Co-producing urban resilience to climate change: innovation for integrated risk management

 

An online event, oriented towards a knowledge dialogue hosted by the Centre for Contemporary Latin American Studies (CCLAS) at the University of Edinburgh (UK), The Urban Institute (TUI) at Heriot-Watt University (UK) and the National Polytechnical Institute (Mexico) 

 

 

Aim of the event

 

In the context of improving integration in risk management, innovation, or innovative approaches, can be defined as revolutionary, efficient, or novel strategies that are introduced and accepted by a societal system (Salter & Alexy, 2013). In particular, Guerriero & Penning-Rowsell (2020) have suggested five interrelated ‘avenues of innovation’ in risk management: 

 

  • structural and non-structural measures, or interventions; 

  • the use of information technologies (e.g., remote sensing data acquisition, weather radar for forecasting, mathematical hydraulic modelling, etc);

  • governance and politics (e.g., devolution, state and private-sector suppliers, community engagement, etc);

  • resources, such as skills and capabilities;

  • framing and communication (e.g., social media).

 

Adopting such a broad understanding of innovation in risk management recognises smart and technological solutions as one approach to bring about innovation and risk reduction for vulnerable communities, but also acknowledges that successful risk management is maximised when several of these avenues of innovation are integrated, as we have explored in our research.

 

Our aim in hosting this online event was to share our findings and experiences in relation to inclusive ‘Smart City’ solutions in Mexico City, and widen the discussion around innovation in risk management to capture other potential intervention areas that acknowledge the various means and multiple scales for action and impact. Working both at the macro-scale and the local scale provides, along with knowledge of community-based successful best practices, opportunities for interaction and negotiation, seeking agreement between sectors and developing strategies to increase resilience and reduce vulnerability based on stakeholder co-responsibility. 

Therefore, with the aim to exploring the challenges and opportunities in relation to innovative approaches to improving integration in risk management, researchers and practitioners were invited to participate in our event. Participants offered perspectives relating to the five ‘avenues of innovation’ described above (Guerriero & Penning-Rowsell, 2020), which structured the event. Contributions were invited that consider successful examples of innovative solutions to risk management driven by community-, third sector-, market-, and state-based approaches, as well as contributions reflecting on inclusivity in risk management, including traditionally excluded groups, and the evaluation of innovative approaches in driving concrete progress in risk and vulnerability reduction.

 

Background and rationale

 

Our ESRC-CONACYT-funded project: “Developing co-created ‘smart-city’ socutions for managed adaptation and monitoring of hydro-meteorological climate change-related risk in Mexico”

The rapid growth of cities in the Global South over the last decades has led to an increase in vulnerable communities in low-income, informal and unregulated settlements, frequently on land exposed to risks that are increasing with climate change, such as flooding, landslides and water scarcity. There is an urgent need to increase the resilience of such communities. In addition, as urban areas have expanded, levels of vulnerability, socio-spatial segregation and inequality have been aggravated in parallel with an increasing demand for housing, public space, services and sustainable mobility options. In this context, the importance of risk management is increasingly recognised, with a call for approaches that consider not only the exposure of the area where these risks are assessed but also the adaptation capacity of community groups. Recent research demonstrates that vulnerable urban communities in highly densified urban areas have struggled to adapt to climate change-related risks in sustainable, affordable and appropriate ways. Our ESRC-CONACYT-funded research in Mexico City is exploring the capacity for co-produced actions between different stakeholders, based on complex information-sharing that integrates feedback-rich systems across multiple actors to improve conditions and reduce risks in areas affected by chronic flash flooding during the rainy season.

 

Recently developed approaches to reducing vulnerability include land use planning, good construction practices, early warning systems, community preparedness and awareness campaigns, pooling and transferring risk, and physical protection barriers (Nadim & Lacasse, 2008). However, these approaches can be challenging to implement in low-income and informal settlements due to complex socio-economic, political and institutional processes. In addition, local authorities tend to focus on issues affecting vulnerable communities in isolation, attempting to resolve infrastructure, resources or health problems, but with a lack of integration of these strategies with human resources, and economic and environmental capacity (Ibarrarán, et al. 2014). To respond to the urgent need to build resilience in low-income and informal urban communities, our research has explored and tested innovative, co-created strategies to manage risks and increase resilience at the household and neighbourhood levels, aimed towards reducing vulnerability and increasing collaboration across stakeholders. To make progress towards more integrated risk management strategies and systems, so-called ‘Smart City’ approaches and technologies may offer an integrative perspective, harnessing the potential for collaborative solutions involving city and local governments and technology contractors. However, these technological solutions often tend to prioritise top-down actions, which do not necessarily take into account the needs of, or benefits for, people living in low-income and informal communities. Our research has demonstrated that inclusive Smart City initiatives should therefore avoid imposing technological solutions on vulnerable communities, and rather focus on long-term sustainable processes of risk mitigation that incorporate public participation and redefine active citizenship (Garcia Ferrari et al., 2021). Smart City approaches should be implemented through engaging communities and organisations in a constructive ‘dialogue of knowledges’, to explore tangible, context-appropriate solutions.


To achieve impact, the identification and implementation of solutions to tackle climate change-related challenges should therefore take an integrated approach aimed at empowering communities in monitoring their land, understanding potential strategies for risk mitigation and reducing poverty. Our research has explored actions that consider the differences in perception of risk among stakeholders (from community to state) and opportunities for different types of knowledge (formal/informal, technical/social) to interact in defining risk and risk-mitigation strategies (Smith et al., 2020). Solutions aimed at building resilience could draw from 'Smart City' strategies through implementing an interactive dialogue between community members, government institutions, NGOs, private businesses and other stakeholders. Such solutions can be developed throughout different stages of risk reduction (i.e., risk analysis, prevention, preparedness, financing, relief, recovery, and reconstruction), with each stage presenting an opportunity for community participation and collaboration (McCallum et al., 2016; Tonmoy et al., 2020). 

 

With a critical perspective and from a collaborative approach, 'Smart City' strategies might bring innovative solutions that engage with communities, academics, technology contractors and local authorities in settlements affected by climate change-related impacts. Through a range of action-research projects in cities of the Global South (e.g., Mexico City and Puebla in Mexico; Medellin in Colombia, Amman in Jordan), our research has explored innovative, context-specific and co-created strategies for managing risk and increasing resilience, which are able to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable. 

 

 

Workshop summary and outcomes

 

1. Presentations

  • Prof Soledad Garcia Ferrari, University of Edinburgh, UK: “Co-producing urban resilience to climate change: innovation for integrated risk management”

 

  • Dr Milton Montejano Castillo & Dr Luis Cruz Ramírez, Instituto Politécnico Nacional, Mexico: “Development of co-created technological solutions for the management of hydrometeorological risks associated with climate change in Mexico”

 

  • Prof Tomás Chiñas Santiago, Basin Committee of the Los Perros River, Oaxaca, Mexico: “Experiences generated in the prevention of disasters in the Los Perros River sub-basin”

 

  • Dr Ksenia Chmutina, Loughborough University, UK: “Resilience to risk, or resilient risk?”

 

  • Dr Carolina Garcia Londoño, Inform@Risk project, Colombia: “Inform@Risk: Towards a safer territory”

 

  • Dr Alfredo Stein, University of Manchester, UK: “Asset planning for climate change adaptation in popular neighbourhoods: linking local participatory processes with artificial intelligence technologies”

 

  • Prof Harry Smith, Heriot-Watt University, UK: “Innovation through co-produced landslide risk monitoring: ​Experiences in Medellin (Colombia) and Sao Paulo (Brazil)”

 

  • Mr Carlos Velásquez, Community Leader and Researcher, Comuna 8, Medellín, Colombia: “Resilience in the urban fringe of Medellin: integrated disaster risk co-management program”

 

 

2. Synthesis

 

The workshop aimed to question the meaning of innovation in integrated risk management, from the point of view of the five ‘avenues of innovation’ proposed by Guerriero and Penning-Rowsell (2020). The choice of this critical approach stemmed from a number of recent research projects focussing on how so-called ‘innovative, smart-city technological solutions’ can be harnessed and co-produced to reduce risk and address local needs in vulnerable urban communities. These projects have sought to identify opportunities to make risk management more inclusive and reduce inequalities, with a perspective of co-responsibility between different stakeholders who want to reduce the impacts of hazards related to climate change in the built environment.

 

On Day 1, the workshop featured a number of presentations of experiences with respect to participatory approaches to risk management in Latin America, including flooding and landslides. Participants contributed to an interactive whiteboard exercise where elements relevant to the five avenues of innovation were identified in the presented case studies. The following table presents the findings from this whiteboard, which include interventions from participants.

structural/non-structural measures

  • Insurance against disasters based on existing funds

  • Houses built on stilts

  • Green public spaces as 'sponges'

  • Eco-DRR measures

  • Nature-based solutions

Governance & politics

  • Determine mechanisms for decision-making, including representation at the community level, local government, and networks

  • Design strategies for dialogue with institutions in the framework of co-production

  • Implement programmes (such as early warning systems) with an implementation and evaluation period that is independent of political cycles, to ensure continuity

  • Coordinate the participation of different municipalities in the management of a basin

  • Determine who has the responsibility for sanctions (e.g.for deformation of waste disposal increasing risk)

  • Shared responsibility between government and population, as well as different sectors of society such as the private sector

  • Create and operate within a culture of risk management and co-responsibility

  • Develop joint policies between different government sections to increase impact (e.g., housing-health-civil protection

  • Engage with ongoing initiatives and socio-political structures to ensure the success of strategies and long-term implementation

resources

  • In Mexicho there are funds for disaster recovery (FONDEN & FIREDEN at the national level, and FOAM in CDMX, the latter of which is currently being transformed)

  • Disaster narratives as a resource for learning

  • Senior citizens as a resource for learning

  • Examples of progressive DRR legislation, such as the 2021 law of integrated risk management and civil protection of Mexico City

  • Social capital, human resources

framing & Communication

  • Opportunities for a dialogue of knowledges, valuing community, government and academic knowledge

  • Learn the language of communities

  • Technology as a link between communities and government

  • Inclusion of people with different learning requirements, e.g., use of braille, guides for people with limited vision

  • Embed the problematic in the public agenda, not only within institutions but within communities

information technologies

  • Ensure that implemented technologies are connected, and that the roles and responsibilities of each actor are clear and agreed upon

  • Continuous monitoring and updating of apps and other communication technologies to ensure they remain usable and appropriate

  • Co-create the technological solution itself so that it responds to the needs of government and communities

other forms of innovation

  • Use of augmented and virtual reality to socialise adaptation strategies, use cutting-edge technologies

  • Select researchers with political skills to achieve co-production

  • Train risk managers at the local level through digital 'self-management' platforms

  • Embed social justice over economic profit in governance frameworks to achieve transformation

Figure 1: Elements of innovation within the five avenues of Guerriero & Penning-Rowsell (2020) identified by workshop participants.

On Day 2, participants were asked to reflect on the following discussion questions based on observations from the presented research projects:

  • How can research projects incorporating co-production as a methodology help to tackle uneven power dynamics that perpetuate risk, rather than merely 'filling the gap' created by inadequate institutional policies/systems?​

  • How can research projects ensure an 'afterlife' where implemented solutions and interconnections between stakeholders have longevity, and can adapt to meet community needs as they evolve over time?​

  • How can a meaningful structure that enables articulation with existing measures/programmes/systems and a higher level of autonomy at the community level be established?

 

Emerging themes based on the presentations and discussion included:

  • Conceptual debates around the meaning of ‘resilience’, ‘adaptation’, and ‘transformation

  • The value of establishing a dialogue of knowledges;

  • Methodological and conceptual approaches, and political framing, of co-production

  • How to ensure that the increasing adoption of technologies does not go against the interests of the most vulnerable;

  • The importance of governance aspects in basin management, at different geographical levels, and upscaling to ensure the longevity of solutions co-created between organisations and communities;

  • The use of information technologies and artificial intelligence as tools to evaluate scenarios, issue warnings of imminent risks, and identify short, medium and long-term strategies;

  • Linking technological solutions with the reality of urban settlements, including logistical aspects such as who receives and manages the information, issues of privacy, how information is managed and acted upon so that the risk management systems are sustainable and adaptive over time, and who is responsible for the efficient functioning of these systems;

  • The internal governance of informal settlements to face climate phenomena and their impacts, as well as their relationships with institutions, including the issue of participatory methodologies and how to link technicians, planners, and academics with communities

 

In the context of climate change, the risk is composed of chronic stresses which increase vulnerability and episodic shocks which impact these vulnerable communities. Taking a higher, city-level perspective, an important topic that was raised, and generated general agreement, was the importance of addressing the political framing of resilience. There is a tendency for policy makers to take the approach that the risks posed by natural hazards can be “solved” by applying technological and structural solutions, rather than addressing the power imbalances and current highly unequal socio-economic system which create and perpetuate risk. There is a need to acknowledge that technical and technological solutions applied alone without modification of existing governance and political systems are unlikely to achieve effective results in the long-term, as long as economic gain is prioritised over social equity. Under the current geopolitical system, there is an emphasis on continuity, in other words, finding solutions to quickly move past a crisis without altering the institutional structures and systems that contributed to the crisis. In this context, ‘innovation’ is often co-opted as a vehicle to further capitalist interests, without considering the vulnerability of socio-environmental systems. In light of these observations, academia has a dual responsibility to obtain funding for innovative projects in risk management, but to act towards raising awareness of the need to evolve the prevailing systems and power imbalances, by working with communities and responsible institutions, identifying local needs and vulnerabilities, and co-creating truly inclusive and sustainable solutions that are embedded within innovative governance frameworks.

 

Finally, perspectives oriented towards adaptation to climate change-impacts represent an opportunity for conversations to take place around the unequal exposure to risks and their impacts, as well as ways to address these, in which the prevalent systems and the existing mechanisms for reducing the production of greenhouse gases and existing adaptation mechanisms are questioned. Effective adaptation requires deep and multidimensional changes, and solutions which rein in economic gain for a small number of individuals and corporations and ensure a more equitable distribution of the costs of climate change impacts.

Presentations