SEMINAR 1: CASCADE-NET                                                            

Civil Society’s agency and extreme weather events: dichotomies in theory and practice

Co-hosted by UK National Flood Forum and Centre for Floods, Communities and Resilience, University of the West of England, Bristol, UK

Held at the University of the West of England, Bristol on 18st October 2017, 10.30 am to 4 pm in the Frome Room, UWE Bristol Exhibition and Conference Centre, Frenchay Campus, Filton Road, Stoke Gifford, Bristol BS34 8QZ.

These draft notes have been written up by Lindsey McEwen, Nevil Quinn and Andrew Holmes (rapporteur) and aligned with the programme.

Aims of the day:

  • To explore the conceptual frames and research underpinning to the dichotomies on the diagram – set up to stimulate conversation.
  • To explore the notion of the use of dichotomies in this context to trigger interdisciplinary conversations.
  • To start to build a community of practice within CASCADE-NET – civil society and extreme weather adaptation.

  1. Welcome and setting the scene


Challenge of CASCADE-NET – Professor Lindsey McEwen (UWE, Bristol) Video of talk


  1. Theoretical framing

Framing talk 1: Reflections on hydrocitizenship – Professor Owain Jones, Bath Spa University, UK

Video of talk

To start-off, Owain Jones (Bath Spa University) reminded us of the ‘Resilience’ debates and the contested space of responsibility. He used the example of the book, Resilient life by Brad Evans and Julian Reid in which the authors take to task the neoliberal idea of people being put at risk and then being told to be resilient or “resiliently” deal with the mess of neoliberalism. Owen talked about his narrative work and how narrative work could also look forward, via anticipatory history. Quoting from work being done by Caitlin DeSilvey, he added that, “we can imagine a future of climate change.” In Dancing with disaster by Kate Rigby, the author goes back through history finding anticipatory narratives.

Discussion: In response Paul talked about the frustration he comes across with National Flood Forum from civilians in terms of “nothing ever changes” and was interested in what could practically be done enable change to happen. Calls for more evidence-based policy have been circulating for many years. Claire was less pessimistic, saying that change had occurred since early 2000s but slowly. In order to effect change you ‘have to say the same thing for ten years at least.’ Policy needs delivery too.


Framing talk 2: Thinking about civil agency: a retrospective look – Professor Nevil Quinn, Centre for Floods, Communities and Resilience, UWE

Video of talk

Nevil Quinn took a retrospective look at evolution of flood risk management policy and some of the key themes that emerged, quoting extensively from Johnson et al (2005): from techno-centric governance (1950s) to socio-technical of present day. The drivers which have informed where we are today in relation to responding to extreme weather include attitudes of ‘control over nature’ giving way to broader acknowledgement of environmental issues in the late 1960s to 1970s, and subsequently to acceptance of sustainability as a goal alongside economic development. There has been an acknowledgement that historical approaches (e.g. hard engineering) were only part of the solution, with greater emphasis on non-structural solutions. There have been changing notions of ‘participation’ and the role of others including citizens to contribute to decision-making and a shift towards hearing the voices of flood impacted people. This is coupled with the start of an acknowledgement that there are other ‘knowledges’ than just science and engineering, growth in international agreements and emergence of ideas of ‘best practice’ and increasing concern about possible climate change impacts.

Nevil’s diagram showing the cluster of UK floods post 2000 was very striking:

Figure 1: Nevil’s slide “Extreme events as drivers”

Since the publication of Johnson et al. (2005), other drivers have emerged, such as the global crash of 2008 and the UK government agendas of ’austerity’, ‘Big Society’, ‘localism’. Coupled with these factors have been uncertainty, for example with Brexit.


  • Following Nevil’s descriptions of climate intensification and related extreme events, Mike Wilson felt that we needed to acknowledge “social injustice” associated with extreme weather too.
  • Significant advances in science and technology, such as forecasting, warning have brought challenges in science communication. Nevil talked about participation and ‘Post-participation’ debates about the importance, value and nature of civic engagement in governance and Paul felt that Nevil’s ‘gradual’, incremental diagram of change in terms of participation has not, in his experience, been a straight line. Nevil agreed saying that “consultation” might be a feature but ultimately go nowhere in terms of policy.


Framing talk 3: Ecological citizenship or ecological care? Climate change and the politics of coastal resilience – Dr Michael Buser, Centre for Sustainability, Planning and Environment, UWE Bristol

Video of talk

Michael talked about ecological citizenship, not based on territory but ecological footprint, challenging idea of nation state and instead resources. He showed examples of international attempts to give rivers and places the same rights as humans and asked, what happens then? Why not give rights to all ecological life? How do they express in the same way that humans do? Michael found the issue was complicated further when, as in the example in New Zealand, it was people who represented the river’s interests. Michael talked about the idea of “care,” “ecological care,” pointing out that we were all cared for in order to exist and he says if we can the environment as receiving care too. Inuit are an example, because they care about, care for and see embeddedness in the environment not separate from humans. Owain talked about care embracing processes


  • There was a question from Paul on whether care is missing from Flood Risk Management? He felt that engagement goes wrong because care is missing.
  • Mike talked about agency – choice, priority, purpose – and asked whether the coasts and Inuit communities of Michael’s presentation were at cross-purposes? He felt that the cultural context was also important (the Inuit going from nomadic to situated).


  1. Quick-fire stimuli about the issues in theoretical framing and practice within the five different axes (5-10 minutes each)
·       State responsibility – Civil Society responsibility – Professor Lindsey McEwen (UWE Bristol) Video of talk
·       Deliberative democracy (consensus) – Agonistic pluralism (positive conflict) – Dr Glyn Everett (UWE Bristol) Video of talk
·       Consultation and participation – Engagement with social learning – Dr Clare Twigger Ross (Collingwood Environmental) Video of talk
·       Contractual civil engagement – Cooperative civil engagement (no presentation)
·       Collaborative governance – Command and control governance – Martina McGuinness (University of Sheffield) Video of talk


Discussion: During the short presentations, Tina felt that Extreme events “rattle” policy rather than elicit big change, echoing Paul’s earlier comments. “We only see tweaks,” Tina added. The notion of “messiness” was discussed more than once during the morning. Tina felt that it was inherent in collaborative governance, and was one of the great challenges because under these circumstances, decision-making loses clarity and definition.

On the question of Participation, Paul felt that, Flood Groups have the passion to be involved but they could get frustrated when they see that their knowledge was not treated as the main knowledge.

Mike pointed out that language was important in participation too. “Expert knowledge,” he felt, had its own language and jargon to ensure that ordinary people can’t get involved. He put the idea to Claire about engaging the ‘majority,’ “I had a chat with DECC and the Communications team there said they struggled to communicate climate change, not to the extreme deniers and extreme believers – they were easy – but more to the middle 80% of the population. That conceals a problem.” Claire responded that if you move out of the Flood Groups (to the wider local populations) there is a huge problem with people engaging. Tina echoed these comments. She said that when attempting to get people involved you, “get the same suspects” (the middle classes, for example).

A further problematic issue to consider, according to Tina, was that “when we come in asking about local floods, the local people say “crime is the priority around here – why are we talking about floods?”

Claire stressed the importance of being clear with civilians about the aims and objectives and what the researchers hoped to achieve.

The idea of trust was discussed. Paul felt that people needed to see evidence of change or they don’t get involved. “We ask them but they want to see something in exchange.” Owain felt the issue was wider, adding, if you Google “levels of trust” in the UK you will find conflict. There are reasons why trust is undermined. Mike said that we had not yet talked about the extent to which huge shifts in daily lives (a cultural shift – people spending large amounts of their day online, every day, seeing polarising news stories, for example). He asked could this affect trust/distrust? Paul emphasised that flood action groups rely on trust. “People will contest evidence,” he said, “but if they trust the relationship with the flood group at least they have a room in which to contest it.”

Tina felt that there has been an erosion of trust in local knowledge and Owain added that Sarah Whatmore had attempted to slow her research down so that trust could grow in the community. Paul mentioned the traditional agricultural extension programs, “where you used to find a farmer to go out and do the work for you,” as a way to link communities to experts.

Fear was a topic that was raised throughout the day. Paul said that, in his experience, he encounters “fears that we will flood more…fears [the citizen] won’t be able to go on holiday (because they can’t leave their house); fears for their health (frequent flooders have health issues). Do we need to get people over an (irrational) fear? We have to accept some sort of risk. Lindsey felt that we needed to move thinking further on from the actual event. “It goes on a lot longer, health, for example.”


  1. World café: Collective exploration of these axes and the identification of others….

The group split into two tables and focused on four questions:


World café – notes from Table 1: Tom Ball (facilitator), Nevil Quinn, Michael Buser, Claire Twigger-Ross, Owen King, Jay Millington (Notes prepared by Nevil Quinn 13 Nov 2017)



(a) What are the strengths and challenges in framing civil society in terms of ‘dichotomies’?

  • Some saw value in the dichotomies as a ‘synthetic tool’, helpful in stimulating discussion.
  • They have value in bringing out certain characteristics of a system (describing a system).
  • Value in that they capture many aspects in a succinct diagram.
  • They do feel like a ‘coherent space’.
  • Is there a danger in people labelling one end ‘good’ and the other ‘bad’?
  • What is their normative implication?
  • Is there a danger in representing these as linear, when they may not be linear and may also contain ‘loops’ back?
  • Their presentation represents a static situation, so how would change over time be reflected?
  • Would interpretation differ depending on where in the Extreme Weather Adaptation Cycle one is located?
  • Each axis endpoint can be (needs to be?) ‘exploded’ to highlight more complexity and as an aid to thinking.
  • Some thought the phrases ‘axes of’ was preferable to ‘dichotomies’.
  • We need to acknowledge that many of the words used to describe the axes come with ‘baggage’.
  • Both the terms ‘dichotomies’ and ‘axes’ suggest a start and end point, where none may be implied. Furthermore, the endpoints of each of the arrows might not end the same distance from the origin of the circle.
  • Some thought these were ‘trajectories’ rather than ‘dichotomies’.
  • Could the words ‘spectrum’ / ‘continua’ be used to define these?
  • The axis end points do not necessarily represent the extremes – some are ‘waypoints’?
  • The axes are trying to represent what is essentially ‘a messy system’. Is it even sensible to try and do this? How do you represent this ‘mess’? None of the axes are isolated from each other.
  • Does the framing of the dichotomies represent a western, democratic worldview or bias?
  • What is the purpose or endpoint of the axes beyond an initial framing? How would they be used in a practical sense?
  • One strength is that it has potential as an analytical tool or framework (e.g. for analysing a context or undertaking a comparison) but would need to have a way of considering the context more explicitly.
  • Could they be used in discussions with stakeholders to plot positions?

(b) Could any of the axes have been framed better or differently?

  • One option for the ‘consultation and participation’ to ‘engagement with social learning’ axis would be to replace it with the more simple, ‘participation to non-participation’.
  • Should ‘co-production’ be included in the ‘engagement with social learning axis’
  • Should ‘co-operative civil engagement’ be reflected as ‘collaborative partnerships’? Should the word ‘equitable also be used in describing these partnerships?
  • Should ‘state responsibility’ vs ‘civil society responsibility’ be reframed as ‘public/state’ vs ‘private/individual’?

(c) What axes are missing? How would these new axes be framed?

  • The axes do not represent the broader context in which this happens (e.g. history, culture, geography (place), prevailing ideologies (e.g. neoliberalism), values and norms, politics, infrastructure, technology, weather/climate, perception and understanding of climate change and risks, environment, legal/policy, location within the experience of the EWAC, etc.). NB: Nevil Quinn annotated the diagram to show how we might reflect the ‘context-related issues’ mentioned – see additional diagram below)


  • How would ‘social capital’ (networks, relationships) be represented?
  • Where would notions of ‘trust’ fit in?
  • Instrumentalist vs collective (dialogical).
  • Should ‘technology’ (e.g. how it might be used by government and citizens) be an axis?
  • How do the axes link to vulnerability or pressures (e.g. other socio-economic drivers)?
  • What is the relationship to environmental justice and equality?

(d) What issues are there in response to earlier presentations and broader objectives of the seminar series?

  • What is the normative implication of the diagram?
  • On the one hand there is an element of advocacy as an outcome of the seminar series – i.e. how do we want to effect change, but on the other there is a need for objective and dispassionate analysis. A development of the Dichotomies diagram – based on discussions on Table 1 (Nevil Quinn)

World café – Notes from Table 2: Martina McGuinness (facilitator), Mike Wilson, Phiala Mehring, Paul Cobbing, Lindsey McEwen (notes prepared by Lindsey McEwen)

(a) What are the strengths and challenges in framing civil society and extreme weather in terms of ‘dichotomies?’

  • Group felt that “dichotomy” is not a neutral term – “spectrums” or continuums might be better. Qs: Does dichotomies infer ‘polarity? Also ‘trends’ and ‘axes’.
  • Strength of the framing was that it does provide a” straw man” – a means to provoke and stimulate, which is valuable across disciplines and policy.
  • Dichotomies as fluid and unstable

(b) Could any of the axes have been framed better or differently?

  • “Cooperative” should be “collaborative”?

(c) What axes are missing? How would these new axes be framed?

  • Knowledge equity < —-> Knowledge hierarchies (+ knowledge intensification/bias/amplification)
  • Individual capability (free agents)< —-> Organisational capability (organisational frameworks in which people operate; enabled by own cultures and structures)
  • Scientific models < —-> Local knowledge
  • Social/emotional < —-> Technocracy
  • Dichotomoties of resilience: Resistance < —-> Transformation
  • Resource efficiency <—–> Resource effectiveness (cost: benefit)
  • Importance of place in extreme weather (people have ownership of this; place and detail about a place) < —-> Generic (not place-centred)
  • “I am safe now” < —-> An adaptive community (transformation –blue/green cities)
  • Politicisation one axis (not sure what other end < —-> Apolitical? (who has power, access, who does that frame context that thigs operate).
  • Should there be an axis of partnerships?
  • Space for refection < —-> Reflexive action?
  • Individual ethos (relationships; trust) < —-> Organisational ethos (top down; targets)
  • Communication informational deficit (stealth issue advocacy) < —-> -Co-production

Other thoughts:

  • Input and output measures – ‘care’ element missing
  • Importance of time in building trust and social capital.
  • Expectations – are there expectations that certainty SHOULD be there. There is an expectation that we can create certainty, but post risk society we simply cannot. Different understandings of “uncertainty” – useless v probabilities. Uncertainty reflects failure?
  • The media: Extreme weather events lead to rapid politicisation and media can amplify certain aspects which may or may not be accurate but that gets lost in the noise. Barriers to consensus/ understanding (LA government) in storming, norming, performing
  • Problems with word “expert” cf. specialist with info to add to the discussion. True expects – comfortable with the limitations of their own knowledge.
  • FRM organisations as bete noir – “natural draw of the sting” as extreme events play out.

(d) What issues are there in response to earlier presentations and broader objectives of the seminar series?

  • Research driven by not knowing stuff.
  • Today has been flood focused but would be interesting to see timeline for other risk work. The role of civil society in drought, for example. Interactions of risk at a place. Learning across hazards.



  1. Dichotomies: their implications for practice

Paul Cobbing (Executive Director, UK National Flood Forum) spoke to each of the axes from the perspective of practice. Video of talk


  1. Road map for CASCADE-NET: Next seminar entitled: The role of Civil Society’s agency in governance and contingency planning: citizenship, participation and social learning is being organised by Martina McGuinness, Management School, University of Sheffield. David King from James Cook University will be presenting.


APPENDIX: CASCADE-NET – Preliminary collection of references of relevance to the axes diagram

This represents a preliminary collection of references of relevance to the axes diagram. There is overlap between these axes (some more than others) so it might not be relevant to group them in this way. References are listed in chronological order to show evolution over time. Are there other pieces of literature that should be added?

Johnson, C.L., S.M. Tunstall and E.C. Penning-Rowsell (2005) Floods as catalysts for policy change: historical lessons from England and Wales. International Journal of Water Resources Development 21(4):561-575.


Johnson, C.L and S.J. Priest (2008) Flood management in England: a changing landscape of risk responsibility? International Journal of Water Resources Development 24(4):513-525.


Butler, C. and N. Pidgeon (2011) From ‘flood defence’ to ‘flood risk management’: exploring governance, responsibility, and blame. Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy 29:533-547.


Nye, M., S. Tapsell and C. Twigger-Ross (2011) New social directions in UK flood risk management: moving towards flood risk citizenship? Journal of Flood Risk Management 4:288-297.


Mees, H., B. Tempels, A. Crabbé and L. Boelens (2016) Shifting public-private responsibilities in Flemish flood risk management. Towards a co-evolutionary approach. Land Use Policy 57: 23-33.

Reed, M., A. Evely, G. Cundill, I. Fazey, J. Glass, A. Laing, J. Newig, B. Parrish, C. Prell, C. Raymond, and L. Stringer (2010) What is social learning? Ecology and Society 15(4): r1. [online] URL:


Ashley, R., J. Blanksby, R. Newman, B. Gersonius, A. Poole, G. Lindley, S. Smith, S. Ogden and R. Nowell (2012) Learning and action alliances to build capacity for flood resilience. Journal of Flood Risk Management 5: 14-22.


Renn, O. (2015) Stakeholder and public involvement in risk governance. International Journal of Disaster Risk Science 6: 8-20.


Henly-Shepard, S., S. Gray and L. Cox (2015) The use of participatory modeling to promote

social learning and facilitate community disaster planning. Environmental Science & Policy 45:109-122.


Benson, D., I. Lorenzoni and H. Cook (2016) Evaluating social learning in England flood risk management: An ‘individual-community interaction’ perspective. Environmental Science & Policy 55(2): 326-334.


Mees, H., A. Crabbé, M. Alexander, M. Kaufmann, S. Bruzzone, L. Lévy and J. Lewandowski (2016) Coproducing flood risk management through citizen involvement: insights from cross-country comparison in Europe. Ecology & Society 21(3): 7.


Thaler, T. and M. Levin-Keitel (2016) Multi-level stakeholder engagement in flood risk management – a question of roles and power: Lessons from England. Environmental Science & Policy 55(2): 292-301.


Evers, M., A. Jonoski, A. Almoradie and L. Lange (2016) Collaborative decision making in sustainable flood risk management: A socio-technical approach and tools for governance. Environmental Science & Policy 55(2): 335-344.


Newig, J., E. Kochskämper, E. Challies and N. Jager (2016) Exploring governance learning: How policy makers draw on evidence, experience and intuition in designing participatory flood risk planning. Environmental Science & Policy 55(2): 353-360.

Thaler, T. and S. Priest (2014) Partnership funding in flood risk management: new localism debate and policy in England. Area 46(4): 418-425.


Begg, C., G. Walker and C. Kuhlicke (2015) Localism and flood risk management in England: the creation of new inequalities? Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy 33: 685-702.


Geaves, L. and E. Penning-Rowsell (2016) Flood risk management as a public or a private good, and the implications for stakeholder engagement. Environmental Science & Policy 55(2): 281-291.


Mouffe, C. (1999) Deliberative democracy or agonistic pluralism? Social Research 66(3): 745-758.


Horowitz, L. S. (2013) Toward empathic agonism: conflicting vulnerabilities in urban wetland governance. Environment and Planning A 45(10): 2344 – 2361.


Donaldson, A., S. Lane, N. Ward and S. Whatmore (2013) Overflowing with issues: following the political trajectories of flooding. Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy 31: 603-618.


McDougall, C., and M. Banjade (2015) Social capital, conflict, and adaptive collaborative governance: exploring the dialectic. Ecology and Society 20(1): 44.

Halliday, J., Asthana, S., Hewson P. & Gibson, A. (2012). Playing with fire: Limitations of the Big Society for an emergency service. Public Policy and Administration 28(3):290-305.


Geaves, L. and E. Penning-Rowsell (2014) ‘Contractual’ and ‘cooperative’ civic engagement: The emergence and roles of ‘flood action groups’ in England and Wales. Ambio 44: 440-451.


These notes are also available as a downloadable PDF file. Click here