Emma Visman and Fiona Fletcher

Need an idea on how to get disaster experts and local communities talking? Two researchers from King’s College London tell us how.

Enabling those people directly affected by natural hazards to access information which can help them protect their lives and belongings requires two-way communication between the providers and users of disaster risk knowledge. Yet there remain few places to share learning about how best to support effective risk communication.

Dialogues for Disaster Anticipation and Resilience provides one such platform; collating knowledge exchange approaches which are proving effective in bringing together different sources of knowledge about disaster risk . The collection is growing, but we want your help to jointly build a shared understanding of what works best.

There is an increasing recognition that science and technology can make a huge contribution to resilience building, however uptake and practical application of this knowledge remains extremely limited.

Key international frameworks for disaster risk reduction, sustainable development, humanitarian assistance and climate change taking place over 2015/16 recognise the importance of enabling science to better support decision making.

The recently agreed Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction recognizes that drivers of disasters include “non-risk informed policies” as well as limited opportunities for people at risk to be fully included in developing disaster risk reduction policies. It highlights the importance of strengthening understanding and sharing of disaster risk information and ‘how it is created’. This includes through co-production, enhanced science policy dialogue and bringing local and scientific information together.

This increased awareness of science’s resilience-building potential is extremely welcome. But what approaches are most effective in enabling science to support those at risk?

Efforts to strengthen resilience often combine groups who haven’t worked together or have a limited understanding of each others’ ways of working. Getting the kind of science which can help us make appropriate decisions is a process which involves a series of steps:

  1. Establishing an agreed framework for collaboration
  2. Identifying decision makers’ information needs
  3. Meeting decision makers’ information needs and supporting appropriate application
  4. Regular review and ongoing learning

In 2011, the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) provided a Knowledge Exchange Fellowship to the Humanitarian Futures Programme (HFP)at King’s College London (KCL). HFP sought to strengthen capacities to plan for future risks, with a key strand focused on strengthening dialogue between scientists and humanitarian policy makers. The Fellowship at HFP focused on collating learning about those approaches which were proving effective in bridging the dialogue between the providers and users of disaster risk knowledge. And so the online resource ‘Dialogues for Disaster Anticipation and Resilience’was born, with an accompanying synthesis paper.

With ongoing development supported by the KCL Centre for Integrated Research on Risk and Resilience, Dialogues for Disaster Anticipation and Resilience houses 25 case studies drawn from across a wide range of organizations, scientific disciplines and geographic regions. Each case study outlines the dialogue or knowledge exchange methodology, the context in which it has been used, as well as its resulting impact.

Recognising that we are all both providers and users of risk knowledge, the resource is designed to be accessible to both scientists and decision makers. You can search the site by scientific discipline, risk type or the stages within the dialogue process and  whether you are seeking to support ‘access’ to, ‘understanding’ or ‘application’ of risk knowledge. Approaches in each include:


  • The development of local information centres or ‘knowledge bazaars’ where individuals can seek technical and scientific guidance on a wide range of issues.
  • Organisations involved in disaster risk reduction such as CSIRO and edu4drr have employed animations and cartoons to convey key health and safety measures through main stream media (see above).


  • The Fish Bowl is  where a small group of actors discuss concerns while the wider group listens. This approach is particularly good at creating spaces for those whose voices are often overlooked or where there are significant differences of opinion across project stakeholders.
  • Knowledge Timelines aim to build common ground, enabling scientists to better appreciate existing knowledge within communities whilst increasing decision makers’ appreciation of scientific information.


  • A scenario exercise called Early Warning Early Action (see below) sees scientists and technical experts sit together with decision makers to propose and discuss relevant actions for a series of forecasts. The ‘decision maker’ role within the group rotates, allowing the participants to challenge perceptions on what is considered appropriate action for each scenario.
  • The ‘Weather or Not’ game enables decision makers to better appreciate the probabilistic nature of weather and climate information as well as the organizational and individual risks in appropriately applying this.

Each case study also considers  impact on the part of all partners: the groups at risk; governmental and non-governmental agencies; scientists and technical experts. They document how the dialogue approaches have strengthened understanding and promoted more effective action to address a wide range of climatic, agricultural, meteorological and geological risks.

We’ve been reviewing how the site can best support its various users.  This includes integration within training courses and regular review amongst relevant networks.

Developing effective forms of risk communication requires significant resources and yet is vital to strengthening capacities to face future risks. And so we hope this dialogue platform will avoid the need to ‘reinvent the wheel’ and for all to benefit from localized learning about those approaches which have really enabled science to build resilience amongst at risk groups.

Emma Visman is a Visiting Research Fellow at KCL and independent consultant, currently focusing on science-policy dialogue and risk communication. Fiona Fletcher is a Disasters, Adaptation and Development Masters student at KCL.