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Accounting for local flood knowledge in citizen science: Discussing resilience and adaptation to the effects of climate change through a flood-monitoring project

PhD thesis by Dr Erich Wolff, Monash University, Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture

Read: Accounting for local flood knowledge in citizen science: Discussing resilience and adaptation to the effects of climate change through a flood-monitoring project

As floods increasingly impact urban areas globally, it is important that engineers and urban planners review the ways in which disaster mitigation has been conducted in the past. My research uses citizen science to advance the argument that communities can play a key role in monitoring the effects of climate change and informing the adaptation of cities to floods.

Within the RISE program, my research partnered with members of the participating communities to study floods in Indonesia and Fiji. Collaborating with our teams in Makassar and Suva, I managed a citizen science project that received more than 5,000 photos of floods taken by residents of settlements participating in RISE between 2018 and 2020. Based on these photos, we assessed the risk of flooding in the settlements which, in turn, helped us design RISE wetland systems. This process was key to designing the wetland systems, as it provided scientists with valuable flood data, while also creating opportunities for communities to be continuously involved in the design of the program.

My research also used interviews with community members to further understand how the residents of Makassar, Indonesia, have developed local knowledge and adapted to live in flood-prone sites. The interviews showed that the communities have a deep knowledge of floods based on lived experiences, which was further expanded through the participation in the citizen science flood-monitoring project. Our research, therefore, points to important strategies that can be used to create platforms for collaboration between local communities and decision makers. These collaborations are essential to allow for residents to voice their concerns, and influence disaster risk reduction strategies.

This work provided insights into how communities can meaningfully participate in the implementation of resilience-building and climate adaptation plans through participatory research methods. This collaboration can happen through mobile applications, social media or research projects using community-based approaches, such as citizen science and participatory mapping, which draw on local flood knowledge and collaborative action.

This is significant because it offers opportunities to reshape fields such as infrastructure design and flood modelling, which are often considered technocratic and inaccessible to the general public. These participatory approaches can offer important ways forward to ensure the fair and equitable implementation of nature-based solutions and water sensitive options, such as RISE’s wetland systems.

Since completing his doctoral studies in 2022, Erich has joined the Asian School of the Environment and the Earth Observatory of Singapore, where he continues to research nature-based solutions in the region including projects in Indonesia, Thailand and the Solomon Islands.

A framework to classify adaptation measures in Makassar. The four colours in the diagram represent
the different agents involved in adaptations to floods in the Batua (RISE demonstration site) canal area.