Mapping approaches to community engagement for preparedness in Australia

Johnston, Kim and Ryan, Barbara ORCID: and Taylor, Maureen (2019) Mapping approaches to community engagement for preparedness in Australia. Project Report. Bushfire and Natural Hazards Co-operative Research Centre , East Melbourne, Australia. [Report]


[Executive Summary]:

Getting Australians ready for a natural hazard has taken on a new imperative during the year this project was undertaken. Tasmania and Queensland were subject to unprecedented summer temperatures and suffered damaging bushfires in ecologies that were thought to be permanently safe from fire damage. Queensland then underwent a cascading series of bushfires, cyclones and floods, that saw the media team activated for three solid months. Agencies are actively accounting for climate change in their planning and successful preparedness programs are now more important than ever.

This project was designed to map the community engagement for preparedness approaches Australian agencies are currently using and to use this picture to develop closer linkages from frameworks to practice. It was a six-stage project: a literature review, interviews with agency community engagement practitioners and managers, design of a framework that accounted for their approach and then presentation of a toolkit that allowed implementation at grass roots level of the framework, and evaluation of this work.

The literature review confirmed that getting people to prepare for a natural hazard is difficult, even in places where hazards are regular and expected. People living in cyclone-prone areas tended to be better prepared and preparation was considered a social norm in these areas, but still there were large segments of the community who did not register risk or act on a threat. People in bushfire prone areas tended to be the worst prepared, and in particular, people in urban areas, and wildland/urban interfaces. A number of obstacles to preparing emerged from the literature. Key was failure to fully personalise a risk, even when the risk is accepted as likely. The business of day to day lives, cost, fear of being seen to over-react, weighing up likelihood against effort, optimism bias and being overwhelmed by the volume of tasks involved in preparing all have an influence, along with situational factors such demographics and life stage, on hazard preparation.

The literature also showed that community engagement in emergency management covers the whole spectrum of communication, engagement and participation, and that interpretation was used by practitioners used to cover all of these methods of interaction with the community. Therefore the term ‘community engagement’ was used to refer to work by engagement and communication teams concerned with preparedness for natural hazards.

Our interviews with practitioners explored what preparedness looks like, barriers and enablers of preparedness, what competencies exist in a prepared community and how they and their agency ‘do’ community engagement. We also touched on what they thought was best practice in the field and what framework/s they use to guide their practice. Practitioners told us that most of them work to the IAP2-based Australian Institute of Disaster Resilience Handbook 6 framework, usually with additions and alterations. Co-design and community development approaches emerged as a goal for many practitioners.

We found a wide range of approaches, usually driven by resourcing and skills. Some smaller states with very small teams undertake information delivery engagement practices, while other small teams have highly organised community capacity-building programs embedded in their organisation’s strategic planning. Several larger organisations are doing community engagement in a measurably successful way. They show that it is possible to get year on year improvements to preparedness levels, as well as illustrating programmed methods of achieving this.

Our interviews gave us rich information from which we were able to build the following model containing five steps, and with three additional different layers. The first overlay features the aims of each step; the second explains the tactics associated with each step; and the third explains and guides the research, monitoring, evaluation and learning that permeates every aspect of the model. The fifth dimension of the model, and a key deliverable of this project, is a competency index, which connects the characteristics of the community with the different stages of the model. We’ve called the model the Australian generative model of community engagement for preparedness – the diagram below shows the basic framework.

Following development of the model, we undertook a systematic literature review to determine the effect of checklist preparedness activities for personal safety and coping during a hazard’s impact and recovery phases. We used accepted systematic literature review standards and checked these against the Campbell Collaboration’s method of systematic literature reviews, and in our first round of searching found 1,451 articles. These were sorted on title, and a further 1,328 excluded. After abstract and full text screening, not one article remained that attempted to examine the effect of discrete or groups of preparedness activities.

What we did find from the systematic literature review was a series of community engagement interventions that had been tested in an academic setting and published in both peer reviewed and grey literature. From this data we were able to compile a toolkit of community engagement techniques that had been tested in an emergency management preparedness setting.

At this point we were able to take the model to workshops of agency, local government and not for profit practitioners in the preparedness space. With their guidance, we were able to simplify the presentation of the model and consider aspects of the model that would or wouldn’t work in practice. The workshops provided an iterative platform, with the model and the workshop materials evolving from the first workshop to the second. We expect the framework to evolve as practitioners mould it to suit and explain their approaches to community engagement for preparedness.

Evaluation was an important concept that emerged from the literature review, the interviews with practitioners and the systematic literature review, and has been identified as problematic by respected researchers Gilbert, Elsworth and Rhodes and their colleagues since 2007 (Gilbert, 2007; Elsworth, Gilbert & Rhodes, 2009; Gilbert, Elsworth, Stevens, Rowe & Robinson, 2010; Rhodes, Gilbert, Nelson and Preece, 2011). From these information sources and from community engagement evaluation literature, we also developed a Monitoring and Evaluation Toolkit as a companion to the Community Engagement Toolkit. Both of these toolkits are separate documents within the project. Both are documents are designed to cater for entry level practitioners upward.

This project has provided a platform for advancement of Australian practice in community engagement for preparedness. It has allowed us to map approaches and competencies that have potential to clarify the community engagement planning process. It supports the matching of CE approaches and techniques to community competencies and characteristics, and provides guidance on evaluation.

We have also provided a series of recommendations on community engagement practice and further research ideas that we think will further advance efforts to get Australians ready for natural hazards.

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Item Type: Report (Project Report)
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: A report for the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Co-operative Research Centre. Supported by NSW State Emergency Service (lead partner), Inspector-General of Emergency Management Queensland, Department of Fire and Emergency Services WA, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, Cairns Regional Council, Ipswich City Council and Tablelands Regional Council.
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Current - Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts - No Department (1 Jul 2013 -)
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Current - Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts - No Department (1 Jul 2013 -)
Date Deposited: 08 Jul 2019 04:34
Last Modified: 30 Sep 2020 07:17
Uncontrolled Keywords: hazards, preparedness, get ready, bushfire, cyclone, flood, hurricane, typhoon, earthquake, preparation, emergency agencies, disaster
Fields of Research (2008): 20 Language, Communication and Culture > 2001 Communication and Media Studies > 200101 Communication Studies
Fields of Research (2020): 47 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 4701 Communication and media studies > 470101 Communication studies
Socio-Economic Objectives (2008): D Environment > 96 Environment > 9699 Other Environment > 969999 Environment not elsewhere classified

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