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This paper investigates how methods used to model perceptions and measure resilience can help decision-makers create inclusive and proactive flood resilience strategies for communities. Such interventions can only be designed through building a holistic understanding of the options available, and of the preferences and priorities of different stakeholders. This approach goes beyond the traditional appraisals and cost–benefit assessments commonly used by decision-makers.

In this study, which is based on research in Lowestoft, a coastal town in England exposed to significant flood risk, the authors first use mind maps to investigate stakeholders’ biases around flood resilience interventions and then lead them through an exercise to understand how they perceive various aspects of flood resilience and how they interrelate. The collective perceptions and knowledge of stakeholders are then used to identify the most important actions for increasing flood resilience.

The authors find that combining a mind mapping method with a flood resilience measurement framework enables system-level thinking and inclusive decision-making about flood resilience. Ultimately, this can encourage transformative decisions on the prioritisation of actions and investments.

Key points for decision-makers

  • Flood resilience is the capacity to reduce the risk of flooding, be prepared for potential flood events, and be able to respond to and recover from flood impacts in a timely and efficient manner. Increasing flood resilience entails improving the social, human, natural and financial as well as physical capacities of communities.
  • Undertaking their study in the flood-prone Eastern English town of Lowestoft, the authors combine a participatory mind mapping method, Fuzzy Cognitive Mapping (FCM), with a flood resilience measurement framework, Flood Resilience Measurement for Communities (FRMC). FCM allows structuring and representation of participants’ perceptions and knowledge and includes various perspectives in one model. The FRMC framework, developed by the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance, encourages a holistic view and system-level thinking in the process of decision-making for flood resilience.
  • During the participatory process – where various local stakeholders were encouraged to adopt a system-level approach in identifying and selecting interventions that can maximise a range of benefits and co-benefits from flood resilience – the authors developed a collective mental model using local perceptions and knowledge.
  • This model was used to identify the causal relationships among various aspects/indicators of flood resilience such as the use of flood walls, flood warnings and the role of insurance. The model then identifies the level of agreement among different stakeholders on what action should be taken first and where investments should go for building/improving flood resilience.
  • By combining FCM with the FRMC framework, the study demonstrates a new way of applying the FCM method for supporting decision-making, encouraging system-thinking and a holistic approach in problem-solving as well as collective and inclusive decision-making. This is particularly useful in decision-making for complex, multi-dimensional and multi-stakeholder issues such as climate-related disasters. 
  • The Lowestoft study shows that measures with an immediate and quick impact on reducing flood risk (such as physical protection measures) are likely to be brought up first as a solution in the mental models of decision-makers. However, encouraging ‘system-thinking’ during the participatory decision-making process can expand the mental models of stakeholders so that they include a variety of actions and interventions that have direct and indirect as well as short-term and long-term positive impacts on flood resilience.
  • The collective mental model of local stakeholders shows that while building large-scale flood protection infrastructure has immediate benefits for the population at risk from flooding, enhancing human capital such as raising awareness and sharing knowledge on risk reduction and protection activities may cause as great, if not greater, an impact on the flood resilience capacities of Lowestoft in the long term.
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