“Australia is a signatory to the UN’s Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-2030), which urges countries to ‘Build Back Better’ after disasters,” says Michael Tyrpenou, WSP’s Social Strategy and Design Principal. “This means not repeating the mistakes of the past and including local communities in defining what ‘better’ looks like.
“We are seeing a societal trend giving rise to the individual, creating more freedom to engage in experiences that best meet their needs. In other words, to build back better after disasters, we must take an inclusive, accessible and participatory human-centered approach to recovery and ongoing risk reduction. We need to be placing a focus on understanding the needs and lived experiences of those directly and indirectly impacted through disasters.”
Building engaged communities is a priority, with organisations and governments acknowledging the value it holds for enhancing policy and service delivery outcomes. Commitments are being made to ensure public participation and collaboration, creating a platform for meaningful conversations and accountability throughout the decision-making process.
“It is incumbent on organisations and governments to continue working with impacted communities and co-create solutions in a transparent process, rather than designing solutions and measures on their behalf,” explains Michael. “For communities impacted by bushfires it means we need to better understand their aspirations for their places. By co-designing solutions with local communities, we can help to meet local needs, de-risk assumptions, and design Future Ready places. It will require empathy and humility to ask, listen and observe where grief, trauma and loss is still prevalent.
“Several tools and techniques can be employed to ensure local communities are included within a transparent and iterative process of meaningful engagement. Methods that emphasise honest, open-ended, face-to-face communication are preferred as it gives local communities the opportunity to be involved in the conversation. One such method which is gathering global popularity and has been advocated by the OECD1, is the creation of deliberative democratic citizen bodies that are randomly selected to be representative of the local community.
“These bodies have been successfully implemented in the United States, Austria, Poland, France and Spain and highlight the importance of including citizens in decision making so that problems are defined locally, and solutions are developed locally. In Australia, deliberative democracy approaches are gaining traction through organisations such as newDemocracy, an independent, non-partisan research and development organisation. Technology trends towards ubiquitous connectivity and people expecting to be digitally enabled as a part of day-to-day life can help to support greater engagement with and between communities.
“The challenge, however, is to manage these competing needs against the feasibility and viability of any given solution in the rebuilding and recovery phase. In our journey toward transforming difficult human problems into desirable solutions, we will find innovation in the intersection between the desirability, feasibility and viability of any solution - it is not a zero-sum game2.”