovation programme has established a knowledge exchange platform and hopes to break down the barriers between the CCA and DRR communities of practice.

One major obstacle to collaboration between CCA and DRR is ineffective communication between the two communities. Efforts that can contribute to a better understanding and the definition of a common goal are needed to close this gap and engage the communities to work together. But how do we best communicate about disasters and adaptation to projected climate change impacts? What words, formats and techniques do we use to increase engagement, ownership and collaboration of institutions and communities that formerly worked separately?

Social psychology studies have shown that the way we frame things, the stories or narratives we tell, have a deep impact on our belief system and can create or hinder a community´s agency and collaboration. In the case of CCA and DRR, different stories have been told and consequently the two concepts have developed in separate ways. CCA research tends to start with an understanding of the medium and longer-term implications of future climate change and climate-driven extreme events. In contrast, DRR measures are often conceived on the basis of addressing existing risks and includes geological and technological hazards.

Despite the different approaches and framings, there exists the common interest between CCA and DRR to reduce negative impacts of climate change and disasters, on the natural environment, human society and economies by anticipating risks and uncertainties and addressing vulnerabilities. However, each field addresses this topic through different organisations and institutions, and with different time horizons, research methods, and policy frameworks. This can lead to poorly integrated strategies and duplicated research funding programs.

PLACARD seeks to address this fragmentation of CCA and DRR through establishing a coordination and knowledge exchange platform. This platform will help to encourage multi-stakeholder dialogues that address knowledge gaps and promote institutional collaboration.

One of the topics that gained special attention within PLACARD is using narratives that have the potential to bridge the perceived gap between CCA and DRR practice. Narratives, with their power to framing an issue and open space for new critical, theoretical and methodological ideas, can help to reshape adaptation practice. DRR narratives, are also being used to communicate disaster risks to different people, and can be a way to jointly develop effective solutions.
In a recent PLACARD stakeholder dialogue we learned that narratives should be positive, moving from risks to opportunities and solutions (“we care!” “we can make things better!”), need to go beyond siloed solutions for CCA and DRR (focusing solely on safety or resilience, for example) and should create connection to the priority issues of local communities, such as wellbeing and the local public space for citizens, or innovation opportunities for entrepreneurs. 
The power of narratives is that, it allows us to envision a new future. By exploring the many possible futures, we can begin to take practical steps towards changing the present. If we feel that many people are joining the narrative, then we feel part of a community, and we feel empowered. So that is how stories can give directions to policy and practice. Stories create community.

Creating a sense of community is crucial. New narratives that depict positive futures are more engaging than the traditional catastrophe-framing found in so much climate change and disaster risk communications. Narratives that focus more on the opportunities of CCA and DRR help us to envision better where our society is going, bring the topic closer to us making it more urgent and urgent and therefore create engagement and ownership.

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  • Publication date 25 May 2017

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